Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton, Charles Leclerc, Paul Ricard, 2019

Hamilton urges change in F1 after supreme display in France

2019 French Grand Prix review

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The French Grand Prix felt as if it had been precision-engineered to engender despair about the state of Formula 1 competition in 2019.

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes annihilated the opposition. That may seem an exaggeration; one Ferrari finished on Valtteri Bottas’s tail and the other Ferrari set the fastest lap of the race. But Hamilton had 18 seconds in hand over his rivals and admitted afterwards he had a lot of pace in hand.

Earlier in the season Hamilton’s team mate Bottas looked like the only remaining threat to his title hopes. But the fourth consecutive win for car number 44 showed those prospects are diminishing rapidly as well.

It wasn’t just the contest at the front that was non-existent. Throughout the field, little happened before the final lap which might reasonably be described as “racing”.

For anyone who found the eighth round of 2019 a dispiriting and one-sided affair, Hamilton had a clear message afterwards: The blame lies with those running the sport. And, having taken a look at their plans for 2021, he doesn’t expect things to improve any time soon.

Formation start

Start, Paul Ricard, 2019
The front-runners held their places at the start
Mercedes swept the front row of the grid in qualifying. Charles Leclerc put a tidy lap together and was six-tenths down in third; Sebastian Vettel has mystified by his car’s handling in Q3 and ended up almost one-and-a-half seconds down in seventh, separated from his team mate by Max Verstappen and the resurgent McLarens.

The light had gone out quickly all weekend in the F2 and F3 races, and the grand prix was much the same. “I was quite surprised how quick the lights went off,” said Leclerc. “I didn’t have a great start.”

However the Ferrari’s strong engine plus the tow from the two draggy Mercedes kept him safe the cars behind. “I tried to place myself round the outside of Valtteri for the first corner but I didn’t take the risk to go round the outside, because he would have out-braked me and pushed me wide, for sure. I would have done the same.

“So I decided to slow down a bit more, go behind him and then I saw that Max actually had a bit more grip and was round the outside of me. Actually I only saw him for one corner so I don’t know if he was there for a long time but I only saw him for turn two and then he was round the outside of turn three but yeah, I pushed in turn three and then I didn’t see him again after.”

While the top four held their order Carlos Sainz Jnr out-dragged Lando Norris for fifth place. Vettel was beaten to turn one by Daniel Ricciardo, but the Renault driver was held up behind the cautiously-braking Norris at turn one, allowing Vettel to reclaim his place.

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A predictable procession

Pierre Gasly, Red Bull, Paul Ricard, 2019
Gasly endured a tough race at home
While Hamilton edged clear at the front, Vettel drew within DRS range of the McLarens and easily zapped past the pair of them. In a parallel universe, where no one has taken the lamentable decisions to create DRS or interrupt Paul Ricard’s Mistral straight with a chicane, Vettel would have been made to work for these positions, drawing alongside his rivals as they scorched into Signes at over 300kph. Instead the moves were predictable and routine, worthy of note in this race report only because so little else of note happened at Paul Ricard on Sunday.

At the other end of the field, George Russell performed such a pass on his team mate. It took two goes: On the first Robert Kubica leant hard on the other Williams, obliging his team mate to run wide where he clipped a polystyrene corner marker and damaged his front wing. The next time Russell got a little further alongside and captured the position in a superb move; regrettable, one the television director somehow contrived to miss.

Almost all the drivers who qualified inside the top 10 did so using the harder medium compound tyres. Pierre Gasly and Antonio Giovinazzi used the soft tyres to reach Q3, but these had a short life, especially in the case of the Alfa Romero driver. While Gasly had under-performed in qualifying compared to Verstappen – again – Giovinazzi was hard done by under rules which too often punish midfielders.

The medium tyre compound allowed the front runners to extend their opening stints, and as the gaps opened up between them it became clear none would be in a position to ‘jump’ the other. Vettel might have been the exception, as he stayed out hoping to gain an advantage over Verstappen, by a locked tyre sent him into the pits soon too.

Over the second stint Hamilton briefly report a problem with his tyres. “I asked if anyone else was having blistering and they didn’t reply that Valtteri or anyone else was having the same, so I was a little bit nervous with that,” he said. “Particularly as it started getting quite deep on the right side, and then it appeared on the left side.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Paul Ricard, 2019
Despite tyre worries, Hamilton nearly took fastest lap
“I’m thinking: ‘Shoot’. I remember last year Lance [Stroll], I think it was, in the Williams had the tyre blow up in turn 10, so I was a little bit nervous for that. Even though I think we had the thin gauge tyre last year as well.

“I was a little bit nervous with that. I basically reduced a bit of my speed for a period of time where I wasn’t really leaning too heavily on the front tyre.”

The problem turned out to be nothing serious, and Hamilton had enough life left in his tyres to make a decent stab at the bonus point for fastest lap. However as usual the gap between the midfield and the front runners handed an opportunity for another driver to make a ‘free’ pit stop for fresh tyres.

“We knew Vettel had a free stop,” said Hamilton. “[But] the thing is, with me, my mentality is that it doesn’t matter whether they have a free stop, I’m still going to go for it.

“The team [said] don’t even bother. And so, anyway, I came out of the last corner and half way down the straight I decided to go for it. So I probably lost a little bit in power mode but, other than that, it was a really good lap.”

It was only two-hundredths of a second away from beating Vettel to the fastest lap time. If Hamilton had turned the wick up sooner, he could have capped a day of crushing superiority with a final, morale-crushing blow to Ferrari.

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Drama at the end

Lando Norris, McLaren, Paul Ricard, 2019
Hydraulic trouble spoiled a good day for McLaren
Only in the final laps did the race threaten to come good. First Norris, who had stalked Sainz all race, hit trouble in his McLaren. The team warned him to stop using his DRS, then that his steering would become heavy – telltale indications that he had a hydraulic problem.

Norris began to lose a few tenths of a second per lap to his team mate. Ricciardo drew back within range behind him, closing the gap to less than two seconds.

Then Alexander Albon, running on hard tyres and under press from medium-shod team mate Daniil Kvyat, clipped a bollard at turn one while Kvyat was setting him up for a pass. It landed in the corner and prompted a Virtual Safety Car period for it to be recovered.

When the VSC period ended, Ricciardo was immediately on Norris’s tail. On the final lap he made an all-or-nothing bid to claim the place but braked fractionally too late into the chicane and went onto the run-off. He steered back onto the circuit directly in Norris’s path – perhaps hoping everyone had forgotten the penalty Vettel had received for doing exactly the same thing in Canada – and then went off the track again as he tried to prevent Kimi Raikkonen taking advantage of his delay.

Both were clear infractions. They were, however, fairly predictable consequences of racing on a circuit where the run-off areas are as generous as they are at Paul Ricard. That said Ricciardo, like Sergio Perez on lap one, would have done well to remember the basic precept that drivers aren’t allowed to gain positions by putting all four wheels off the track.

While all this was going on the scrap for second place had suddenly come to life. The brief nature of the VSC period caught Bottas by surprise, and that plus an engine misfire helped bring Leclerc within range.

Daniel Ricciardo, Renault, Paul Ricard, 2019
Ricciardo finished ahead of Gasly – until the stewards got involved
“I lost a little bit of time in the VSC but I don’t think I was the only one because it was super quick,” he said, explaining that he had been busy juggling engine settings when the VSC period ended.

“First you slow down a lot to be positive on the delta, you’re changing the engine modes, then suddenly it was saying ‘VSC ending’. So, I put in the right mode, started to go flat-out because I was a lot positive, I think I got down to maybe plus three [seconds] on the delta which is bigger than usual. So I lost a bit of time there.”

He also had trouble getting his tyres warmed up. “The main issue was the blistering, a lot of front tyre wear. Once you lost a bit of temperature under the VSC, you struggle to get gain it back when you don’t have the surface of the rubber any more there. So, that was the bigger difference, so couldn’t really restart the tyres.”

Leclerc got close enough to pop open his DRS on the back straight and take a couple of speculative looks into the chicane. The sharp right-hander Pont at the end of the lap has often been a place for dramatic lunges, and the thought clearly occured to Leclerc, but he was still too far back to make it work. It at least injected some action into an otherwise lifeless race.

