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There was a time, when the average F1 driver could drive any car you could squeeze him into. A time when you might see the same driver drive 2 or three different cars, in different classes, on the same weekend.
Those days are now gone.
Nearly every driver in F1 is prevented from driving anything but a street car, on anything but a public road, both during the seasons and in between.
The argument for these restrictions is simple and straightforward. There is too much at stake in F1, to risk losing a driver because of an injury from another race.
This may appear logical enough if you are an insurance adjuster, but to a racing driver, this has to be madness.
The only way to improve as a driver is to DRIVE. Simulators can only take one so far. Yes, they are great for learning a track, but no simulator can reproduce the actual forces involved in a real car, and there is not enough computing power to calculate every feasible possibility of tire, asphalt, and obstruction that a driver will deal with at even a single race.
Yet, the powers that be in F1, have been cutting testing time every year for what seems like a decade. The drivers get less and less time in their car. Then factor in that most of the middle and lower level teams are forced to sell seat time in FP1 and testing to make ends meat, and the average driver is down to less than 1 hour of actual seat time per weekend, before they have to start qualifying. In some cases it is much less than that.
Defying the modern day norm, this year we have one glaring exception to the rule – Nico Hulkenberg.
The Hulk raced, and won the 24 hours of LeMans and spent a significant amount of time before the race testing the car.
That single win way have done more for him, Force India, Formula 1, and racing in general, that any other victory this year. It brought Nico Hulkenberg into the forefront of every racing report for over a week, across the entire globe. It raised Force India’s profile, it raised Formula 1’s profile. Dare I say, it made Nico a racing “hero” if even only for a moment in time.
“Formula One needs to be about the drivers being the heroes…”, says Christian Horner.
This line has now been repeated ad nauseum for over a year, and most likely has lead to the new interpretation of the rules regarding “driver aids” that will go into effect at Spa. But is this really the solution?
Is giving the driver less information really going to improve his driving skills? Does the average fan ever really listen to, or care about what is said between the driver and his pit?
If a driver is told that his opponent is braking deeper into turn two, and exitting with more speed than him, does that make him less of a driver, or help him to refine his own technique, and further test the limits of his own skills and car?
Of course, implementing these changes will have the same effect as every other mid-season “reinterpretation” of the rules. The teams will find a way around it. More accurately, one could argue, that the only reason the teams agreed to this change, is that they already have a plan – and will simply display more information for the driver on the steering wheel.
The immediate effect of this will be that the drivers will end up spending more time looking at their steering wheel, and less time looking at the road.
But the long term effect may well be less overtaking, more drivers missing apexes, more offs, and more accidents.
One only needs to look at rallying to understand this. To drive at the absolute limit, the drivers attention is focused completely in front of them. They never take their eyes off the road, and have a second person in the car, just to call out turns, and watch all of the mechanical systems.
Granted, an F1 circuit is no rally course, and there is no need to call out turns, but the pit in F1 is essentially doing the same thing. They are keeping on eye on all of the important systems, monitoring tyre and brake temperature, boost, engine temp, etc. etc., so that the driver can keep his attention focused on pushing the car to its limits.
So apparently, the solution to F1’s problems is to give the driver less information, less time in the car, and no opportunity to drive anything except a simulator when they are not racing for Bernie.
“From a pure business aspect – sorry Nico if I have to say this – you are not so good for my business,” said Bernie Ecclestone.
In this now famous quote, Bernie was basically saying that Nico Rosberg does not do enough free promotion for his sport. He then used Lewis as an example of someone that does, mainly through his “red carpet” appearances, and other extracurricular activities.
Isn’t this simply a case of a corporate boss demanding fee promotion from people who are employed to drive a handful of hours every second or third weekend? Does Bernie really have the right to dictate what F1 drivers do in their “off time”, after all they’re not being paid for it.
Anyone that has worked in the corporate world has experienced this “logic”. Somehow if you are not an exec, and not working within the confines of their cubicle, you don’t deserved to be paid for your time. Well FOM is the promoter, and if they want to promote their sport, then maybe they should pay for the drivers to do this.
Of course the purse strings at FOM are pulled tighter than Flavio’s girdle, so we all know that will never happen.
Yet in reality, what better promotion is there for F1 amongst other motorsports – than to allow the drivers to compete in other championships?
Let them drive.
F1 drivers should in fact be positively ENCOURAGED to drive in any FIA sanctioned event that does not conflict with the F1 season; even including rallying.
Of course the argument is that that rallying, beyond all the other racing types, is too dangerous and risky for an F1 driver. Maybe the real reasoning is that rallying is just too dangerous per se, and the safety regulations should be reconsidered.
The president of the FIA, Jean Todt has been most vocal about his intentions and legacy, which is safety, cost control and promoting global motorsport.
But by getting the top drivers to race in some of the ower classes of FIA events, this will not only draw more spectators, but give them an opportunity to experience the amazing talent on display in F1.
Which could possibly – raise the profile of the sport.
Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel driving a couple of DTM races a year would do more to gain them the support of the German people than 1000 beer commercials – and maybe up the gate at the German GP by a few 10’s of thousands.
Sergio Perez in a Daytona Prototype would not only draw more fans from Mexico into the American racing series, but expose the American audience to a taste of F1 drivers who are off their radar.
What if Kimi and Veltteri were allowed to drive as teammates for a Finnish rally team?
How much cross promotion could FOM accomplish it they actually thought about what they were doing and were willing to spend even a pittance?
If we truly want the drivers to be viewed as “hero’s” we need to give them the opportunity to show it in multiple venues, and a twitter pic of a half naked Rihanna grinding on Lewis’s junk does not make him a hero.