Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Hungaroring, 2019

What four lousy races and four great ones told us about F1

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If the remainder of the 2019 F1 season proves as entertaining as the last four races, we’re in for a thrilling end to the year.

The Red Bull Ring, Silverstone, Hockenheimring and Hungaroring served up races which were widely praised. RaceFans readers agreed: your Rate the Race scores for this quartet were all eight out of 10 or higher.

This stood in marked contrast to several preceding races this year. China, Spain, Canada and France’s races were all rated five out of 10 or lower. The processional French Grand Prix, which prompted furious headlines elsewhere demanding immediate changes to improve F1, earned a miserable 3.5 out of 10.

How can one championship with the same rules and teams produce races of such apparently differing quality? And what, if anything, can we learn from the four satisfying races which preceded F1’s summer break?

We need to be careful answering questions like this. Back in 2010 a lively Canadian Grand Prix was credited to unexpectedly poor tyre performance, which prompted teams to make more pit stops than usual. This led F1 to urge new 2011 tyre supplier Pirelli to produce high degradation tyres intended to force drivers to make more pit stops.

But in the long term it proved a mixed success at best. Teams gradually sussed the fragile rubber and the unpredictable races of 70-plus pit stops were gradually replaced by the unsatisfying spectacle of drivers nursing their fragile rubber as long as they could.

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Clearly, a big part of the reason why the last four races proved so enjoyable is that Mercedes’ hegemony has been disrupted. The season began with the disappointment of discovering that Ferrari, who had seemed such a potent threat to Mercedes during pre-season testing, were not a consistently competitive force. They squandered chances of victory in Bahrain, Azerbaijan and Canada.

Pierre Gasly, Red Bull, Paul Ricard, 2019
Paul Ricard produced a processional race
While Ferrari struggled to keep up with Mercedes, Red Bull took up the charge. In Austria the silver streak of success was finally halted by Max Verstappen. So there’s our first lesson: F1 needs competition at the sharp end between at least two teams.

But there is another, subtler detail why the last four races were so good: They were all great for different reasons.

Austria was all about Verstappen’s ‘will-he-won’t-he’ charge through the field and eventual pursuit of his old karting rival Charles Leclerc. The Red Bull driver’s forceful pass meant was the second time this year Leclerc was denied what looked like being his breakthrough victory.

Britain served up an excitingly prolonged wheel-to-wheel battle between the same two drivers, and also the Mercedes pair. Germany was blessed not just by rain but, best of all for the neutral racing fan, the kind of teasing, intermittent showers which renders the pit wall impotent. But those strategists came into their own in Hungary, giving Hamilton the tools to prise victory from Verstappen’s grasp in a race which was all about teamwork.

The key to this is variety. Motorsport excites us in many ways: The thrill of the chase, the drama of the battle, the shock of the unexpected pass. By definition, you cannot script moments like these.

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So, henever a race has failed to excite everyone, we should be suspicious of the inevitable, knee-jerk calls for yet more rule changes: ‘Bring back refuelling!‘ ‘Have two mandatory pit stops!‘ No: what F1 needs to thrill us is closely-matched teams and cars capable of racing each other.

Start, Hockenheimring, 2019
Rain made the German Grand Prix spectacular
Equally, it would be wrong to characterise the last four races as a sign that all is well in F1, that nothing needs to change, and the sport’s plan to overhaul its rules in 2021 isn’t needed.

Clearly the level of competition in F1 is not good enough. Only three teams have won races in the past six seasons, a fact which can be blamed on the ludicrously unfair distribution of the sport’s revenues, which has to change. Likewise, we have a generation of cars which too often cannot run closely behind each other. The sport is doing the right thing by addressing this.

Austria and Britain were great races because we got some wheel-to-wheel action for once. Germany and Hungary were great races because the conditions or circumstances meant we had genuine strategic surprises. The latter will be less likely to happen if drivers are forced to change tyres twice per race or have to keep pitting for more fuel.

