F1 is in crisis, and cannot rely on a yield-hungry private equity firm or a committee of self-serving team principals to save it. It needs leadership committed to the sport, not profits.
Though having said that, has it occurred to no one that declines in viewership have occurred in concert with an erosion in the sport’s virtues; with the very compromises in the name of the “show” (DRS; high deg tires and multiple race compounds; double points) and green technology that were supposed to make it appeal to a broader audience?
To be clear, I am not suggesting that F1 hasn’t also faced increased competition for viewers, changing media habits and the declining status of the automobile in our culture (particularly among millenials). Clearly these are meaningful headwinds to attracting and retaining an audience (Bernie’s job must have been a lot easier when there were four television channels to choose from). But were any of the absurd gimmicks introduced in the last few years ever really going to hold the attention of the ADHD Facebook generation? Seems like they’ve only succeeded in alienating the core – the purists like me.
And yet, rather than restoring the sport’s purity and learning to live within the ample means that we The Devoted would provide, the dummies in charge react (in panic) by looking for new ways to sully the sport in the name of the “show” (standing restarts, a ridiculous ban on radio communication, and God knows what they’ll come up with over the winter).
So, not that they’ll listen, but I thought I’d jot down some principles for them, the principles I’d follow if I was in a position to shape F1’s future. Call it “F1 Dictatorship for Dummies”.
1) We want a race, not a lottery. It doesn’t get more offensive than double-points. Perhaps that’s why the news of standing restarts wasn’t met with the horror it deserved – we’d been desensitized. In any event – please, please, please, dummies – stop with the gimmicks.
2) F1 is not just a driver’s championship, it’s a constructor’s championship. That is its essence – the best drivers, the best strategists and engineers and fabricators and mechanics. F1 needs two-car teams that build their own cars, period.
3) The economics need to add up. Success should be incredibly hard to achieve, but not impossible. New entrants should be held to an extraordinarily high bar. But survival should be viable for any legitimate team.
4) Race teams test. Don’t stop them. It’s hard to claim to be the pinnacle of motorsport but test less than a low budget F3 team. Besides, the teams will spend the money they would have used for testing on simulators and wind tunnels (to less effect). If they used that money for testing, there would be more chances to test and groom promising young drivers (or raise revenue from rich young drivers); more opportunities for the fans to see the cars in action; more stories for the press to cover between races to keep the fans engaged.
5) Engines should take your breath away – like they used to. They are (were) integral to the experience of Formula 1. They should build anticipation as they approach and amaze as they pass by. These dreary new V6s are about as inspirational as a rusty minivan.
6) Racing is about speed, not conservation. It is frivolous by its very nature – entrants spending princely sums and drivers risking life itself, all for the glory of completing a circuit faster than a few other unhinged souls. And yet that’s why we love it. Fuel economy should only be a consideration if it makes the car faster, not by decree from a governing body that’s forgotten what draws us all to racing in the first place. Coasting shouldn’t be in a racing driver’s vocabulary; the idea that lifting and coasting in an effort to stay within an artificially-imposed fuel consumption limit is now a regular occurrence in Formula 1 should offend every racer to his core.
7) Passes should be well-earned and memorable. I long for the processions of the Schumacher-era. Not that I didn’t wish for more overtaking, but I’ll take one great pass over a seasons’ worth in the DRS era.
8) Race cars are meant to be fast – unbelievably fast. And F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle. We tune in to watch supermen struggling to reign in their thoroughbreds (think Senna at Monaco in ’88), not to cruise around in low-grip cars, driving to a delta for 90 minutes and emerge looking ready to start another race.
9) Track limits should be just that – limits. If you make a mistake, you should pay an actual penalty – broken suspension, or at least lost time. We certainly shouldn’t be relying on the (inevitably inconsistent) judgment of a few stewards to impose penalties that fit the crime. And while we’re at it, how about a ban on anti-stall software? If Pastor can’t keep his car pointed in the right direction, maybe he doesn’t deserve to finish the race. I tune in to see him drive, not his onboard computer.
10) Let the drivers race. Penalize aggregious errors – deliberate contact, repeated contact or incompetence – but otherwise, let them get on with it.
11) Don’t force unwanted technology on the teams (I’m talking about you, V6s), but don’t ban good, cost-effective technologies either. The idea of a ban on radio communication or tire blankets at the pinnacle of motorsport is ludicrous – or at least it ought to be.
12) It’s a team sport. Team orders have a place.
13) F1 should be exclusive. What’s wrong with that? This is the pinnacle, after all (at least it was), and the participants should act accordingly. A spot in F1 – driver, engineer, or any other spot in the paddock – is something to which to aspire. It’s a privelege, not a right, but something that can be earned. That’s part of its allure, and the sport should embrace it. F1 isn’t NASCAR (thank God), nor should it try to be.
14) Technology freezes are a dangerous antidote to a space race, and should only be imposed when the technology is mature. The current engine freeze is a disaster. Manufacturers need time to develop a new technology, or you end up with a Mercedes-esque juggernaut. The only alternative is spec equipment, which is the opposite of F1’s very essence.
15) This is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport. Everything should be built to optimize for speed. Parc fermé after qualifying is a terrible idea – I want to see the fastest cars in qualifying trim, and the fastest cars in race trim. But even more offensive are the long-lived parts, and the penalties that arise when they fail. Engines (and gearboxes, etc.) shouldn’t last long. If limiting units per season really saves a meaningful amount of money (does it?), fine, I can live with that, but make the penalties less draconian. And if it doesn’t save much money? Then knock it off.
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