Ricciardo’s penalties eventually dropped him out of the points, so behind Hamilton, Bottas, Leclerc, Verstappen and Vettel came Sainz, Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault and Norris. Gasly, who had a shocker of a race, was promoted to the final point ahead of Ricciardo.

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Hamilton urges change in F1

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Paul Ricard, 2019
Hamilton claimed his sixth win in eight starts
Before the race weekend Hamilton and Hulkenberg had attended the FIA summit on the new regulations for 2021. He came away with the clear impression the much-vaunted plans for the season after next will do little to close up the competition and improve the racing.

In the post-race press conference Hamilton laid into F1’s rule-makers for what he said were years of poor decisions which have created dull races, of which his emphatic win on Sunday was the latest example.

“Don’t point the fingers at the drivers because we don’t write the rules,” he exhorted. “You should put the pressure on the people at the head who should be doing their job. I think they are trying to but for many, many years they have made bad decisions.”

When you look at Paul Ricard’s car park-size run-offs, the predictability of DRS passes, the tedium of mandatory pit stops and the unfairness of the Q2 tyre rule, it’s hard not to agree with him. But the state of competition is arguably as poor now as it was 15 years ago when the sport was very different. For that you have to ask where Mercedes competition are.

“I really do hope that we have more close races like the last race,” Hamilton added. “I really hope Ferrari bring some extra downforce rather than keeping the straights fast, get some speed through the corners so we can start racing each other.”

There won’t be many people who disagree with that either.

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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41 comments on “Hamilton urges change in F1 after supreme display in France”

  1. In my opinion the so called cost cutting rules that were implemented years ago have done nothing to help the sport and have in fact hurt it.
    You qualify and line the cars up fastest to slowest, don’t allow changes to the car between qualifying and the race and force the teams on the same pit strategy. In addition, you make the cars super reliable in part because the cars are not being pushed, then wonder why the race is processional. How are the cars going to become magically faster than the ones in front and provide on-track racing action?

    My second gripe is the lack of on-track testing. Without a eureka moment as McLaren apparently had, how is a team like Williams going to claw back almost 4 seconds per lap without on-track testing? Testing is required for teams to close to gap to those who are faster, and not allowing it seems counter productive and only lends itself to maintaining the status quo.

    1. Cost cutting rules without a cost cap meant the richer teams just spend inordinate amounts of money making their stuff and procedures extra reliable (well, Mercedes did, Ferrari have some operational errors still, and hydraulics is a problem occasionally for everyone); have to agree @velocityboy

      And as tim says below, with F1’s main differentiator being the engineering, for years Bernie has worked to not make it a big thing, allowing the teams to be secretive and closed up about what they do with the car ‘updates’, ‘we have an issue’, ‘spark-plug failure’ (turns out it destroys the engine, but who knew, not the viewers)’, press ‘engine mode X’; only recently has Liberty put some small steps in, and have teams become a tiny bit more open about that marvelous stuff they do behind the screens. So, if not a spec: display that car pr0n for all to see please.

    2. @velocityboy Even with unlimited testing (as used to be the case back in the day) the smaller teams still wouldn’t able to keep up with the big teams as they couldn’t afford to test as much as the bigger teams, especially Ferrari given that they have their own private test track in their backyard so to speak, meaning they could test as much as they’d want to if the rules would allow that.

      1. @jerejj but the FIA/Liberty could easily allocate testing miles/hours/days based on a teams position in the standings. Meaning that Mercedes would get the least and Williams would get the most. I’d much rather something like that than things like weighing the top cars down or in some other way handicapping their on track performance.

        1. Peppe (@turbopeppino)
          25th June 2019, 20:44

          EXACTLY. Much like to what happens in MotoGP these days. Then you have a not so big team like Suzuki with a competitive bike in 2019 after years of extra test days to make up the gap to the top dogs.

    3. @velocityboy I feel the same way. Too much interventionism only to produce a worsened situation.

    4. Great post! Agree 100%.

    5. @velocityboy, yet, at the same time, if you were to change the situation to allow teams to change their set up between qualifying and the race, don’t you then just nullify its effect from that given everybody can do the same thing?

      Equally, with regards to on track testing – as @jerejj rightly notes, you create a situation where the richer teams are the ones who benefit most, as they are the ones who have the money and resources to throw at doing that testing to begin with.

