“Races are dull processions. You already know who’s going to win. Why don’t you just give Hamilton the title now?” These are just some of the criticisms that Formula One has received in recent years by those who claim that the sport has lost its way. While F1 is far from perfect, the situation is not as bad as they make out.
F1 fans often bemoan the predictability of races, with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull usually occupying the top six positions. But is this dominance by a select group of teams actually detrimental to the sport? It certainly isn’t anything new. Throughout the different eras of F1, certain team/driver combinations have always risen to the top, be it Michael Schumacher’s five consecutive driver’s titles with Ferrari from 2000 to 2004, McLaren-Honda’s incredible 1988 season in which they won 15 out of 16 races, or Mercedes’ current record of winning five straight Constructors’ Championships
The same patterns emerge in other sports – all the F1 teams are subject to the same rules, but, like in football, those with more resources will attract the best talent. Despite this, upsets are still possible. To continue the football analogy, F1 had its own ‘Leicester City moment’ in 2009, when Jenson Button won the World Championship driving for Brawn GP, a team formed out of the ashes of Honda’s withdrawal from the sport.
On the subject of competitiveness, it’s also worth remembering that when Lewis Hamilton joined Mercedes, they were not the all-conquering force they are today, making his subsequent achievements even more impressive. The idea that Hamilton has had no real rivals is absolutely not the case. Ferrari undoubtedly had the fastest car at key points this season, yet Hamilton beat Sebastian Vettel (himself a four-time world champion) to the title. His Ferrari team had their chance and threw it away, while Hamilton and Mercedes made almost no mistakes and triumphed when the odds were stacked against them.
So, the vice-like grip of the top teams over F1 hasn’t removed all excitement from the sport, and it hasn’t reduced the opportunities for promising young drivers. For proof, just look at Max Verstappen, who at 17 was so young when he got his break in F1 that he didn’t even have a driving licence. Similarly, Ferrari’s new driver Charles Leclerc has earned his chance with one of the sport’s most historic teams following an impressive debut season at Sauber.
I know there are clearly areas in which the sport could be improved, the most pressing of which is the lack of on-track action. One idea is to level the playing field by giving the teams the same base car and limiting the changes they can make to it. However, the best cars are often just as iconic as the best drivers so, for me, this change would result in a major part of the sport’s appeal being lost.
Two changes I would advocate are the introduction of reverse grids and having several shorter races over a weekend instead of a single two-hour marathon. The latter would reduce the amount of strategy involved and allow drivers to race flat-out to the finish, rather than having to conserve their tyres and even save fuel. Meanwhile, reverse grids would not threaten the position of the top teams, as the fastest drivers in the quickest cars would ultimately overtake their way to the front, but it would give other drivers the chance to show more of what they can do – and there would surely be the occasional upset.
On the surface, F1 seems to have lost some of the drama that has gripped fans over the years. But look a little closer and there are some truly captivating battles and racing of the highest order. The takeover of the sport by new owners Liberty Media brings with it the potential to get disillusioned fans back on board; let’s hope they seize the opportunity. In the meantime, the sheer thrill of watching the fastest cars and drivers in the world will just have to do.
Originally published on http://www.inquiremedia.co.uk in response to an article entitled “Why Formula One is pointless”