It can take a lot to admit you’re wrong. This is even more the case when in a position of authority; imagine being on the end of much resentment from those who followed your ill-advised guidance/rules. Now take this and put it on a global scale, having to concede you have made a mistake to millions upon millions of people. That’s how the powers-that-be of Formula 1 should be feeling.
It’s a sport that can very much be classed as old-fashioned, which is quite ironic as F1 is supposed to be a showcase for the very latest car-related technology. Indeed, some supermarkets are planning on using Williams’ aerodynamic engineering to make their fridges more energy-efficient. That’s not what I mean though. Whilst these elements may be futuristic, it’s the way the sport is run that is behind the times. It feels as though we as fans have been transported back into the days of the Industrial Revolution, with those in charge being predominantly middle-aged white men who are going to do things their way no matter what the consequences are. So the announcement last week that major changes were being planned in order to make the racing more exciting was nothing short of a big surprise.
F1 has rightly been on the receiving end of much criticism in recent years. Boring action on and off the track, predictable results and so on have led to many fans turning away. Watching a race used to be a Sunday afternoon ritual in my house; now, I’m lucky if my Dad will even watch the start of a race with me. I’ve stuck with the sport because I can remember the days when the racing was joyful to watch and, as my university housemates will tell you, I am forever trying to impress upon them that it is still magical. But even I have to admit that the good days have been gone for a while. At the moment, one of the few saving graces for me is that a Brit is at the top, but even then I would rather it be Jenson Button.
One of the biggest problems is that the cars are slower than they were ten years ago. Again, this is extremely ironic as road cars, who often utilise F1 technology, have been getting quicker and quicker in that time period. I can see why this is the case, i.e. in the interests of safety, F1 is performing well within its limits. The cars are now so well padded that drivers can suffer huge impacts and walk away without so much as a scratch. On top of this, most of the tracks have huge run-off areas that allow plenty of time for the cars to slow before they hit something. Whilst it’s obvious that there should be limits, the fact is that the emphasis is no longer on pure speed alone.
This argument is furthered by the grievances many have with the tyres, engines and lack of refuelling. Formula 1 has always been a sport where tactics have come into play alongside the raw ability of the cars and drivers, but never has it been the case that tactics alone shape not just whole races but entire seasons. Trying to make tyres last a set amount of laps, ensuring engines be used over four races and so on; it’s more of a test of the driver’s restraint than their talent. Personally I am all for the suggestions to bring back re-fuelling and having unlimited sets of tyres and/or those which won’t disintegrate after a couple of laps. I, along with most fans and even the drivers themselves, want to see the abilities of the drivers being tested.
Of course, all of the problems have been exaggerated by the fact that only one team at a time seems to be able to win. At the moment it’s Mercedes, before them it was Red Bull and going back to the early noughties it was Ferrari. However, whilst the latter can partially be attributed to the sheer genius of Michael Schumacher, the more recent domination can be largely put down to money. I’m not saying Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel aren’t supreme drivers, I just think there are others out there (i.e. Fernando Alonso) who, given the same resources, could do just as well.
The simple fact is that certain teams can afford to hire the best personnel and create the slickest car components whilst everyone else just has to make do with what they’ve got. However, whilst they may be complaining about this now, it is their own fault as they were the ones who refused a £40 million budget cap for the 2010 season. Subsequent controls have been put in place but it seems to be too little too late. The disparity between the teams is now too great for a simple restriction on spending to be of any impact.
So what would I like to see change? As already stated, I would love re-fuelling to come back, more durable tyres and generally faster cars. On top of this, I believe that the authorities need to cap the larger teams more than the rest in order to try to overcome the disparity. It’s all well and good making things flashier and quicker, but if there is little competition for championships then you might as well keep things as they are. Will it happen? Only time will tell.