GRAND PRIX DRIVERS CALL FOR CHANGE
Drivers demand change at the top of Formula 1 after controversial calls
Grand prix drivers are poised for crunch talks with Formula 1 bosses after demanding changes to the way the sport is governed following a series of unpopular rule changes in recent seasons.
Last week the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association – the umbrella body that represents the views of active and recent F1 drivers – released a statement calling for a major restructuring of the decisionmaking process in F1, calling the current organisation “obsolete and ill-structured”.
The statement came just days after F1’s latest botched rule change, following the failure of the new knockout qualifying format used during the Australian Grand Prix weekend. The change was met with widespread criticism from fans, drivers and teams and necessitated emergency meetings in Melbourne to decide whether to ditch it immediately or not. While the controversial format will be retained for this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix ( see sidebar), F1 drivers have taken it upon themselves to voice their concerns over F1’s future under the current governance.
The GPDA’S statement, which was written and signed by president Alex Wurz, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel, said: “F1 is challenged by a difficult global economic environment, a swift change in consumer behaviour and a decisive shift in the TV and media landscape. This makes it fundamental that the sport’s leaders make smart and well-considered adjustments.
“We feel that some recent rule changes – on both the sporting and technical side, including some big business decisions – are disruptive, do not address the bigger issues our sport is facing and in some cases could jeopardise its future success.
“The drivers have come to the conclusion that the decision-making process in the sport is obsolete and ill-structured and prevents progress being made. Indeed it sometimes leads to gridlock.
“This reflects negatively on our sport, prevents it being fit for the next generation of fans and compromises global growth.
“We request and urge the owners and all stakeholders of F1 to consider restructuring its own governance.”
Why the worries?
Formula 1’s global audiences have declined sharply over recent years, with the sport haemorrhaging 175 million viewers since 2008. Some of that figure can be put down to the switch to pay-per-view TV in many regions, but the decline is still year-onyear according to official FIA figures. While UK audience figures are stable, and even increasing in some cases, F1’s global appeal has wilted in recent seasons.
The drivers are concerned that the current technical regulations, which have produced two dominant seasons for the Mercedes team, have hurt public interest by being too complex, and also that a number of key rule changes designed to win back that interest have instead muddied the waters by falsifying the sport and turning off its hardcore fan base.
In recent seasons alone F1 rulemakers have introduced a double points season finale, muddled the qualifying format, restricted radio communication and driver helmet designs and also repeatedly delayed and altered the plans for faster cars for 2017.
F1 also last week sealed a new exclusive TV deal with Sky Sports, which will take the sport away from free-to-air coverage entirely from 2019 ( see page six). There are also continued concerns about F1’s skewed financial structure, which places greater rewards with larger teams.
Wurz said the letter was not a kneejerk reaction to the qualifying farce in Australia, but was instead based on a number of recent issues.
“Drivers are the real stars of the sport and in response to some heated discussions by our fans and also inside the paddock the drivers felt it is time to express their opinion,” said Wurz.
“This statement was wellconsidered and planned between all drivers for quite a while and discussed in Melbourne again during a special meeting. Since the GPDA’S existence in the 1960s we have operated by majority vote, and in this case it was extremely clear regarding the desire to express our opinion.
“In order to make our sport fit for the future and next generations, the business model and the way F1 is run needs to be addressed and redefined, and followed by a clear road map or master plan. We are not convinced that individual updates to sporting or technical rules are the solution. We believe every acting individual of the stakeholders wants the best for the sport. However, the process of how stakeholders decide over the sport doesn’t seem to work well.”
Triple world champion Lewis Hamilton also said in Australia that things had to change. He told reporters: “At the top end there are probably way too many people making decisions who probably don’t have a lot of understanding of what it’s like in the car.
“All the people making decisions have different opinions, and if they don’t agree then something doesn’t get done. My understanding is there
“The process doesn’t work”