Sharoma Formula 1

Formula 1

...or how did it become so boring, corrupt, and pointless?

Intro

Formula 1! Murray Walker. The Hockenheimring. Interlagos. Didier Pironi. I was raised in a household somewhat obsessed with televised sport. I realised early on that I could never compete with televised sport for my father's attention. Oh well, I figured I may as well join him. My first ever memory of F1 is two red and white cars colliding. I seriously began to pay attention in the run up to the 1994 season, by which time I had committed to memory anything about the sport I had read or heard. The memory of my childhood brain was astounding. Even today I can tell you the finishing orders (drivers, teams, engine manufacturers) of that season's races without so much as a glance at Wikipedia. What's my point? My point is that Formula 1 captivated the planet back then because it was the purest expression of competition in all of sport. Not only the drivers but armies of engineers in R&D facilities across the planet constantly strove to outdo each other. When they came to deploy their skills and products, a barebones rulebook allowed as much expression as possible. Once a race began, the drivers were out there on their own in a wild world of speed, sparks and skill. It was exotic, it was dangerous. That's why we loved it. Here in 2023, the worst season in memory just finished. It wasn't a sport, it was a corporate procession headed by a team and driver of unsportsmanlike quality. What went wrong?

1. Money

Anyone who has met me or read my works knows I am a vehement anti-capitalist. I am against all forms of profit which I view as wealth stolen from working people. I saw in my own lifetime the process by which Association Football (soccer) was taken away from the working class and given to the rich as a plaything. The high salaries of sports stars, like CEOs, is criminal. Until we arrest predatory capitalism, it will eat everything the working people produce. Imagine I started a new football league in the park, using 'jumpers for goalposts' and letting people watch for free. Imagine working people, long since unable to afford to attend even a single Premier League game or buy a replica shirt for their kid, turned away from it and began to watch my league instead. How long would it be before a media company came sniffing around? How long before gates and fences appeared, followed by mascots, gift shops, overpriced jerseys and high entrance fees? Then the people would walk away, find a new distraction and the process would begin anew. F1 was always about money, but it wasn't until the rise of Bernie Ecclestone that it began to negatively affect the sport. I have watched pretty much every race that can be watched. The decline began in earnest in 1994 for a variety of reasons. We must not forget where it has all led to today: a notoriously distasteful situation where various European and Middle Eastern states lacking human rights get to put on races, on flat, featureless tracks. I start to drift off even describing Formula 1 these days. At least there's IndyCar, but more on that later.

Money, the acquisition of ever-increasing amounts with the intent of consolidating power and the ability to safeguard what is already acquired, is one of the capitalist's obsessions. F1 is a power structure. It is one of the ways in which corporate clout is thrown around. The quest for profit is what drives decision-making in F1. It is why you will see more and more 'Powered by Amazon Web Services' on the race graphics. It's why I only ever attended one race in my life despite being at times obsessed with the sport. How can a working family afford to attend even a single race? (At least at the 1995 British GP we were allowed to take our own butties and pop. Of course, my father being a notorious cheapskate meant I had to walk in the pouring rain for two hours to get to the circuit. Why? The man never paid for parking in his life.)

Look at the outrageous salaries in F1. Look at the personnel bloat. Why do you need three goons to change one wheel? Why do we need three mediocre ex-drivers in tan pants to give us meaningless insight? Why do we need banks of supercomputers with overpaid engineers scratching their overpaid heads? Get a real job. Go and improve humanity. Build infrastructure. Stop wasting your time tweaking some setting. Money and power dominate the minds of lesser men. F1 is staffed by lesser men and led by greedy fools. It is Eurocentric snobbery at its most hidebound and offensive. Formula 1 has become nothing more than a disgusting charade of corruption, poor decisions and unsportsmanlike behaviour.

2. Rulebook

If I were put in charge of F1 the first thing I would announce is that the current rulebook, a behemoth of 62-million-pages, is thrown out. F1 is about purity. The purity of competition unfettered by bizarre and illogical constrictions. It became the fashion by the late '70s to ban anything that Bernie didn't like the look of. This process of stifling the natural flow of innovation had disastrous consequences (DRS, I'll get to that later). No matter where you restricted the engineers, they'd come up with some method to regain that speed. This was heralded as great, but was it? Look what has happened to the cars. Their very shape and dimensions are dictated by a rulebook. This goes against the spirit of a real championship for constructors yet unlike a spec-series, you don't get close competition. You usually end up with one dominant team and everyone else fighting for 3rd. That has been the state of F1 for nearly every season since 1984 with a few exceptions. A simplified rulebook would increase competition, innovation and variety. The rulebook of course should mandate safety aspects but apart from that, the teams should be told: build the fastest car! Any way you like. That's F1. Imagine if they altered the rules of tennis every year? Unthinkable.