      At the very least, you would expect the development rate to match that of the front runners, or to see those at the front pull away from those at the back. That is what usually happened in the past, where the relative performance of those smaller teams at the back of the grid usually stayed fairly static over a season, since those at the front were testing and developing their cars at the same rate, or at a higher rate, than those at the back of the field could match.

      It’s when you look at the sort of distances that drivers used to cover in testing during that era that you realise that it’s not the smaller teams, but the bigger ones, who really benefited from it.

      Back in 2004, the lower bound estimate for Badoer’s testing mileage is approximately 20,000km, whilst a light amount of testing might see him cover just 14,000km per season. Davidson, over at BAR-Honda, racked up 15,000km per year on average, and in 2006, between the free practise sessions he took part in and the private testing that Honda did, he clocked up 24,000km of test mileage that season. Kovalainen, similarly, was averaging around 15,000km of private testing mileage for Renault at around that time.

      Michael Schumacher, meanwhile, was notorious for being able to pretty much run non-stop from dawn until dusk in private tests at Fiorano – sometimes continuing to test at night under floodlighting – and he could sometimes clock up as much as 30,000km a year.

      It’s only when you start looking at quite how much mileage the big teams used to clock up each year that you start to realise the sort of advantages that unlimited testing really gave the big teams and quite how uneven the playing field would be if you then liberalised testing in that way again.

      1. There’s an awful lot of room between unlimited testing and the current situation. The idea is to let the teams towards the lower end of the grid test more than the winning teams.

  2. Somehow the spec series like IndyCar are way more about the racing while F1 is way more about obtuse engineering changes (hidden and therefore not even appreciable by fans) and ongoing political fighting.

    If you finish outside the top five as a team in one year you should be offered a weight advantage or testing advantage or some other way to overcome the massive budget advantage the entrenched winners have. Otherwise, if the racing remains like this, once the Boomer generation is gone so is F1’s main fan base. This racing is not growing it with the next generations, surely.

    1. F1 is way more about obtuse engineering changes

      F1 has always been about the entire package. Pit stops, Tyres, Tactics from the back room etc etc.
      (I used to love it when pit crews ran out to confuse the other teams)

      If you finish outside the top five as a team in one year you should be offered a weight advantage

      So if you win you get kicked in the nuts for the next year?

      once the Boomer generation is gone so is F1’s main fan base

      Ahhh there it is … you hate us old folk who cut our teeth on Hunt and Lauda!

      I’m playing with you Tim, but in all honesty if F1 becomes “Euro Indy” then I will totally migrate to “Mixed Martial Dwarf Hedgehog Cage Fighting”.

      I know F1 has its problems but then again – as a follower since the 70’s – it always has.

      1. Yea, It amazes me how much rose tints the older F1. They remember the great moments while forgetting.

        Hell teams today are way more closer in performance than most of F1 history (even if admittedly the top title this year is kinda boring).

      2. Interesting concept “Euro Indy”. Don’t know how many IndyCar races you’ve watched this year, but they are always more interesting than F1. If you like politics in racing and an engineering exercise, F1 is your game. If you want real racing and some amazing car control, much better on board video IndyCar is far superior. I love both, but IndyCar is way better. It is possible (and highly enjoyable) to be a fan of both.

  3. Whilst I completely acknowledge and agree that there are fundamental problems with the current path F1 has taken, I think it’s important to remember that all seasons inevitably have a few ‘non-event’ races such as this.

    What I mean is, I think it would be unwise the draw correspondence between the state of the sport and the nature of this particular race. It’s those kinds of emotional responses that can easily lead to snap decision making.

    It’s like Vettel receiving his Canada penalty and immediately using it as a platform to say how F1 is no longer the sport he fell in love with. Sure, he may have a point, but the context with which the point was raised shifted because of his emotional state (would we be talking anywhere near as much about the wider issues of F1 had the French GP been a rip-roarer?)

    Not saying this is you Keith, it’s more a general obvservation of our community. I think we just all need to let the dust settle on races like these and be a little more pragmatic with discussions about the wider issues.

