Mercedes dominance ‘bad for future of F1’
Ex-chief hits out as Wolff reveals racist ‘scars’ of Hamilton, writes Oliver Brown in Mexico City
Nick Fry, the former chief executive of Mercedes’ Formula One team and the man who laid the platform for their record-breaking dominance, admits that the Silver Arrows’ supremacy is strangling the sport.
With Mercedes still celebrating a sixth straight constructors’ title, soon to be adorned by a sixth drivers’ crown for Lewis Hamilton, he argues that it is time for the behemoth he helped create to be dislodged at the summit. “On the one hand, they deserve everything,” he said. “On the other, for the rest of us, it’s pretty dull.”
For Mercedes’ repeat triumphs to stir ennui in the paddock is a familiar ritual. But for a recent insider to speak so critically about the wider implications for F1 is highly unusual. “It’s a ridiculous situation that three teams have won every race for the last five years,” Fry says. “But for an act of God, great teams like Mclaren and Williams have virtually zero chance of winning a race, and that doesn’t make for the best entertainment for those of us who love F1. This needs to be a sport where at least half of the competitors are in with a shout of winning.”
Fry, who was in charge at Mercedes throughout Michael
Schumacher’s three seasons and who played a pivotal role in negotiating Hamilton’s move to the team in 2012, also accuses the sport’s power brokers of being too timid in their approach to reform. Jean Todt, the head of governing body the FIA, and Chase Carey, the chief executive of F1, are, he suggests, more conditioned to talking than doing.
“Fundamentally, the problem is that while Jean Todt and Chase Carey are excellent managers, they are not demonstrating the leadership skills that we would have seen from Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone,” Fry says. “The pendulum has swung too far the other way. You can’t run a sport like Formula One with a purely corporate way of doing things. This can’t be a democracy, because the ones with the power are always going to vote for the status quo.
“I strongly feel that while the way Max and Bernie went about business wasn’t always desirable, they got things done. It’s difficult to see that they would let it continue as it currently is. It needs radical change. Much that was wrong with the sport 10 years ago is still wrong. Issues such as cost caps and the fairer distribution of income are still not addressed. Unless they change the sport so it becomes more compelling, the pattern will go only one way, and it’s not going to be a positive one for F1.”
Ahead of tomorrow’s Mexican Grand Prix, Liberty Media, F1’s owner, is holding several meetings with the teams in a last-ditch effort to sell its vision for the sport post-2021, when drastic regulation changes will come into force. In particular, a budget cap of £125 million per team is designed to encourage closer rivalries. Fry, whose book Survive, Drive, Win marks the 10th anniversary of Brawn GP’S championship victory, indicates that it is this type of stunning moment – when a privateer team usurped the traditional forces – that the sport must recapture.
“Sadly, a lot of people reflect that this was the point they lost interest in Formula One,” he says.
Hamilton, Fry’s one-time protege, has history of his own to chase here in Mexico this weekend, with title No 6 promising to take him within one of Schumacher’s record. He needs to beat teammate Valtteri Bottas by at least 14 points, a margin he has managed only once this season. While he insists Mercedes are disadvantaged by the high altitude, the results in first practice yesterday painted a different picture, with Hamilton first and Bottas fifth. If those standings are repeated in the race, glory will be his.
Hamilton made an oblique comment that “there is a lot going on in my life away from the track”. Toto Wolff, the team principal at Mercedes, did not connect the remark to any specific incident but reflected that his driver had been permanently scarred by the racist abuse he experienced as a child.
“When Lewis was younger, he was the only black kid among the white kids, and I know he was racially abused on the track,” Wolff said. “If that happens to an eight-year-old, or a 10-year-old, it just leaves scars that will not go away. Today, Lewis has a good and mature perspective, but the scars are certainly there. Those scars are a witness of having survived.”
In front: Lewis Hamilton was fastest in practice at wheel of his Mercedes