The points system should never have been changed from its 1990 version. The FIA don't realise that by messing around with formats and points they destroy historical comparisons. F1 used to be so elite that only the top six scored world championship points. That one point meant so much! Now you get more points and they are awarded all the way down to 10th place, in a race of only 20. The first year sprint races were introduced, they made the winner of that 'race' the pole position winner too. That made so little sense that they scrambled to change it but still, it negatively affects the sporting records. I also believe the traditional qualifying format was better and that the current system was designed to inject yet more artificial excitement. Old qualifying was a random affair. You could go out on track whenever you wanted and it delivered excitement in a different way each event.

3. The Cars

F1 cars of the past were beautiful machines. They were compact and they were light. They were menacing rockets which the drivers could throw around. They looked amazing. They sounded scary. When I first heard an F1 car downshifting in the Morning Warmup, I fell in love with that unique transmission noise [warning: the sample clip is loud!] and the scream of the engine as the revs changed. A large part of the appeal of F1 and motor racing in general is the look and sound of the cars as they wind around twisty up-and-down tracks. Take that away and what are we looking at? In 2023, SUV-sized monsters which weigh a lot more, are very long and extremely ugly. The rulebook has dictated these unsightly machines. The limits placed on mechanical grip pushed aerodynamic grip to ridiculous extremes. The banning of ground effect and the emergence of wing mania. And ever since, the FIA's incompetent attempts to regain the other main aspect of motor racing long since lost to F1: the overtake on merit.

4. DRS

If I could change just one thing about F1 it would be to abolish the drag reduction system, a typically stupid F1 name for what is basically opening the flap of the rear wing. Okay, where to start unpacking the DRS situation? My friend asked me recently why it was so bad and rather than explain the technical aspects or what made old F1 overtakes so special I decided to create a football metaphor. Imagine if the fans or sponsors complain that not enough goals are being scored in matches. The FA, bullied by the moneymen, has to increase the spectacle! Boiling everything down to simple metrics like number of goals and overtakes, rather than the quality of such events, means the FA comes up with a wonderful solution. Whenever a striker has a shot on goal, the goalie must freeze for five seconds and make no attempt to defend. The goal is scored! Yay for rule changes.

It helps if you are familiar with F1 of old, say 1991. You might only get a couple of overtakes in a race but they really meant something. A motor racing overtake used to be something a driver worked hard for, over the course of many laps. He'd follow, he'd work out where he was quicker than the other guy, but he wouldn't reveal it. Lap after lap, he'd inch closer. Then, exiting the final corner, he'd gain slightly more traction or take a little better line and boom! He's now in the slipstream (the tow). His speed increases to the extent that he can now pull alongside. He does so and the two drivers head into turn one side by side. Now the contest will be decided in the brake zone. The driver who conserved his brakes or the driver who is simply later on the brakes would take the corner. It wasn't over! He then had to defend. The place wasn't gifted to him just because he made a pass. The work began anew. Now you have to defend. So what happened? DRS happened. DRS states that a driver one second or less behind the driver in front is allowed to open a flap on his rear wing in certain designated zones. This adds significant speed to a car as drag is reduced. The following driver now doesn't need to exit that final corner quicker or work lap after lap to find out the other guy's weakness. All he has to do is open a flap and he zooms by using this artificial advantage. The other driver cannot defend. He cannot open his flap and so the overtaker sails off into the distance. In 2023 DRS became so bad that Red Bull could overtake competitors before the straight was even over! There was no outbraking needed, they just sail on by and the other driver can't defend or do anything at all. Fait accompli. In IndyCar, the system is different. They utilise 'push-to-pass' and each driver starts with the same amount, to be used when they decide. Drivers can conserve it or use it. They can attack and defend. DRS has made a mockery of overtaking. Sure, there are more overtakes but they are not organic overtakes. If you want an example of real overtaking, watch the end of the 1990 Mexican Grand Prix. Sublime. One sarcastic comment made a good point: "Shame they didn't have DRS to completely ruin the race."

Get rid of DRS. It alone has destroyed the sport and its competitive element. Drivers should have to work for overtakes using positioning and superior control of throttle, gears and brake. A temporary speed boost which the other driver doesn't have access to is blatantly unfair. I am still staggered the FIA could be so utterly stupid. Am I though? Look at the state of the world. Look how Brits keep voting for the Conservative Party. What does it take to knock sense into people? I really don't know, so I'll keep writing and hope I get through to some folks.

