An amusing development, though one which said a lot about Formula One’s crisis of confidence, occurred during the run-up to last week’s Monaco Grand Prix when not one but two major surveys were launched to canvas F1 fans’ views on the state of the sport.
One even had the backing of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association. The very men who are supposed to be our racing heroes are now asking why, while they give their all on the track in pursuit of glory, viewers are switching off in their millions.
But anyone who gave up on the Monaco Grand Prix before lap 64 missed one of the most dramatic moments of the season so far.
As someone far wittier than me once said, the Monaco Grand Prix makes a nice change from motor racing. Sure enough, the first 63 laps of the race ran to the usual script: a pretty parade for the mega-rich.
Then the unexpected happened.
That’s right: something unexpected happened. That’s a rare occurrence in Formula One.
Murray Walker used to say “anything can happen and in Formula One it usually does”. Today it usually doesn’t. We’ve become accustomed to seeing drivers make their routine couple of pit stops, drone past each other in DRS zones, mumble PR platitudes about how hard ‘the guys’ worked and go home.
But in Monaco Mercedes stunned everyone. They missed a one-foot putt. They had an empty goal and put the ball over the bar. (Yes, I had to research these analogies.)
In F1 terms, they threw away a 19-second lead in the Monaco Grand Prix by making an unnecessary pit stop. Not since Bjorn Wirdheim has the principality seen a more shocking squandering of a certain victory.
It was a tough break for Hamilton and no one expects his supporters to have enjoyed what they saw. But as a piece of sporting theatre you couldn’t fault it – a professional team made a big mistake and paid a big price. That’s partly what we expect to see when we buy a ticket to a race or turn on our televisions – brilliance rewarded and errors punished.
The surprising outcome to the Monaco Grand Prix proved that, well-intentioned though these fan surveys are, one simple observation goes a long way towards explaining why the sport is struggling and what needs to be done to reverse its decline. It has become too predictable.
Formula One prides itself on the professionalism of its competitors with good reason. But that expertise, allied to sky-high budgets (and the prize money system that sustains them) allows for the steady elimination of every variable that might produce a surprise.
If the FIA and FOM want to inject more excitement into F1 they need to bombard teams with variables and strip away the means for them to spend their way to success. Here’s a few thoughts on how to make F1 more unpredictable:
More competitors Yesterday’s announcement that a new team is being sought for next year is welcome news. The more cars there are on track the greater the opportunity for anything to happen
Smaller teams Lower the existing limit on the number of staff each team can bring to a race and keep bringing it down each year, which will also reduce costs. Cut back pit crew numbers to a bare minimum (which also makes sense from a safety point of view)
Trim back the rule book For example, let everyone have a free choice of what tyres to start on and which they use during the race – the more choices teams can make, the more choices they can get wrong
Make tracks harder Revise run-off areas and penalties so that drivers cannot leave the track without losing time
Ban tyre warmers If IndyCar and GP2 drivers don’t need their tyres pre-warming, nor do the F1 elite
Get rid of DRS Overtaking moves used to be an unpredictable occurrence. DRS has made them predictable, formulaic, mundane
Accept that some races will still be predictable Because without those races the unpredictable ones could never excite us
Over to you
Do you think F1 needs to become more unpredictable? What’s the best way to achieve it?
Have your say in the comments.
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