F1 needs a level playing field and a blank canvas. Create that, then leave it to the world’s best racing drivers to thrill us by showing what they can do.

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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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  • 34 comments on “What four lousy races and four great ones told us about F1”

    1. Absolutely spot on. We need a bunched up field where the driver can make a huge difference in performance, even bigger than now. If a midfield driver like Sainz or Ricciardo has a outstanding performance, they should be able to challenge for podiums at the very least, and not have to count 7th as a might achievement, while a seriously underperforming driver like Gasly still somehow manages to be top 6 in the standings simply because his car is actually that much better.

    2. Great article Keith. Although one more factor overlooked in your article is the circuits themselves.

      It would take something akin to a alien mothership landing mid-race on the pit straight to generate excitement at Paul Ricard.

      F1 needs circuits that are challenging, punishing and spectacular. Hungary’s narrow twists and turns are certainly challenging. Silverstone has always been spectacular, even in its modern form. And watching drivers slip and slide on the drag-strip at Germany was delightful because of the rarity in seeing drivers punished so harshly for running onto what was seemingly a typically generous runoff.

      All circuits should have a track bounded by strips of grass, gravel, high kerbs or walls. Runoffs and safety can happen beyond these strips. And any kerbs that are as wide and flat as the track itself should be pulled up.

      Track design is such an important factor.

      1. +1 to this. Bernie’s sprinkler idea was as ridiculous as it was improbable. But imagine if beyond half a width from the track at each corner, there was a damp surface waiting to force an error.

        Track design needs to allow for the brilliance of F1 teams to push the boundary of track limits, and impose surfaces that punish not reward wherever possible (and safe, obviously).

        1. They have tried this in golf, where any shot not in the fairway was nearly a lost cause. The players complained, and that particular design has been dialed back. I believe that from the crying we heard in Germany, the same would happen if we built a track where an excursion ended your day.
          Still, one or two race-ending spots on a track (or, actually, just off-track) would be interesting … and I like the dampness method, as it’s cheap to implement.

        2. To be fair, Paul Richard is a test track and equipped with sprinklers.

          The whiners in the F1 paddock could have unexpectedly found a way to turn them on half way through the race. Or even the promoters. And then called it a sprinkler malfunction. Can’t predict those.

          1. @jimmy-cynic “Every damn year there’s a sprinkler malfunction! I promise you we’re getting to the bottom of it.”

            Plausible 😂

            1. @jimmi-cynic would be nice if there was an edit button to fix such minor mistakes…

    3. Yes, the reciepe is quite simple to say but very hard to implement.

      As much as is hard to believe, Mercedes said It once themselves. Whatever the rules are, the longer they stay the same, the more likely the midfield can copy top teams’ solutions and get closer.

      It would be a cat and mouse game, but with the cat being able to catch the mouse sometimes.

      This can be easely seen with the engine regulations being stable since 2014. Ferrari seems to have jumped Mercedes, Honda is catching up and Renault is in the mix.

      But when It comes to the chassis (and tyres recently) almost every two years there is a change that forces the teams to start from a clean sheet of paper.

      Of course the big budgets have an advantage there, as you can see by how Williams and Racing Point fell back.

      When they start to catch up next year, things will change again. Give them a couple of years and they will be in the mix. Keep It stable for longer and they can win on strategy, luck, driver skills, or all of that combined.

    4. Contextualize those 4 great races. Wwe is exciting but it is fake, those 4 great races had good parts but the bad partvof f1 reflects on the good ones like why did Bottas pit so early in Silverstone? Verstappen move in austria, hungary race winning overtake, hockenheim rain ftw. Bittersweet. Sometimes fans don’t care about reality Was france that bad? No cringe in France unlike these 4 great races.
      F1 needs better competition, obviously. Better competition shouldn’t be provided in an artificial way. Equalizing cars or dumbing down is artificial. Solving the aero wake is not artifcial. Rule changes can improve the show, rules like super formula with refuelling, are not artificial and bring back strategy. A team is doing a better job like RB in the past, kudos to them. A team or teams are crushing the sport by acting as race direction, by lobbying every single aspect of f1, thats the big problem f1 needs to address

      1. @peartree You’re right, the French GP wasn’t that bad, it was worse! Even the commentators started suggesting finding the sprinkler system to liven up the race.