5. Team Radio

The romance of the sport to me was the idea that once a race was underway, the track was this sacred place that was so far away from everyone else. Only the drivers had domain out there. It was a form of wild west. The driver, barring the pitboard, was on his own. He had to fight, race, and use his intellect. The true greats didn't need team radio. They didn't need to ask questions or gain permission to pit. They were the Kings, the team was secondary. If Senna wanted to pit, he did so. Schumacher often darted into the pits at the last second, confounding everyone including his own team. He was in charge because this is ultimately a championship for drivers, not engineers. Apart from health and safety concerns, team radio should be completely eliminated. What does it actually add to the sport? All we hear is the same bland voices telling the drivers to do exactly this, that and the other. When to pit, when to select a setting, when to overtake, when to save fuel, when to conserve tyres. Now the drivers are like scared little boys. This year Carlos Sainz Junior even came on radio to complain that another driver was "intimidating him". Ha! Try having Mansell or Senna up your gearbox. Team radio has made babies of all the drivers. They should pit when they want. Run the race as they want. Add to that the incompetence of many teams (Ferrari) and you end up with situations where teams sabotage their own drivers through poor decision-making. Hamilton knows all about this.

The drivers have vital signs monitored. They can be connected to the doctor. That is it. They shouldn't even be allowed to complain at the race director, another development that has shown many drivers to be petulant brats. You know what you do when another driver pushes you off track or seems to go off track? You shut the eff up and concentrate on your own race. You are owed zero favours. You are supposed to be one of the best drivers on the entire planet. Aww he pushed you off the track? Diddums, you poor boy. It's almost as though that isn't the WHOLE POINT of motor racing; to steal track position by any means necessary.

6. Circuits

There are too many events and too many of them are at boring circuits. Hermann Tilke's designs are all atrocious and what he did to the Hockenheimring is an absolute disgrace. I loved that track. The long straights deep in the forest. It was bliss. It was destroyed. It seems as if they don't want long straights. That's how you get speed and intense battles. Stop making the cars run around circuits with endless flat radius turns, in barren landscapes with run-offs so huge they punish no mistakes. Tracks of old didn't need track limit penalties. Going off track was its own penalty. One wheel on the grass? You spin, too bad. Go off track, you beach in the sand. Too bad, race over. Do better next time or get a different job. F1 is supposed to be the elite. Mistakes should be punished harshly as they were in the old days. Austria 2023 was a joke. Constant penalties for drivers who couldn't help but put their car outside the white lines. The solution is simple: replace run-off tarmac with grass or gravel and you won't need to keep issuing penalties.

F1's season should be 17 races maximum. The calendar should be designed to minimize international travel. In the old days, the European part of the season meant that the teams could be in Italy, France, Britain, Austria, Spain and Germany for successive events rather than flying all over based on the whims of Arabian princes or Liberty Media's profit motives.

7. Unsportsmanlike Behaviour

The drivers of today are not the drivers of old, they are more like carefully groomed children. If they feel they have been treated unfairly in the slightest way, they will moan about it. Verstappen is one of the most unsportsmanlike drivers I've ever witnessed and I predicted years ago that he will kill himself or someone else with his reckless actions. It's fine for him to drive into people but not the other way around. This is not just about on-track action. When Verstappen called Ocon a "pussy" on camera he showed us all what he really is; He is the epitome of the misogynistic entitled rich boy. Why? Verstappen was given an F1 seat while he was still a child.

That's the other point I wish to make. The drivers are too young. F1 used to about the adults racing after they'd worked their dues in lower formulas. Men in their 30s, even 40s and 50s. A decade of racing maturity was ingrained before they ever sat in a Formula 1 car. Look how pathetic Sainz, Leclerc, Verstappen, etc, really are. How they complain, how their instinct is not to grit their teeth and fight but come on the radio and say "He pushed me off! Do something! He's being mean to me!" You are an F1 driver. Do you have any idea what people the world over would give to sit in that car for even a second? Today the grid is definitely not made up of the best drivers in the world. I rate some of them highly, but to me the best open-wheel driver right now is Scott Dixon. Not even Hamilton or Verstappen could touch him. He's old school. He manages his car, he can save fuel better than anyone. I can't rate him highly enough. It didn't happen overnight. Dixon is soon to be in his mid-40s and he is at his peak.