    1. I think it would be unwise the draw correspondence between the state of the sport and the nature of this particular race. It’s those kinds of emotional responses that can easily lead to snap decision making

      This a very sensible point @ninjenius. Perspective does need to be kept. However, I am glad that people are using it to make sure they don’t lose sight of the intended objectives of the 2021 changes. Things like Ferrari getting to keep their veto, suggest that they aren’t necessarily doing their utmost for the sake of the sport imo

  4. (1) F1 decision-makers (teams, FIA and Liberty members) should talk each other every week to finish regulations until October.
    (2) Dominance (and big differences between teams in lap times) always guarantees boring races.
    (3) It is hard to overtake in turbulent air and with sensitive cars for turbulent air.
    (4) Racing should be a greater challange for drivers mentally (own decision-making) and physically (more G forces until it is safety) as well during races.
    (5) F1 needs better tracks so it would be a good thing if F1 valuated the tracks.

  5. It is so ridiculous to talk about a cost cap when all these extremely expensive design changes mandated by F1 keep driving up costs without producing effective results for more competitive racing.

  6. Norris kept vettel behind him in the opening laps before DRS. I’m sure he would have passed him sooner or later but at least make him work for it.

  7. Lining up the cars from fastest to slowest is a guaranteed recipe for boring races. It is far too easy to take pole on Sunday and cruise to a relatively easy victory on sunday.

    Turn Fp3 into a reverse wdc grid sprint race(45m long or so) and average it’s result with qually as it currently is to set the grid for sunday.

    Make the aero less turbulent, the tires durable, the cars smaller and lighter.

    These simple changes will make every race weekend epic, and every victory hard won.

    1. Sprinklers. Do you work for Liberty Media by any chance?

      1. What logical reason would you give the faster cars a head start?

        Qualifications are a test of speed

        A reverse wdc grid sprint race would be a test of racecraft.

        Both should be required of a wdc.

  8. Significantly more followable cars (which hopefully is going to be the case in 2021) combined with stable lap times similar to how they’ve been since 2017, as well as, lower minimum overall weight, i.e., lighter cars. They don’t have to be 600 kg as they used to be, but at least closer to 700 would be an improvement already. These are my three wishes for an ideal F1 (car).

    1. Oh, and keep paddle-shifters, as well as, power steering, etc., opposite to LH’s suggestions.

      1. I agree with all of this. Do something about the tyres as well which are hopeless under the current regs.

  9. F1oSaurus (@)
    24th June 2019, 19:01

    Why add another race report in front of the actual article as referred to by the headline?

  10. Massive change requires massive action.

    I’d stardardise the aero and many parts starting in 2021 – pretty much everything. Get all the teams on the same page for a couple of years, then slowly and with budget consideration, allow them to develop certain areas of the car at a pace that all teams can manage.

  11. The feedback from Lewis having attended the summit on the 2021 regulations is really giving me cause for concern now. I am sure Liberty and Ross Brawn have the best of intentions but I think, yet again, the vested interests in the sport are proving stubborn and very resistant to significant change. Already we have heard the Ferrari veto will be staying in place and the cost cap limits are being watered down.

    This is quite understandable in many respects. Why would the major players in the sport, Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull want to go along with major changes that are likely to weaken their position after all they have invested. However, the writing is really on the wall for F1 in terms of it’s lack of competitiveness, failing spectacle and the growth of series like Formula E. I am sure I am not alone in finding it very frustrating that some stakeholders don’t seem to realise the situation is grave as it is or don’t seem to want to take the action necessary.

    I think the one hope still is that the changes to aero and car design rules will at least enable the cars to race closer and pass without the aid of devices such as DRS, thereby improving the on-track spectacle. If Liberty let the the main players roll back on this aspect as well then we may as well all shut up shop and go home.

    I am sorry to be pessimistic as I have followed this sport for over 30 years. However, I really do have my doubts that the post 2021 changes are going to be anything as significant as most of us with a passion for the sport expected.