        A number of years ago, there was a Las Vegas GP, that was effectively around a casino car park, with the huge run off areas of Paul Ricard, it has become little more than an oversize car park, that does little to punish the drivers should they run wide. I was never a huge fan of the previous French GP circuit (Magny Cours), but, at least that did produce some proper racing.

        It is going to be interesting to see what kind of races that the remaining races produce.

    5. Absolutely spot on Keith. For sure overtakes from under the gearbox are long gone and that would be one well talked about area to improve but the trouble with the 2021 rule changes are it doesn’t really press reset, except for the teams who are inching ever closer to Mercedes at the moment. There will never be a time when 10 drivers can win a WDC or even a race though it did shock me that as recently as 2012 we had 8 winners ( I think). And its no coincidence that was the year before the current hoover cars got plugged into the wall. And so it goes round AGAIN in 2021

    6. 1. Melbourne – Meh
      2. Bahrain – Great
      3. China – Meh
      4. Azerbaijan – Meh
      5. Spain – Boring
      6. Monaco- OK
      7. Canada – OK
      8. France – Boring
      9. Austria – Fantastic
      10. GBR – Fantastic
      11. Germany – Great
      12. Hungary – Great

      Imho we only had 2 really boring races. 5 really good ones and 5 mediocre races.

      I think it’s just that the narrative of this season has been set by the fact that we didn’t have great races during the first 8, apart from Bahrain, and that Ferrari wet the bed on multiple occasions so Mercedes had already bagged both titles by then.

      1. I’ve been to three GPs so far this year; a meh, a boring, and an OK. Not a great return on investment.

    7. ”Only three teams have won races in the past six seasons”
      – Except for one race to be precise, and that is the 2013 season-opener. 130-consecutive races starting from round 2 of 2013 (the infamous multi-21 Malaysian GP) have ended to either a Mercedes, Ferrari, or Red Bull Racing-win.

      1. @jerejj That is now 7 seasons ago :(

        1. @alianora-la-canta It will have been seven seasons/years ago next March.

          1. @jerejj In terms of complete years/seasons… …point taken.

    8. I’d say the last couple were interesting for several reasons. Disruption to the Mercedes dominance, actual battles for the lead and unpredictability. Austria, Silverstone, Germany and Hungary all had these qualities.

      The Mercedes grip on the championships may be excellent to watch from a technical perspective but it’s not hugely entertaining, as seeing multiple teams & drivers fighting for poles and wins is good fun. Unpredictability like Germany was good, to see the midfield teams risking and having chances to shine. Races where the lead is contested from lap 1 to the chequered flag are far more fun than seeing the leader break DRS and vanish, never to be seen again until the trophy celebration.

      It would be wise of F1 not to make too many knee-jerk reactions trying to replicate these, but I’d say the obvious solution would be an overall more competitive field but achieving that’s a bit of a pandora’s box of arguments.

    9. It is really odd that people still completely fail to understand that the primary goal for F1 is to be fast. Racing is secondary. If you want racing first, you look at spec series.

      The whole point of f1 is to customize a car for at least 1 of all the hired drivers in a team, so that at least one of those driver go fast. Then there is whatever racing there is…. Frankly, it is appalling that people confuse f1 with spec series. Go watch indycar is you crave watching racing so much.

      1. D.Marko Incorrect. Speed records exist for the primary purpose of speed. The primary purpose of a race series is to race. Of course, F1 has to race speedily, and its concept of “racing” does not need to be the same as another series’. However, it is racing first and foremost – how else to find out what car/driver combination is fastest within a given formula?

