July 2003. A generic multiplex cinema. A boy on the cusp of an acne-ridden, awkward teenagehood sits down to watch acclaimed director Ang Lee’s adaption of comic book hero The Hulk. 138 minutes later he was unimpressed and, quite frankly, bored. The point being, how the hell do you make a film about a giant, green, rage-filled monster so unbelievably dull? And sadly the same can be said for F1 today. How do you make a sport at the forefront of technological achievement, where the drivers sit inches off the ground with 600bhp under their right foot so ponderous and disengaging?
Problems and solutions are thrown around by punters and experts more liberally than insults at Piers Morgan. As I buck the trend and throw my hat into the ring I will not be deterred by the fact I’m horrendously unqualified and can barely change a tyre on a Vauxhall Astra let alone Vettell’s Ferrari, but rather will hope my standing as an average fan who is excited by cars battling for position and going like stink will see me through.
‘It’s a procession with no proper racing’
The most commonly heard complaint really is the monotonous predictability F1 has become. The cars at the front finish first, the ones at the back come last and that rarely changes. Save for the start and the first five laps or so, the average viewer who tunes in will soon find their finger hovering over the remote debating whether to change over to the Hollyoaks omnibus or to Super Sunday and wonder how Jamie Redknapp makes a living as a pundit. Exactly how to address it no one seems to agree on, but the most heard is usually…
The Solution… More overtaking
Fans still hark back to Senna and Mansell, sparks flying, in Barcelona 1991 or Schumacher going from 21st to 13th in one lap in Japan 1998. The lack of and, more crucially, the art of overtaking has fallen away. Former driver Eddie Irvine bemoaned the fact the likes of Hamilton now merely press a button to overtake. Also only allowing overtaking on certain parts of the track smacks of predictability, not the spontaneity it hoped for. Forget the overtaking aids, change the aerodynamic regulations and actively encourage drivers to go for it. Isn’t the whole point of the race to see… well… racing?
‘It’s not a level playing field’
It’s fair to say the gap between the bigger and smaller teams is as wide as the wealth distribution of an African dictatorship. If half a second is an eternity in F1 and the teams at the back are five seconds a lap slower then they may as well be driving a Reliant Robin. Nine out of Ten times we’ll pretty much know who will finish where before an engine has even been revved.
The Solution… Spread the wealth better and make the cars similar
Fresh from her unbeaten triple century at Lord’s, Geoffrey Boycott’s grandmother could have hopped into Hamilton or Rosberg’s Mercedes and won last year’s championship, steering it with her trusty stick of rhubarb, such was the gulf between it and the other teams. More money given to the lesser teams and the sharing of components will allow more competitive development, closer racers and unpredictability. The likes of Ferrari may not like giving away their gearbox and then being beaten every so often by the takers Manor or Sauber but it would only raise the excitement and let the skill of the driver play more of a role alongside the speed of the car. It may well be the same couple of teams still ultimately come out on top but, to come at it from another sporting perspective, I’d be happy if Chelsea won the league for the next five years (I’m not a fan) if it meant we got season after season packed with thrills and spills ending each time with a thrilling climax.
‘The rules are too restrictive and complicated’
Drivers already have to contend with the fact they are in a machine which can go from 0 to 60 in two seconds, experience up to 5G under hard breaking (the equivalent of having a large sack of spuds slammed against your head when you break at a T junction) and that their lives at stake. To have to adhere to so many rules merely limits their talent and promotes a stale experience for all concerned. The steering wheel on the cars look like the lovechild of an Xbox controller and a keyboard. It’s the point of trying to be clever for the sake of being clever, if it doesn’t improve the spectacle of the race or the safety of the driver what’s the point?
The Solution… KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid!)
Throw the current rulebook in the bin to fester with Bernie Ecclestone’s corruption allegations (surely not?) and start a new one with the heading ‘Go as fast as possible as safely as possible’. Cars are now up to ten seconds slower than they were ten years ago. Previous restrictions have decreased innovation, rather than encouraged it. Scrap DRS and reduce the importance of tyre management and fuel saving so the audio from team radio is more ‘push, push, push’ rather than the far too frequent ‘box, box, box’. As Daniel Ricciardo commented, ‘No-one’s going to say they don’t want to go faster!’
‘F1 has lost its soul’
The tipping point for many has been the sound of the new V6 turbo engines, but Formula 1’s heart has been missing since the turn of the millennium. Slow releasing carbs, rather than sex, seems to be the breakfast of champions today much to James Hunt’s dismay I’m sure. The first thing a driver does after winning a race is to say thank you to the sponsors, not ‘Go chasing crumpet’ as Sir Stirling Moss put it. We don’t necessarily want playboy drivers who stumble out of nightclubs at 4am and into the car on race day, but rather one’s that at least look like they’re having a good time. Who stick two fingers up to the establishment and drive their hearts out for the crowd who love them for it. Sponsorship and money in general have allowed drivers to get like this. We accept these are now part of worldwide sports and the glitz and glamour is part of F1’s appeal, but it should never be defined by them.
The Solution… Embrace nostalgia but with a modern twist
The argument that the lack of danger has reduced the appeal of F1 is a fairly sickening one, especially considering Jules Bianchi’s crash last year. What made it so universal from the 1950s to arguably its peak in the late 80s and early 90s with the Senna/Prost rivalry was, you’ll never guess, the racing! Everything stemmed from it. Intense competiveness mixed with fun. Apply that approach with modern technology, not just to the cars but in terms of social media and alike to promote and celebrate races, and Formula 1 could have a resurgence in popularity. Oh, and make the engines louder!
What would you do to improve F1? Let me know below.