8. Failsons & Nepotism

What's a Failson? The sons of the rich who cannot fail, because their parents are wealthy. Most of the grid could be described as failsons. Lance Stroll, though I admire his attitude, is a failson. His dad is a billionaire and owns the team. Would he be there on merit? Doubtful. There are other dynasties. Sometimes it works: Rosberg and Verstappen used their privileged upbringings to win the title. Don't forget that their dads were drivers so since a young age it's all they were primed for. Often failsons fail disastrously. The mentality is this: "My dad was a driver. I grew up around motorsport. I am rich. I have access to sponsors. Everything is in place! I can be a world champion." Jolyon Palmer is the perfect example of this. His dad was a driver, and a poor one at that! Jolyon lacked the pure talent necessary to be in F1 but he managed almost two full seasons at a works team! It was obvious how crap he was, but everything else was in place so he couldn't understand why he was so bad. Dude, you lack the talent. What happened to him? Was he punished for this? No, he now will live out a well-paid and undeserved life boring the arses of everyone unfortunate enough to hear his mundane commentary. His dad was also the most boring commentator who ever commentated. Failsons can never fail though. Isn't corruption great? It keeps actual talent away from the sport. Brilliant! A brief mention to another recent failson who was so embarassingly bad that I wonder how he had the nerve to keep showing up: Max Chilton. Not once did an F1 commentator ever call into question his position in F1. In 2018 Townsend Bell said it concisely in an IndyCar race: "Chilton is four laps down, he needs to get out of the way." EXACTLY! Chilton never scored a single point in Formula 1 and therefore was quite literally a pointless driver.

9. Poor Presentation

Say what you like about Americans, but boy, they know presentation. You know what Rule #1 of sportscasting is? "You gotta be enthusiastic!" Try telling that to Crofty and Brundle. They're content to just have casual conversations. Why was Murray Walker so important? He was passionate and he never stopped talking. It seems as though the Sky Sports teams don't care about blind people. Murray would constantly list the running order. He never ran out of things to say and he was always enthusiastic. Now they stick any old ex-driver in a presentation role as though it requires no skill or training. Take Daniel Ricciardo's laughable attempt at commentary at the 2023 Canadian GP. Having failed to perform when not in a car designed by Adrian Newey, he scored a role as a commentator with some bozo called Will Arnett (an actor with zero knowledge of motor racing). They had a conversation and proved that you can't just walk into such a role. Some people are meant to present, some are not. Most drivers are not and they should stay away and give other people a chance. Drivers retire as millionaires and their greed compels them to stand around like buffoons talking nonsense. Get rid of 'em. Find a proper commentator who loves the sport. Get rid of Crofty and Brundle. They are so past their sell-by date it's painful. As for the F1-TV commentary with Jolyon Palmer? I'd rather watch the race without commentary at all. Can failed drivers please just bugger off and retire!

10. Blue Flags

Does anyone remember Ken Tyrrell? I can't remember which driver provided this anecdote but I think it was Brundle. Anyway, at a race in the 1980s Brundle moved over to get lapped by the leader. When you move over to get lapped you compromise your own race to an extent, by having to go off line, ease off or get clag on your tyres. At his race debriefing Brundle was presented with his lap times which showed an increase when he was lapped. Ken wanted to know why. Why did you go slower on that lap to let a competitor through? Even though he's lapping you he's still racing you and you are still racing everyone else. I believe the blue flag system is very damaging. It's yet another challenge removed. The drivers don't have to work to get by a lapped car anymore (remember how much drama and excitement used to come from the leaders lapping backmarkers?). A flag obliges the slower car to move over. Pure racing indeed. Why not just have a switch that slows their car down? Why not just play Scalextric? Again, F1 should look to IndyCar for how to handle back markers. You are allowed to fight to stay on the lead lap - why wouldn't you be? Remember why Ocon was called a pussy by Verstappen. Verstappen was leading the race and came across a backmarker, Ocon. He felt entitled to just breeze by and when his own poor judgement led to him crashing out, his response was to try and use physical violence against Ocon. When he couldn't do that, he resorted to misogyny. Verstappen truly is a piece of work. Hey Max, you aren't entitled to just win. You have to work too. Other drivers aren't here to just scoot out of your way. This doesn't mean I condone blocking, far from it. In the days of Senna, he felt entitled to defend his position using any means necessary. This is where sportsmanlike behaviour comes into play. If a driver is clearly going faster than you and is going to make a pass, you should allow it. In America, the culture is one of respect. Blocking and weaving is against the culture because it's dangerous and is effectively the actions of a poor loser. Someone like Verstappen cannot accept that you are going faster and he will block or drive into you. IndyCar has guidelines on this. You cannot keep reacting to your competitor's changes of course. In F1 you cannot move in the brake zone. Like my attitude to team radio, I believe we should allow the drivers to fight hard for positions and if they show unsportsmanlike behaviour, they should be shamed for it. There should be no outright rules on where you can place your car - even weaving and blocking should technically be allowed. How many drivers would resort to it? Not many. One reason I respect Ericsson's 2022 Indy 500 victory is his determined and successful defence which he achieved by weaving on the straight to break the tow. They knew the risks involved and no one shamed him for it.

11. Safety Cars, VSC, Yellow Flags

In the old days, yellows were done by sectors. If a car went off in turn 1 and required recovering, the racing continued in all the other sectors. F1 has to be fancy and they can't just call it a Full Course Yellow like they do in IndyCar. They have something called a Virtual Safety Car which they activate far too often. Get back to the proper use of yellow flags, by sector. The safety car itself has become a marketing tool for Mercedes or Aston Martin. Are marshals still volunteers? All that money in F1 and they can't even pay for professional marshaling.

12. Mandatory Pit Stops

This is another massive problem. F1 originally wasn't supposed to include pit stops at all but now everything is mandated. You must use these tyres, you must pit, blah blah blah. In the old days, when the track was the remote alien landscape only the drivers could traverse, they were out there and the goal was to start and finish in one go. You fill the tank, you manage your tyres, gearbox and brakes and you get to the finish line first. Pure racing. Pit stops were optional and not ideal. You came in if you needed to. If it rained or if you wore out your tyres, etc. Some bright spark decided that the number of overtakes wasn't high enough. In the mid-'90s we started to see a new F1 emerge, where overtaking was now done in the pitlane rather on the actual racing track. Argh! Pit stops should not be mandatory. It should all be optional. Wear whatever tyres you want. Put as much fuel in as you want. If you want to pit, do it. If you don't, then don't! How often has Hamilton been screwed around by his team? I've lost count of the times he's been told to pit, responded that his tyres felt fine, but then pitted anyway and ended up worse off. The last driver to non-stop was Mika Salo at the 1997 Monaco GP. Now it's not even allowed to non-stop. Imagine that: you race from start to finish without needing to pit and you get disqualified. What a joke this 'sport' really is.

Pitting can be entertaining of course. The best pitting spectacle in the world is in IndyCar. Far fewer people are allowed over the pitwall (this is also safer). One person has to change one wheel. It's great! And they're allowed to race off pitlane! Pitting is part of IndyCar's heritage and the way American open-wheel racing is run. It works, it's awesome. Mandatory pitting is not part of F1's history. It's yet another artificial injection of excitement, to the detriment of pure on track racing.

13. The 2021 Season Finale

And so we arrive at 2021. Lewis Hamilton was robbed of his 8th title. The rules were altered on the fly to allow for this to happen (a BBC article from 7 July 2024 states that Masi "made up the rules as he went along"). I've seen many IndyCar races end under yellow. It's not ideal but we all accept it must happen from time to time. Hamilton had built up a substantial lead and had the race won on merit. Had the rules been followed as usual he would have won the title by winning the race under yellow. Or, had they allowed all lapped cars to unlap themselves and not just the ones in front of Verstappen, Verstappen wouldn't have had time to get by. They destroyed the last integrity F1 had. Lewis to me is an eight-time champion. Verstappen didn't even need to be handed his first title - he would go on to gain titles on merit. Credit to Hamilton for the way he handled this. I'd have been tempted to retire on the spot and head over to IndyCar, a proper racing series. In a bizarre way, being cheated by the FIA is also a mark of the greatest champions: Ayrton Senna and Lewis Hamilton.

In our age, people get jobs they are not qualified for. Michael Masi wasn't qualified to be the race director. He was incompetent and corrupt. It's the case everywhere now. Half the drivers aren't even qualified to be there. They're there because of rich dads and 'everything else being in place'.

The Solution

Watch IndyCar. It's great! It has pure racing, well-managed races, excellent presentation, professional management, exciting pitstops, beautiful cars, loud engines and fair competition. It's a spec series with two engine manufacturers. The skill of car setup and the talent of the driver decides the contest and quite often you can't come close to predicting who will win. In 2023, the IndyCar title was decided two races from the end, which was rare; 2003-2022 the title went down to the last race. In 2023, the Formula 1 driver's title was decided six races from the end and the constructor's title even sooner. What a farce!

Comments

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Last updated: 7th July, 2024.