Over the past few months, controversy has been raging in the bowels of Formula 1 over costs as teams go bust under the financial strains of competing. Not only this, but Bernie Ecclestone’s views have left the fans’ minds going bust as well. Formula 1 appears to be ready to implode as fans and teams grow tired, not just of the politics, but of the ever increasing issue of the rules that seem determined to dissuade the public from watching the sport and the teams from paying for it. Additionally with the decline in speeds of the cars the question of the challenge of Formula 1 is also, unfortunately, being raised.
The rules, though, are the biggest stumbling block. The fans lust now for a time when the only two rules appeared to be the widths of the front and rear wings. When everything else conceivable was allowed until safety became the issue. It was a simple case of ‘Build what you like unless it puts the life of the driver at risk’. Now, however, it is more a case of ‘Build what you like within these regulations, but if you have an advantage, it’s being banned’.
The facts are here to prove it. In 2011 the F-Duct, developed by McLaren to provide extra straight line speed was dropped, even though it did not endanger the drivers but was protested by the other teams. In 2012 Blown Diffusers, developed by Red Bull Racing were banned for similar reasons because of the advantage they gave the Red Bull RB7 in 2011. Coanda exhausts have since also been banned in 2014. Once again they weren’t banned because of safety, but because of the advantage this gave the Red Bull team who simply utilised them better than their competitors. Now as the 2014 season has finished they are considering the banning of the new turbo-charged V6 Engines that provide more power for cars with, effectively, the same levels of grip. And as before it’s because one team, this time Mercedes, had a major advantage in the layout of its power-unit that has allowed them to dominate the season.
Besides, if Ecclestone is trying to show Formula 1 as developing and pushing the way forward in motorsport, he has only to look at the WEC where Hybrid Technology has been in use since 2012, to see his error. No longer does Formula 1 appear to be about development, speed or endurance. It has neither. The WEC has incorporated hybrid technology two years in advance. GP2, the supposed feeder series to Formula 1, has cars not far behind in speed, only a couple of seconds slower. Yet, what Formula 1 has lost more of than development or speed is that endurance factor; that need to push the body to the limits to just finish a race let alone push the car to its maximum as they did for decades. Now those G-forces are so low as to be barely more than that of a Formula 3 car. As a result this means teenage drivers such as Max Verstappen have been able to step into the car and not worry about making the distance and surviving. Drivers like Verstappen are now being snapped up by Formula 1 teams because they know there isn’t a ‘survival element’ anymore. G-forces aren’t the issues, saving tyres and fuel are instead. Disappointingly modern-day drivers start at the age of students to drive like grandfathers instead of debuting as men and driving like gladiators.
The interesting part is that these gladiatorial days aren’t far behind us, if we want to be precise, the 2005 season was arguably the last gladiatorial year. The cars, while equipped with traction control that helped in the rain, were animals powered by ten-cylinder hearts that turned ear drums into milkshakes and sent dogs running with their screams. A press on the brake pedal strained the necks and minds of any driver trying to slow the car without locking the tyres while struggling to keep their heads up. The tyre war didn’t help either, the tyres could last the race and the fuel-stops meant this had to be done flat-out to win. This compares to today’s Pirelli tyres that are never right for anyone it seems and fuel that has to be sipped. The Pre-2006 Formula 1 cars were traction-controlled beasts compared to today’s neutered-animals. In fact given that both the WEC and Formula 1 are under the spotlight at the moment, it could be argued that the style of driving required to drive the old Formula 1 cars is now needed in the WEC and vice versa. Modern F1 drivers now have to cruise through the races as noughties’ Le Mans drivers once did.
So, this begs the question. What now for Formula 1? This great sport that now seems to be dragging itself to its knees. Is the sport done for? Well no. As much as one may heave the criticism on Formula 1 as I have, we can in fact see a parallel case from within the sport. Williams Martini Racing. For around seven years it slowly fell from the top to the bottom of the field. Most thought the team was done for, a great team now sadly fallen. There were moments of glory but they didn’t last long. Yet, at the end of the 2014 season they are third in the Constructors’ standings and hold the record for the most points scored at a race weekend. They hit rock bottom and built from there, hired the right people and started working. Formula 1 needs to hit rock bottom and once it has, it can start building on a new system of operation. If not? Then like a house on the verge of a crumbling cliff, it’ll fall into the sea, unnoticed and without trace of its former self.
The clock is ticking for this great sport and time is running out.