There is a lack of “mutual respect” among Formula 1 drivers that is leading to on-track incidents that never would have happened in the past, Fernando Alonso says.
His comments came during Ferrari memorial ceremonies honoring Giles Villeneuve, who died 30 years ago this week.
We’ve got two versions of Alonso’s comments. The shorter, sweeter and less volatile is via Ferrari’s official site:
“Gilles had an aggressive driving style, but was never incorrect in his dealings with his adversaries. Things are very different today, everything is controlled, especially the cars. And if today, a driver drives in an aggressive fashion, then he is likely to be slow, because now you need a special driving style to set quick times.”
The more expansive of his comments comes via the BBC:
“It’s a problem that goes back a long way to the junior categories and I think the time has come to try to get it back.
“I believe there is not that mutual respect there was back then.
“Unfortunately, these days, we no longer see this sort of fight because there are more difficulties to deal with.
“The cars are now dominated by aerodynamics and those sorts of passing moves are no longer possible.
“On top of that, there was definitely more respect then than there is now between us drivers, partly because they knew that, in those cars, they were risking their lives.”
It sounds to me like Alonso is pointing at three key factors: something awry in lower-level racing, the nature of today’s F1 cars and, finally, improvements to safety.
Two of these seem fairly easy to unpack. The third, less so. Let’s start with the easy.
I don’t think anyone would change a thing about safety improvements to F1. Yes, that does mean that drivers may be able to be more aggressive based on the knowledge that the likely worst thing to happen to them will be a big shunt that might leave them a little sore. But the threat of more serious injury — even though it exists, and we all can point to recent examples — is less.
And that’s nothing but a good thing.
The issue with the car is something Todd talked about a few days ago. And I think the F1B crew’s opinion about aerodynamics is better apparent. Today’s F1 cars just cannot allow the same close, but controlled, battles of the past.
It’s something we almost all bemoan.
Both of these factors, I think, play into Alonso’s third issue: how young drivers are taught to race. I’m tempted to tie it into a broader change to how young athletes are raised and how the very best are found earlier and hoisted up into the public eye at a younger age. (Pro basketball may remain the poster child for this.) They are given too much, too soon, many argue, and as a result — in the case of hoops — don’t necessarily know the core fundamentals of the game.
Of course, those core fundamentals are becoming less and less necessary for success. So why focus on them?
I’d say all this, but it would paint me as such an old fart that I’ll avoid it. Instead, I’ll just wonder if there has been a primary shift to how would-be drivers learn their race craft (side issue: do they learn race craft?) when that education involves pretty much safe vehicles or for sure safe video games and simulators?
The real world, after all, doesn’t have a re-set button.
So, is it possible that these factors — and maybe others — are conspiring to change F1 as Alonso says? Do you think Alonso is right?