    10. Kyle (@hammerheadgb)
      23rd August 2019, 16:43

      Great article – sums up my feelings nicely. We just need a level technical (financial) playing field, cars that can follow closely through corners, and sporting regs that allow for diverse strategies.

    11. Any F1 season with a 1:1 lousy to great race ratio would be a great season.

      1. @dmw: Indeed. But the pressure on Liberty to ensure all races are great will likely ensure that all races aren’t.

    12. In other words Keith wants a spec series. It doesn’t go any more level than that – and it fits what he said of letting the driver show what they can do.

      1. No more spec series! We have too many already, thanks.

      2. @yaru, NO, that is the lazy brains solution, F1 fans want to see technical advancements making the cars faster, manufacturers want to showcase their technical expertise, a spec series, of which there are many, does not allow the teams or manufacturers to advance technically and is therefore not worth their spending money on. It is not a coincidence that some of the most popular spec series are based on 1950’s style V8 pushrod engined saloon cars, only recently upgraded from solid rear axles to IRS, long after the road-cars they were supposed to look like had moved to IRS.

        1. Budget equality. Tracks with proven overtaking possibilities (skip DRS). Drag/mechanical grip over aero. Start with that.

    13. Yes, I’d like to apologize for rating canada 2019 as low as 1, it wasn’t my actual rating, would’ve given it 8 without the stewards’ silly decision and I think it was not only a great race overall but a great weekend, I just had to send a message to this formula mercedes conspiration, where stewards and fia seem to help the already dominant, or anyway strongest team, inexplicably.

      I’m sure many others did the same, or the race would’ve NEVER got so many 1s, this really dragged down the score, should be considered at least above average.

      The rest I agree with.

    14. I don’t think the ludicrously unfair distribution of the sport’s revenues is the cause for the domination of the three teams in modern f1. Mclaren is not a team which is hindered by money and they are nowhere near the top 3. Their issue was the engine for long time and even then they have struggled. The revenue ditribution has always been unfair and we still haven’t had this type of domination we are seeing with mercedes. F1 has always had some kind of domination but never one team and never this long.

      The real reason is the engines and bernie’s last deals which gave too much power to the big manufacturers. When the engine costs increased massively from 2014 onwards the smaller teams had much much less money to spend on their cars. This combined with the fact that the engines the midfield teams had were not as competitive as the “same” engines in the factory team cars meant that you have a gap between the midfield teams and front runners that can not be fixed with anything else other than new engines.

      Of course what I said simplifies the situation as there are more smaller parts to the equation as well. Just look at how many expensive changes there have been since 2010 for almost every season. Drs, blown diffuser, hybrids, 2017 massive aero changes, halo, front wings. 2020 looks like the first year in long time after 2013 where the rules and cars have some kind of stability and there is not one big thing changed.

    15. Austria was different because (a) Mercedes lost for once and (b) Verstappen mucked up his start which meant he had to overtake a lot of cars, otherwise nothing to shout home about.

      Great Britain was just Great Britain, the nature of the circuit makes it decent to watch but you still end up with the usual predictable result, par for the course really.

      Germany was great because of the wet conditions meaning the lower ranked teams had a chance to get a good result, this type of race was long overdue for F1.

      Hungary was really no different to any other race this year apart from that Verstappen was up there with Hamilton because he had out-qualified him. If Hamilton had started on pole it likely would have been your bog standard Mercedes controlled race.

      Overall, the top three teams were still streets ahead of the rest apart from when the circuit was wet making for less grip (HINT), until the playing field is made more level so that the whole competition are much closer together, like they used to be 10 years or so ago, and not effectively split into two classes like has been the case the last 2 or 3 years, it is still going to be dull for the majority of the time.

    16. We need tracks with a shallow moat all around it. That would be awesome.

    17. 4 races that didn’t absolutely suck is a low bar. Calling them good races is a big stretch.

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