Americanisation of F1 is necessary, inevitable and good for the sport – As a grumpy old, rose tinted glasses bloke who has posited manny timed that the Formula 1 of yesteryear was better, I feel I am becoming radicalised.
Back when I was a kid watching F1 in the 1970’s, it felt as though every F1 race weekend was an exciting journey into the unknown. In the past decade, just two teams have won the F1 titles. Red Bull and Mercedes.
Having gone from never missing a race as a boy, the last 10 years has at times seen me give up watching F1 on a regular basis. Don’t get me wrong, every year I watch races, but dome years less so than others.
Why? Because F1 has become too predictable. And the best sport has the spectator not knowing week in and week out who will win.
So before we go any further, I have until recently been what people call an F1 purist. I’ve railed against B teams, standardised parts, F1 becoming a specification series and a host of other changes to Formula 1.
Yet the era of Red Bull/Vettel and Mercedes/Hamilton domination has now changed my views on how we should go about things.
For 10 years 2 teams and 2 drivers have won everything bar Nico Rosberg’s genius dismantling of Lewis Hamilton’s psyche and against all odds and the Mercedes team driver preference to win the 2016 drivers championship.
There are a whole host of reasons why this domination has been ruining our sport for almost 2 decades, the primary one being a couple of teams spending vast sums of money the rest can’t afford.
For 33 years since the 1950 inception of F1, the fans were never certain who was going to win (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Formula_One_World_Drivers%27_Champions).
Then the rot began to set in, not to the extent of the past decade, but teams began to dominate for several years, before the baton was passed to another.
Again the reasons were complicated, but the FIA and their regulation management of the sport were primarily culpable. Whereas previously car design and engine regulations had changed regularly, the FIA allowed them to remain for a number fo years, thus locking a single team’s advantage who cracked the solutions to build the best car.
This culminated in Ferrari winning 6 constructor titles from 1999-2005. The from 2005-2009 we had a couple of Renault wins, 1 for Ferrari, McLaren and Brawn (ex Honda).
So in the past 22 completed seasons, Ferrari have 7 constructor titles, Red Bull 4 and Mercedes 7.
18 constructor championships to just 3 teams,
This is not competitive sport.
The naivety of the FIA has been shocking. They wanted to be seen to be green and so the current hybrid engine regulations were formed. However the big money engine manufacturers said the research and development of these power units was so huge (Mercedes allegedly spent $1 billion on developing their current power unit), they demanded the regulations be locked in for a decade.
The FIA capitulated.
What was the meat teams’ motive? To transfer the advertising budget they would spend on various global media outlets to F1. Eyeballs watching a Mercedes dominate F1, clearly is a big pull for road car buyers.
These vast global advertising budgets now went towards developing F1 cars. Mercedes at their zenith have employed 1500 people in their two F1 manufacturing locations.
Buy Hey, we are where we are. Yet now is the time to stop this.
FIA job list number one. To get rid of these stupid expensive hybrid engines and change the power unit regulations every two years to stop these automotive giants spending gazillions on F1 engine design.
FIA job list number 2. To stop the teams having a say on the regulations.
Times have also changed quickly. The FIA used to be desperate to keep teams in the sport and so capitulated to their demands. Zac Brown said this week that McLaren were probably valued at £1bn.
Just a few years ago, nobody wanted to buy Caterham for £1, so it was wound up.
Now Gene Haas is holding out for big money if Andretti or others want to buy his pretty crappy team.
So the desperation to keep teams in the sport is no more. Note to FIA.
FIA job list number 3. Change the engine and aero regulations every 2-3 years. This allows innovation and mixes up the advantages teams now lock in for 5-10 years. Further it will attract new engine manufacturers like VAG (Audi, Porsche, Skoda – lol).
And stop capitulating to Ferrari, et al, who threaten to withdraw from the sport if they don’t get what they want. F1 is Ferrari’s biggest marketing channel. Whatever they claim, not participating in F1 would diminish their brand.
So why does F1 need Americanising?
Well the Bernie years saw him capitulate to big money. And don’t get me wrong, Bernie Ecclestone took F1 from racing in shitty fields to the global sport it is today. But the principles of his operation have now passed.
What do I mean by Americanisation?
Well, the good old US of A does have a cultural value we others in the West at times forget. The customer is king. Bums on seats is the objective.
Liberty media, since acquiring F1 have cleverly been on a softly softly approach to change. Engaging Ross Brawn was a classic move and also Mr. Dominicali. These guys have Formula 1 running through their blood and its difficult for the teams to argue they are mere pawns in the hands of an American conglomerate.
One of F1’s biggest problems, as a sporting spectacle, is the fact that the way a race start grid is formed is based on the fastest car/driver. Seriously, think outside the box with me. Putting the fastest car at the start of a race and tell the rest to catch it, will predominantly lead to one result.
That car wins.
So in fact, a GP is decided predominantly by qualifying.
Adrian Newley designed his Red Bull Vettel world beating machines to do this. Win qualifying and then from the front run and hide during the race.
This is pretty shit for the fans and leads to half a decade of a team dominating races.
F1 needs to maximise the promoters opportunity its to earn money from tickets. So the introduction of the sprint this year has meant there is a competitive event for the fans Friday/Saturday and Sunday.
I don’t have the stats for Brazil, but at Silverstone and Monza, qualifying Friday, the sprint Saturday and the GP Sunday has both improved circuit attendance and TV audiences.
If the F1 GP weekend has to be over three days, providing a competitive event each day is clearly good for the fans, the promoters and the TV audience.
In Brazil, we saw an incredible competitive performance in the Sprint from Hamilton, starting at the back of the grid and finishing P5. No pit stops, just cars running flat out. This is pure racing.
There will be 6 sprints in 2021 as Liberty media is going slowly slowly to catch a monkey.
The idea of the fastest car starting at the front of the GP grid was a post war revision. Prior to that, lots were drawn to decide the order of the start.
Qualifying has become a scared cow for people of my generation, and really we should be considering the best way of creating a sporting spectacle.
This is what the Americanisation of F1 is doing. Putting the consumer/fan first and providing a spectacle today that saw one of the world’s greatest ever drivers rampage through the field from P20 to P5.
In my opinion, this does not diminish the competition, but enhances it.
Lewis started P10 for Sunday’s race for the Brazilian GP, and his race through the field was more exciting to watch than him starting at the front and disappearing into the distance.
Americanisation, puts the customer first. And so, F1 will surely benefit from the new life Liberty Media is bringing to our sport.