New season. Same old story. If it were a film or a soap opera, the writers would have been sacked for regurgitating the same script over and over again.
Yet Formula One doesn’t seem to mind. In-fighting, internal politics and a refusal to listen to fans. Creating new rules that don’t work, that were never going to work, and then stubbornly refusing to change their minds.
It would be depressing if it weren’t all too familiar.
Yes F1 2016 has rolled into town, with the best driver line up we’ve seen in years. A credible challenger to Mercedes at the front has emerged and any one of 8 teams all scrapping tooth and nail for the minor placings.
For the first time, 21 different countries will showcase one of the most global, marketable, profitable and successful sports on the planet. And yet at the heart of it all – the headlines are all about what’s happening off the track.
It centres around the new qualifying format for 2016. For some reason, the boffins in charge decided to mix with the one thing in Formula One that wasn’t broken, replacing the knockout system with elimination that leaves little drama, little excitement, with drivers low on tyres effectively having a one lap shootout every session.
Fans hate it. Drivers hate it. Teams hate it.
Yet because F1 operates in some bizarre democracy where teams, commercial partners and the governing body all convene to decide the rules, no uniform agreement can be reached to make the changes so utterly necessary to improve the spectacle.
If a couple of teams aren’t quite sure about a rule change, and such rules changes need unanimous agreement from the teams, no progress ever gets made.
Even more ludicrous is that despite the outcry from pretty much everybody associated with the sport, the two men with most power, Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone, aren’t budging or have gone delirious behind their rose coloured spectacles.
F1 needs a dictatorship.
Year after year, we’re subjected to a debacle of rule changes, monetary disparity and crude politics that make no sense to the outsider that Formula One so desperately needs to attract. Rather than continuing to try to please everybody and invariably please very few, F1 needs to wrestle back control of its own sport and dictate to the teams and fans what the rules will be and have everybody agree to it.
In trying to improve engine competitiveness last year, Ferrari exercised a veto they have for simply being Ferrari. No vested interest there then.
In trying to improve racing next season, a strategy group has decided to give bigger tyres and more downforce, reverting back to cars in the last 2000s that proved impossible to follow one another. Lewis Hamilton suggests more mechanical grip at the expense of aero so cars can follow closely but the decision by committee at the top is ignoring its own drivers.
As Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing Team Principal, remarked last year, F1 has a unique and strong product. The biggest brands in the world want to be associated with it, countries and governments (regardless of the politics there) want to host races and the best drivers in the world all want to race in it.
Horner continued to say that teams should have little involvement in voting through rules and the FIA should simply say ‘here’s what you’re having, take it or leave it.’ However, because of the complex ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’ procedures in place, no constructive decisions ever get made.
Anybody who ‘likes’ F1 on Facebook will have noticed a huge surge in social media activity, with past races, highlights and interviews flooding the social media platform. F1 is trying to engage with its fans.
But if it refuses to listen to them and cut the childish behind the scenes squabbling that grabs as many headlines as the on track action, it risks turning them away at the door.
F1 needs to streamline its decision making process. Cut out the bureaucracy and start making decisions for the good of the sport. It needs to let all parties voice the opinion but be strong enough to take action itself, even if it risks ruffling the feathers of a few of the sports big guns.
They can start by changing bloody qualifying back.
Thursday, 7th April 2016