On the Current State of Formula 1

Let me start by saying that I’ve been watching Formula 1 for a long time. Back before my family had a VCR, I was up early on Sundays attending the only church I’ve ever known – the Church of the Holy Horsepower. In college I’d get up way too early on Sunday and go down the common room to watch a race. More recently, I’ve regularly recorded races and watched them later the same day.

Not so much this year or last. Not out of any real decision, just out of inertia (or the lack thereof, I suppose). But I managed to record the British Grand Prix this weekend. Having watched it, I’m reminded why I’m not making such an effort any more. There’s just too many things wrong with the sport right now for me to care a great deal about it.

Mercedes Dominance. F1 right now belongs to Mercedes. Everyone else is fighting for third place (at best). To make things worse,  Lewis Hamilton seems so much better than Nico Rosberg that it’s rarely a race between them, barring some outside force intervening. At least they’re just as likely to bang into each other when the share real estate as not.

One-team domination is nothing new to F1 – I remember 1988, when McLaren won every race but one. But in years past the cars looked and sounded better and things seemed more open. Oh, and cars used to blow up for no good reason, too – modern F1 cars are incredibly reliable. The regulations are so tight that there’s little room for other teams to find interesting ways to make up speed.

Plus, I’ll just say it – I’m a Ferrari fan and they suck right now. So there’s that.

Being Overly Protective. I understand the drive to make the sport as safety as possible. Racing in the rain is, by definition, dangerous and the death of Jules Bianchi in a downpour in Japan in 2014 is still fresh in the memory. But, still, there was no reason for the first five laps of the British GP to be run behind the safety car. It wasn’t even raining anymore. I’ve seen F1, Indycar, and top-level sports car racing all run in worse conditions.

Rain, of course, upsets the usual order, which should be a welcome thing in a top-heavy sport. I suspect that the powers that be are concerned that too many modern drivers can’t really handle the rain (or will be further left in the wake of Hamilton, who cleared almost four seconds from his closest pursuer on the first green flag lap) and they don’t want too much upset to the regular order. It’s a shame – Senna would have had no problem in that rain.

Dumb Rules Dumbly Enforced. A pair of dumb rules, and their odd enforcement, reared their heads this weekend. Neither has any real place in top flight motorsports and seem to be examples of the powers that be trying too hard to control things.

The first showed up in qualifying. Rule one of racing is keep the car on track, right? But the modern F1 track, with low curbs and paved run off areas, invites overdriving. Cars routinely run wide  as drivers try to grab an ounce more speed, shave another thousandth of a second off their lap. Now the stewards keep eyes peeled to see if the “track limits” are violated and . . .  sometimes call penalties about it. And sometimes don’t. If the track rewards drivers for going off of it, that’s the track’s fault, not the drivers’. It’s a layer of bureaucracy no sport needs.

The second popped up in the race itself, near the end. Drivers are able to communicate with their teams by radio (and vice versa), which, in years past, has allowed teams to tell drivers how hard to push and change strategy on the fly. Now, however, communications are severely limited and, for instance, Mercedes violated the rules by telling Rosberg how to keep his car from stopping on course as the race ended. It appears that the rule was applied correctly, but it’d terminally dumb. Either have radio communications or don’t, but thinly slicing what can and can’t be said adds another layer that’s about anything but racing.

At its best, Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, a kill or be killed dog fight among not only drivers but teams and manufacturers. The modern era won’t allow for free spending and a completely open set of regulations, I get that. But regulations need to be smarter and answer one question: does this make the racing better?

 

Rosberg_Bahrain_2016_1

Nico Rosberg this year at Bahrain. Photo by Dave Jeffreys, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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