Is it time to give up on Formula 1?

Monday, 18/05/2009 ≅10:28 ©brainycat

Formula 1 bills itself as the pinnacle of motorsport. At various times during it's modern life it has featured the most advanced technology, the best drivers, the highest prizes, the largest exposure, the most hallowed venues, the best racing, the best teamwork and the best engineering. But how many of these crowns can F1 claim today?

The world is facing an economic crisis. F1 is not immune to it's effects, and we see fewer sponsors on the cars and some more longtime sponsors will be withdrawing after their contracts expire this year, leaving some teams (especially Renault) in a very real lurch. The fact is, racing costs money, and racing at the very tip of the pointed end of the stick costs the most money. The sport cannot deny that changes must be made to support "the circus". The owners of the brand, Bernie Ecclestone and his compatriot at the FIA Max Mosely, have a vision of a show where a minimal (in relative terms) investment gets you a couple of spots on the grid, hoping the mix'n'match approach creates interest in the fans.

The teams want to spend as much money as possible, shaving every hundredth of a second off the laps in their pursuit of victory and glory. The drivers want to make the same multimillion dollar salaries that drivers have enjoyed for the last several years. The manufacturers teams want to employ vast armies of engineers and technicians to crank out parts machined to the specifications of each track. When their cars are winning, they are in front of the cameras, making the investment payoff for the sponsors.

Ultimately, any sport is doomed if it can't appeal to the fans. Max and Bernie seem to be taking a cue from the United States and the popularity of Nascar, and trying to turn F1 into an open wheeled, twisty track schizoid bastard child of Nascar and A1. They say that the racing is too technical, that too much of the final results are the result of "invisible" technology the fans never see. I'm sorry Bernie, but would could possibly be more visceral than the tones of two unique engines screaming life while the two cars, each representing a different set of engineering comprimises, twist over and under each other fighting for the apex of the final corner before the straight? I am going to agree in principle, that too much of what the teams are doing is kept secret. But there are ways to make the details real to the users. Explain the differences in aerodynamic comprimises with graphic overlays showing the airflow over the straights. Use the telepens and slow motion replay to show the different suspension setups as the cars brake and dart around the corners. Spend time with the pit crew before and after the race, letting working class folk like myself learn about what life is like for the working stiffs in the paddock.

The technology isn't invisible, the producers of the TV show don't want to jeapordize their precious profit margin to make them visible. They don't want to pay for broadcasters who can make it real, and graphic overlays to explain what's happening. What good is having a favorite team if they all drive the same car? F1 fans want to root for the esprit d' corps that matches their own values, the cars that make the same comprises they'd make, and the drivers that remind them of the best of themselves.

Limiting the budgets would irrevocably dilute the brand. The sponsors who put their sticker on an F1 car are paying to have their name associated with the pinnacle of technology. By limiting the amount of development the teams can do the sport will become a parody of itself and the laughingstock of the racing community. Neither are conducive to good brand building. If a team can't drive the technology forward, they shouldn't be racing at the top of the heap. If this limits a certain number of teams, so be it. Let the remaining teams race more cars - which will create the added benefit of reducing the cost per car.

The technology used in F1 needs to be relevant to what the manufacturers can export to their consumer brands. Additionally, technologies focused on fuel efficiency need to be allowed. This means turbos and/or superchargers, electronic fuel injection and timing, traction control and emissions control. While some of these technologies will certainly speed the cars (as if there's something wrong with that), requiring filters on the exhaust will take a lot of the speed back. While it's probably a good idea that the Electronic Control Unit is homologated, the teams need to be able to develop their own software for it. What do all these 'driver aids' mean? It means that at the pinnacle of the sport, being a racing driver means a lot more than pointing the wheels and stomping the pedals. At the pinnacle of the sport, a driver is required to track more information and make more adjustments while handling extreme physical stresses.

Creating a two-tier system would dilute the competition. Would we need to put asterisks next to all the results in the record books? *DriverA won the championship, with bigger engines and more revs. That's not a path that's done any sport well, especially motorsport. The two-tier system would be even more complicated to the "vast, illiterate, uncaring" masses of fans to which Ecclestone keeps referring. If the drivers are supposed to be the most important, why does he keep looking for technical solutions?

If Ecclestone and company get their way, F1 won't be worth watching, for me at least. I will probably start watching FIM and touring cars instead. I hope F1 works itself out; the other races don't have the ancillary magazines, tv coverage, etc that allows those of us in .us to keep up with what's happening in leagues that turn both directions.

one provocation

 On Monday, 18/05/2009 ≅ 10:28 ©Anthony spoke thusly: 

Great read Robert! I share very similar sentiments as you have outlined above when it comes to F1. What scares me about this season is the fact it’s so good and there are teams talking about pulling out next season. I am scared because the rules have changed enough that the shakeup that was envisioned actually happened in the sport when it comes to the stalwarts at the top, Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, all have found new places on the grid that are not entirely warm territory to them in seasons past.

Is a two tier system the answer to F1 woes? Not in my opinion as I think the sport has to remain pure and competitive at all levels and the mere thought of a tier system causes me to dismiss the idea altogether. What the sport needs is a way to make money and where is the money when it comes to advertising bucks and viewers? We know Europe is always good for a few Euro’s and the explosion of interest in Malaysia, Singapore, and China have been good for sponsors and the sport alike. What happened to North America? We have yet to see a return to the land of the free and home of the brave for F1 and Canada is not looking entirely promising for a return to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a track that I love to watch racing at and BMW sweats bullets over.

There is promise on the horizon for F1 in the states though and with promise comes money spent and with money spent comes fans and returning fans. It seems like every other week we have seen another group and a name considering their return or their initial entry into F1 and that makes me smile. Peter Windsor at the wrap up for the Spanish GP alluded to his team’s entry and two more teams that are in talks, that would make 26 cars on the grid if the current team lineup stays and the addition of three more teams. can you imagine 26 cars lined up on the grid at Aussietralia? can you imagine the excitement of 2 American based teams fighting for the world championship? I can see the light through the tunnel after we exit the VIRAGE DU PORTIER and onto tackling teams like Ferrari, who we know won’t pull out even with all their crying, rubbing sidepods with Hamilton and Kubica…..As an American fan who has been mired in the nebulous differences of Nascar, I too have found my love for F1 return this season with an unmistakable passion like no other.

I see where your concerns are and your observations are based firmly in F1 mismanagement and I completely can appreciate what Eccelstone has done for F1, but I think it’s time for a change, a youthful resurgence to take F1 forward from where it is today. We can thank Max, we can thank Bernie, we can look forward to a new direction with new blood. who should it be? Damon Hill? David Coulthard? Mario Andretti? who? who? no one has stepped forward in anticipation for being the replacements of F1 leadership, but this Fan here thinks it’s time for a management change and with change we will see a sporting change that will benefit the teams, fans, and sponsors a like.

Be Provoking: