In the early days of the Bernie Ecclestone reign in Formula One someone decided that it would be good for public relations to define the sport as ‘the pinnacle of motorsport’. Presumably, Formula One (F1) would then become the only vehicle-based sport pushing to the extremes the technology, speed, aerodynamics, and track design which had made the sport one of the most popular worldwide.
Nowadays, it is possible to wax lyrical about the expanded, more truly global sport F1 has become, or the fact that now, like never before, F1 is more committed than ever to hybrid technology and cost-cutting. This may have seemed as alien as the water on Mars a decade or two ago in the era of Ferrari spending millions of euros every year on a testing budget larger than the GDP of Grenada (Ferrari’s budget, $443,800,000, Grenada’s GDP $441,000,000).
It does not seem right however, to applaud a sport and its administration that has, in no uncertain terms, destroyed everything that made F1 that aforementioned ‘pinnacle of motorsport’.
Let us start with the current state of play in the 2015 World Championship: one of the greatest drivers of all time, Fernando Alonso, is wallowing in his own self-pity after moving to McLaren, an ill-fated move if ever there was one. Lewis Hamilton on the other hand, moving away from McLaren to Mercedes three years ago, is now so far ahead of his teammate Nico Rosberg, being in a hugely superior car, that any semblance of competition has completely evaporated.
This might not seem like a problem; F1 has always had dominant cars- Schumacher’s Ferrari in the early 2000s and Senna and Prost’s McLaren-Honda in the late 80s-early 90s to name but a few. However, Ecclestone and his cronies, an amalgamation of the FIA, Pirelli and his own F1 Group, have ruined the sport from the inside out.
Pirelli, led by their Motorsport Director Paul Hembery, has developed tyres that struggle to last the loads demanded by a F1 car over three laps at full speed. The FIA and Ecclestone have decided themselves that the future of the sport does not lie in the historical theatres of F1 such as Hockenheim, Monza, or the Nurburgring, and instead lies on the streets of Baku and Sochi.
These two aspects combined have led to the intensely dull ‘racing’ that we see week in and week out. Drivers are no longer pushed to the extremes of physical endurance on tyres that need constant and unavoidable management. Circuits are now devoid of challenge thanks to the huge areas of run-off negating any mistake that even 10 years ago would have left the car in the wall or deep in the gravel.
This is not to say that the constant and very necessary pursuit of safety should be stopped, but the sport has become so sanitised that it risks losing what made it great. It is highly unlikely that in 30 years we will be talking about this era of cars in the same way we discuss the McLarens and Williams of 30 years ago.
The lack of in-season development of engines necessitates the huge gap in dominance from the Mercedes engine, and in turn negates the idea of F1 being at the top of technological advancement. The sanitisation of circuits and aerodynamics means it’s no longer the physical challenge it used to be for drivers, and the dearth of overtaking despite Ecclestone’s best efforts with DRS has made races criminally dull.
All of this together has made a once great sport almost unwatchable. The politics, previously always worth at least a glance due to the money and egos involved, no longer counteracts the hideousness of the product on show for the viewing public, and that is a real shame for a once great sport.
Image courtesy of Stuart Seeger