Last weekend’s Grand Prix in France showed off everything that is wrong about Formula 1 in its current state.
Lets start with the obvious. Lewis Hamilton won the race from pole position without ever being challenged and crossed the line 18 seconds ahead of his teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Nobody wants to see this kind of race. We want to see more of what Canada offered – two great drivers slugging it out lap after lap. There may not be an overtake by the end of the race but that is not what it is all about.
Fans want to see battles
Fans enjoy a close battle where there is no overtake just as much as one where there is. We admire the fact that the leading driver is able to defend his position, but the lead driver has to defend his position.
Monaco 1992 is a great example. That race has gone down in history as one of the greatest battles of all time. Senna holding off Mansell for lap after lap in a slower car. Senna defended incredibly well and won the race less than a car length ahead of Mansell’s Williams.
Following a car around a second behind for the whole race isn’t a battle. The driver behind must be able to make an attempt to overtake but if the leading driver can cover it off and defend then the outcome doesn’t matter. It is all about wheel to wheel racing.
F1 has been starved of wheel to wheel battles for too long now. Races are too predictable and there aren’t enough fights at the front.
People have a misconception that this is a new thing. It’s not. The same thing has happened throughout the history of Formula 1 and to be fair, in previous eras it as worse. During the early 2000’s it would be commonplace for Michael Schumacher to win by over a minute.
Racing has got closer and so F1 bosses will argue it has been a success but the reality is, it is not close racing that should have been the target in the first place. It’s wheel to wheel racing that should have been the aim.
F1 bosses can’t take all the blame though. It is nobody’s fault that Mercedes have found the sweet spot and are so much better than everyone else and it is the responsibility of the remaining teams to find the extra performance and catch up.
Budget is an issue for some but Ferrari and Red Bull don’t have that excuse. They should be, and they are capable of, producing a car that can match Mercedes. They can provide all the excuses they want but the reality is, they are underperforming.
The responsibility lies with the teams as much as Formula 1 and at the moment, there are teams not pulling their weight.
One thing that has not looked good for a number of weeks now are the penalties and although decisions were nowhere near as harsh in France as they were in Canada, you do need to have some sympathy for Sergio Perez.
On the first lap he went off the track at Turn 4, so followed the rules set by the FIA and went the long way round the outside of the run-off, to the left of the marked bollard, and returned to the track. Great – he followed the rules so that should be the end of it.
But then he got a penalty as he gained an advantage. It transpired that he had overtaken the Haas of Kevin Magnussen by going the “long way round” and actually that route turned out to be the quicker one on the first lap.
As such, by following the rules, Perez broke the rules. Hardly seems fair does it?
But that moves me nicely in to the next problem. The circuits. Perez only fell foul of the rules because the run-off area was tarmac. He didn’t lose any speed by going off track and therefore didn’t suffer a penalty.
Had France had the same type of run-off as Suzuka for example, then Perez would have faced a massive penalty for his error as he would most likely have been stuck in the gravel and out of the race.
Daniel Ricciardo was also penalised as he was off the track when he overtook Kimi Raikkonen on the last lap. Yes, he was off the track but it is the same surface as the circuit so he was never going to suffer a penalty in relation to speed.
Large tarmac run-offs are there for safety reasons and that can be understood to an extent but they don’t necessarily need to be so big.
They could be made up of a different surface so drivers don’t get as much grip or they could be smaller followed by gravel traps.
It is no good watching a fight take place on track for it all to be undone by an FIA investigation minutes later.
If the tarmac run-off hadn’t been there then Ricciardo wouldn’t have made his move on Raikkonen and Perez wouldn’t have gained an advantage.
Canada provided a clear example. Sebastian Vettel made a mistake, went off the track and found himself on the grass, struggling to control his car. Not only did he lose a bunch of time to Hamilton behind, fans also saw some great car control as he wrestled his Ferrari back on to the circuit without crashing or losing the lead.
What the fans want
Fans enjoyed the drama this caused but also appreciated the skill Vettel displayed to avoid a crash and that is what F1 has always been about.
Things need to change in F1 to avoid losing new and young fans who aren’t interested in spending 90 to 100 minutes watching a race where nothing happens. You can accept a one-off race like that every so often but not the majority.
2020 will follow suit to 2019 but the FIA, F1 bosses and the teams need to ensure that whatever changes are signed off in October for the 2021 season, they are centred on the primary attraction of Formula 1.
Speed, wheel to wheel battles and the display of incredible driver skill.