  12. Mark in Florida
    25th June 2019, 1:36

    One simple way to help the cars be more competitive would be to do away with park ferme. Yes, the big team’s would still have the advantage but the teams that are close could make adjustments to help out performance. It works very well in Indy Car. Teams that are nowhere in qualifying can show up for the race and go to the front. I know this effect is stronger due to the specs of the cars but the general result should still be true. I think Ferarri getting to keep their veto is a counter to Mercs dominance. This horrible dullness that the sport is experiencing is due to no one being able to compete with Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. When Rosberg was there he gave Lewis a run for his money and gave the illusion that the race was close. Now there is no illusion at all, Valterri can’t mount a sustained challenge for whatever reason and Vettle is not even close. I was a Schumacher fan but it got tiresome at times when no one was close. Mika kept Michael honest and so did others at times but now? It’s not even close. They just need to let the qualifying order be the race win order that would save everyone having to watch the numbing races on Sunday. I’m being somewhat facetious about it but the FIA and Liberty need to get their act together. If Liberty wants to revamp F1 they have to stop letting the teams have so much control. It’s kind of like having the workers tell the boss how to run the business from their limited viewpoint on the assembly line. This situation will likely drag on just like Lewis said, nothing revolutionary just evolutionary.

    1. You can’t draw conclusions applicable to F1 from Indycar, because it’s designed to be a lottery rather than rewarding the best.

      1. Mark in Florida
        25th June 2019, 17:37

        How so Dave, the best driver usually wins the race. Rossi won and Dixon who had a poor starting position was able to storm to the front. How is that a lottery?

      2. “A lottery?” Have you ever watched a race?

  13. The camera director did an appalling job. Last lap, it’s clear Ric is going to go for a lunge, and they cut away so we only get to see the action as a replay.

    It was also the most exciting part of the race – sure Ric made a mistake and received the penalty, but at least he had a go. If you’re not pushing the boundaries of penalties, are you really playing hard enough? This applies to all competition, not just F1.

  14. NeverElectric
    25th June 2019, 5:11

    I get the sickening, nauseating feeling that I am witness to the end of an era. That Formula One is dying as a sport. That the reluctance by the big teams to countenance any changes to the rules means the smaller teams will continue having no chance at winning anything, and that this will lead to a fan exodus and hence an advertiser exodus and after that, rigor mortis.
    Oh well, there’s always WRC and MotoGP.
    I can’t stand Formula E, and will not watch it. No thanks.

    1. Well big teams have always used their better power to their advantage. Historically this refers to Ferrari but obviously now its more than just them. Big teams using their political clout to their advantage is nothing new, its been done plenty of times.

      What’s different is that motorsport as a whole is just a legacy genre that will slowly die out. Decades ago it was a growing field, but now its maturing. F1 has its own problems seperate from the larger industry but its also part of the general trend.

      Obviously motorsport isn’t going to die overnight but its glory super growth days are very much behind it.

  15. It’s kind of like having the workers tell the boss how to run the business from their limited viewpoint on the assembly line.

    Hey… worked out just fine for BMC.


  16. ” In a parallel universe, where no one has taken the lamentable decisions to create DRS”

    As per Chainbear’s argument, DRS is more or less needed due to the dirty air coming from the front cars disrupting the cars at the back at a certain distance.

    The only way to not have it would be to get rid of aeros completely (or make a spec series with strict aero rules), which will slow down entire grid and cause more crashes due to lack of down force.

  17. roberto giacometti
    25th June 2019, 7:02

    The last lap I remember was 55 – that’s when my brain cried enough and I dozed off – when I woke up , it was 0322.

  18. I guess I’m in the minority, but in some ways this was actually a good race. No one went out of the race due to a crash, which I think is really good. Yes, some cars did retire … sorry, I believe Grosjean was the only retirement, but he did so for reasons unrelated to a collision. Yes, this race was processional, but it seems everyone now seems to be saying that was to be expected. For me one of the highlights was seeing Charles on the podium.

  19. Many sports, notably NHL, NFL, NBA in North America create parity not just by a budget cap but allowing the WORST teams to pick the best young talent. In F1 we give the BEST teams even more strength by awarding them the most prize money. It’s understandable but Makes NO sense if competition is the goal. Why not allow the lower tier teams to do more testing, mid field a little less and top tier minimal? Testing is expensive so much of the cost should be offset by F1?

    1. The problem isn’t the prize money, it is the extra bonuses paid to some teams and not others. The bonuses can be very lucrative.

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