The argument. Entertainment vs engineering. Formula 1 has, as some argue, always been about engineering and technological advancement. That’s hard to argue against when you consider the Lotus monocoque by Mr. Chapman, carbon fiber by McLaren, and the aerodynamic genius of Mr. Newey.
While those innovations were leading the series down a performance rabbit trail that begat some incredible racing, one might consider that we have reached a point of technical evolution that has reduced the entertainment value to a point of frustration. I’ve written about this at length before and while I am not a, “For entertainment purposes only” kind of fan, I do think there needs to be a balance and the pendulum has swung very much toward the engineering side of the scale.
McLaren’s Andreas Seidl believes that we can’t lose sight on the DNA of the sport which, in his view, is the technological innovation.
“It’s clear everyone wants to see cars fighting on track, wants to see overtaking maneuvers, wants to see also that not always the same cars at the front, wants to see that people can actually make up positions coming through the field from the back.
“But at the same time, F1 is also about, in normal conditions, putting up or designing the best car and making it the best performing car.
“And then it’s also normal that the best car is in front in qualifying and in the race as well. That’s part of the DNA as well of F1.”
The key to balancing this innovation are the regulations and that’s always been the case. Unfortunately the Jean Todt era of the FIA has given the manufacturers a wide scale in which to work and we’ve ushered in technology that is surely innovative but too expensive and corrosive to the entertainment value of the sport. We’ve done so my placing a sticker with the word “sustainability” over the “entertainment” side of the scale making this a series about engineering and sustainable racing only.
The FIA have left the current set of regulations too long and after hearing the moans, groans and complaining about the Schumacher-era dominance followed by the Vettel-era dominance, those voices have remained silent for the past seven years as Mercedes has beaten the stuffing out of the sport and tossed its bloodied corpse into the recycling bin.
The comments of fans about how they stopped watching because they knew Schumacher was going to win or how Vettel, and Schumacher for that matter, had the best car and a trained monkey could win in their cars have all disappeared for the last seven years as Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton have been rubbing F1’s nose in its own excrement for seven titles on the trot.
The apologist, who used to argue the invalidity of Schumacher’s titles due to having the best car and his on-track improprieties now use those achievements as the absolute standard to praise Mercedes and Hamilton. They used to be inconsequential but now are the very measure of the “greatest of all time” which surely Mercedes and Hamilton have achieved by beating these Schumacher-era achievements, right? You see how those marginalized achievements became the very top measurement and justification for the Mercedes/Hamilton era.
Was the entertainment value decreased when Schumacher and Vettel were winning everything for their 4-year runs? You could certainly say yes based on the F1 press and fan commentary but oddly the 7-year run for Mercedes is relatively untarnished by those accusations.
I’m not fan of keeping a set of regulations in place for seven years when Mercedes has a baked-in advantage. The FIA found ways to neuter Ferrari and Red Bull but have done very little to reduce the pendulum’s swing to the engineering side of the scale and this has benefitted one team.
Is Mercedes and their success simply down to a set of regulations? Of course not but they entered the new regulations with a massive, baked-in advantage and it was going to be nearly impossible, both economically and technologically speaking, for any other team to make up the ground lost buy these current regulations. Still, the team is stuffed full of brilliant, hard-working men and women who deserve every ounce of their success by taking full advantage of this set of regulations the FIA has left in place for too long.
Having said that, I fall in the Ron Dennis camp when he suggested that it is not the FIA’s job to slow Ferrari down so much as other teams to catch up. There is real wisdom in that statement but when the regulations and costs of the regulations prevent other teams from doing so, you are, at that point, dependent on new regulations to correct the course of F1. Unfortunately the FIA didn’t deliver.
That is why there is tremendous hope that the new set of regulations will deliver a more balanced grid for an affordable price. I’m very happy for everyone at Mercedes and I agree with Andreas about tech innovation. However, I am ready for a new set of regulations to take the Mercedes finger off the scale, remove the sticker that covers the word “entertainment” and get the pendulum swinging back toward center of the entertainment vs engineering scale.