Entertainment vs Engineering vs DNA vs Emotional Favorites

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Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35, in the pits during FP2

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.

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Peter

well, absolutely right (all of the above)… to which I would add the same over-regulation has been applied to the actual racecourse as well where it was driven by two criteria: Safety and Entertainment. The safety aspect has caused huge run-offs and sausage curbs where trees used to be. I am in favor of all of these except that there is no penalty for exceeding track limits–and there should be (and technology could solve this in a flash). As for the Entertainment regulation on track… need I mention DRS (bah-humbug)?

Tom Firth

Are lots of critics and people bored of Hamilton/Mercedes domination and lots of people who claim its mostly the car. I don’t understand the suggestion that aren’t people complaining because what I’ve seen on various sites doesn’t support it. It’s quite a loud, large amount of critics of both him and the current formula. As for people claiming they stopped watching… yes but how many actually did? Go on social media on a sunday afternoon and is always a bunch of people claiming I’m going to quit watching F1 as its boring now… but yet follow every single race and… Read more »

Last edited 3 days ago by Tom Firth
Tom Firth

Kind of feel that at the moment, its a slightly a negative thing that the US, Canada and Aus get the same Sky F1 coverage as it means is less alternative voices in the English speaking countries, more British media voices and a lack of media plurality in the way we consume the sport. It makes for less opinions and interpretations of events and as many of us go with what the experts and pundits on tv say as a basis of how we form an opinion on the sport. Kind of miss when the americans got slightly different viewpoints… Read more »

Tom Firth

Its always nice when my rambling nonsense raises a point :-) Yeah I get the advantages to getting the Sky broadcast too from that assumed knowledge perspective certainly and they do a fantastic job overall. It just has its disadvantages too and expanding on it a bit, I feel the lack of quote voices these days doesn’t help too much either. We seem to hear from Toto and Christian and that’s about it most the time so that skews the opinions too and the agenda. You’ll remember Paul Stoddart at Minardi right and how it was good to hear from… Read more »

Last edited 2 days ago by Tom Firth
Tom Firth

True that. Not everyone is really cut out for telly I guess.

The other difference to previous dominating eras, besides the way we connect with each other through social media echo chambers is that the world beyond F1 has become much more chaotic collectively over the past 5 years or so for all of us. Maybe if people are a bit quieter about F1’s current dull stretch, its because its still a little escape from the other stuff.

Last edited 2 days ago by Tom Firth
Andrew page

That’s one of the best articles you have done in a Long time and raises the number 1 question that we have all been thinking..if I read between the lines correctly. Why has F1 been so petrified of losing Mercedes in their sport. Surely that’s the reason why the FIA have been pretending that the current format around the regs are what they should be doing! and not in fact being prescribed by the number 1 team for there own justification, in a “don’t rock the boat” mindset. Well if Mercedes decided to pull out just like Honda did Nd… Read more »

garysaidwhat?

I am in a the midst of a long slide in my F1 interest, and have been happily getting deeper and deeper into MotoGP, which seems to have the mix just about right. Some weekends the riders make the difference; some weekends it’s more the tires; some, more the bikes. To me a big difference is minimal aero. And that may be the nub of it. Take away too much aero, lap times rise, and F1 looks slower than—well, as you dial the aero back, you can pick: F2? Indycar? WEC “hypercars?” Can’t have that, no? (ahem, coughcoughyes). Meanwhile, MotoGP… Read more »

Tom Firth

Great commentary Garysaidwhat? Aero dependency does seem something F1 needs to change as most of the current problems are band-aids to get around that.