There’s nothing wrong with considering the modern era of Formula One boring.
In fact, calling it boring is the only thing that will keep Liberty Media on their toes. It’s the only thing that will prevent the sport from continuing down the current road from which it’s currently stumbling down awkwardly.
2019 was supposed to be a definitive year for the most spectacular league in motorsport, thanks largely to the Netflix series released after last season. “Drive to Survive” brought unprecedented fan access to the behind-the-scenes aspects of several teams and drivers. Like many television stories, there were scenes that brought emotion — whether we’re talking about happiness, sadness, amusement, pure joy, or even anger. It was a dream scenario for any executive, especially since this season was supposed to be more competitive than last year.
Instead, the dream has turned into a nightmare. For Italian team Scuderia Ferrari, everything that could have gone awry. Sebastian Vettel spun out in Bahrain when battling with Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes. Ferrari rookie and F1 sophomore Charles Leclerc has been held back by both team orders and mistakes. In fact, each of the teams powered by Ferrari engines have been disappointing. Haas finished 17th (Kevin Magnussen and 20th (A DNF from Romain Grosjean) in France last weekend. Alfa Romeo looked promising in the preseason testing periods thanks to an advanced front wing. Before France, the team hadn’t scored since April’s race in Azerbaijan.
All of this drama and disappointment has made it easy for Mercedes and their drivers once again. The team that’s won five World Driver’s Championships in a row looks to be cruising to yet another.
So, why defend this style of racing?
Drivers from several other styles of racing, including several drivers from the NTT IndyCar Series and the competing ABB Formula E grids have made their disappointment in the modern state of Formula 1 very clear.
The Formula One Twitter account posted a highlight from the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix last October. This past Tuesday, current Formula E and DTM driver Robin Frijns used the clip to criticize the top league. “How many ‘5 seconds penalty (for) gaining an advantage’ or ‘tracklimits penalty’ is this then?” Frijns posted. “This is racing!!”
That, of course, implies that the recent penalties (including the ones that denied Sebastian Vettel the win in Canada), make it so modern Formula 1 isn’t racing. Not in a real sense.
Earlier in the year, IndyCar drivers Graham Rahal and Alexander Rossi went back-and-forth on Twitter during the Spanish Grand Prix.
“Nothing gets me more fired up to watch the F1 race then turning on the TV and the first thing the commentator says is ’Nobody has a chance to win except Mercedes.’ Sweet!!!!”
That’s about as clear a statement as you’ll find on Twitter, courtesy of Rahal. Rossi’s response criticized a different part of the race. “Hey man,” Rossi noted. “The top 5 were only separated by 45 seconds before the safety car… so it was close.”
There’s nothing anyone can do to hide the lack of competition. David Croft, the lead commentator for Formula One on Sky Sports (and heard on TSN in Canada), may have the hardest job in television right now — keeping eyes on the TV from fans who want to see close racing.
Croft is rarely outspoken about the state of Formula One; at most he’ll mention how others may perceive the race. It’s a contrast to his radio counterpart Jack Nicholls. Nicholls, through Twitter and his post-race podcast on BBC Radio 5 Live, is also the world feed commentator for Formula E. After completing his lap-by-lap commentary for both races, he took to Twitter as well. “Over the last two days I’ve commentated on two races.”
“For the first time ever in FE, the top 3 on the podium were the top 3 on the grid. I’m not saying one is better than the other, I’ve loved F1 since I was 6, but it is undoubtedly a stark contrast compared to today’s race.”
Formula E went through the schedule this season with eight winners in the first eight races of the season, from seven teams. Only now, with two races to go, is there a true championship favourite in former Toro Rosso F1 driver Jean-Éric Vergne. Vergne, as well, has been outspoken about his experience in the years that have followed his experiences with Red Bull’s junior team. The French driver told Reuters that being dropped by Toro Rosso “opened (his) eyes on many things.”
“I think leaving Formula One was actually the best thing that happened to me.”
Although any comments Lewis Hamilton would make regarding the lack of competition and excessive penalty calls will undoubtedly be met with eye-rolls by many fans, the greatest beneficiary of modern F1 has also been critical. “How it’s set up, just from watching when I was there, it’s not good. Really not good,” he told the UK publication Telegraph. “They won’t like me saying that. I see the mess we’re in, I see it every year.” Hamilton’s acceptance that the fan appeal of the sport is at a low point won’t change anything, though. As long as Mercedes keeps their strategic dominance and overall car as strong as it has been, Hamilton will keep winning, and teammate Valtteri Bottas will keep his strong 2019 going as well.
There’s nothing that’s going to change. Formula One’s struggle to attract new fans will continue. In 16 days, their electric competitor will be racing through the streets of New York City. For the first time ever, Formula One’s management will need to pay attention to how the event turns out.