“Now, here’s a declaration of passion from me. I Formula 1. And here’s why…”
I love it for the skill and bravery of the men who risk their lives in 200mph wheel-to-wheel combat. I love it because the cars they race are marvels of advanced automotive technology. I love it for the joy of being part of a globe-trotting sport peopled by outstanding individuals. I even love the drama of the political cut-and-thrust for power. It is a fascinating world, but at the moment it is in a very worrying delicate state.
F1 has always been a hotbed of disagreement. As long ago as 1961 there was uproar when the governing body changed the engine regulations. In 1982 the drivers went on strike against a superlicence requirement that adversely affected them. In fact, the early 1980s were a constant battle between the teams, led by Bernie Ecclestone, and the governing body, and there have been plenty of confrontations since. But today’s situation is especially challenging.
The sport’s complicated governance system has led the normally apolitical drivers to call for reform. Major considerations are that the FIA seem unable or unwilling to lead from the front. Bernie Ecclestone, who for so long ruled the sport with a rod of iron, seems to have lost his omnipotence since selling the commercial rights to CVC, who seem more interested in maximising their investment than in promoting the sport.
Bernie’s power has also been affected by an apparent inability to work as closely with FIA boss Jean Todt as he did with Max Mosley. Plus, there’s an ongoing fight between Bernie and the engine manufacturers, and contention between the teams and the commercial rights holder about how F1’s income should be distributed.
On top of all this there’s been constant mindchanging about 2016 qualifying and the 2017 regulations. All of which is of little interest to the public, who just want exciting racing on TV. And now, when viewing figures are declining, we are told there will be no more free live coverage of all the races after 2018. I have no criticism of Sky TV for using their financial clout to monopolise live coverage. They do a great job and they’ll gain some more viewers from those who are prepared to pay, but, dependant on who, if anyone, is prepared to show highlights, overall viewing will suffer. And if viewing figures decrease, the future audience and sponsor interest will do so, too.
So what’s the answer? I don’t know: I’m just glad I don’t have to try to clear up the mess. I’ll concentrate on the upcoming races, which at least offer a glimmer of hope for entertaining viewing. Writing just after the Chinese GP, I’m looking forward to seeing whether Rosberg can maintain his superiority over Lewis Hamilton (I doubt it) and whether Ferrari can beat the Silver Arrows often enough (I doubt that, too).
Can the impressive Haas and Romain Grosjean at last make America, the market F1 needs so much, interested in F1? How will wunderkind Max Verstappen develop as his experience grows? Can Mclaren and Honda give their two world champions the tools to get the job done? That’ll keep me going for now.
But, for the future’s sake, please Bernie Ecclestone, please Jean Todt, please CVC, please the teams and the engine manufacturers, get together and right the ship before it sinks. For the sake of the sport, all the fans who are so concerned, and, of course, yourselves. And to those who think I’m a naïve old fool for thinking it’s possible, I say it’s been done before and it has to be done again or we’re all in the soup.