F1 is exploding and not in a good way

Photo by: www.kymilman.com/f1

McLaren’s Zak Brown shares a very similar position as I do and as I have opined on previous editorial pieces. Formula 1 needs to fish or cut bait. It needs to make hard decisions for the long-term success of F1 and not just kick the can down the road with all deference—too much deference—to the current four manufacturers who are spending the most on the series.

There’s no doubt that ushering in significant 2021 technical regulations may be a contentious errand but for the long-term health of the sport, sometimes you have to be a good butcher. You have to remove the bulk fat of the steak and leave just enough marbling to provide flavor.

The four teams, led by Mercedes primarily and Ferrari, are now suggesting that since the proposed regulation changes have not brought commitments from Aston Martin, Porsche or Cosworth, the series should make no changes to the hybrid engines. Zak believes this to be the wrong move telling Autosport:

“We have all seen it coming, and I don’t envy what Liberty inherited because this started a while ago,” Brown told Autosport.

“Bernie [Ecclestone] had control of it and was keeping it together, but it was a bit of a ticking timebomb, and now some things have exploded.

“I’ve said this to [Liberty], and it is not nice, but sometimes you need things to actually break to be able to fix them.

“The mortgage crisis, and the financial crisis, are good examples. Banking today is a lot better because of the financial crisis. And anyone in the financial industry knew it was going to eventually break.

“Unfortunately, some of these things that have broken were necessary in order to be able to hit the reset button.

“I have never thought that F1 is too big to fail. But I think the industry as a whole has an arrogance that it will just take care of itself, it always has.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have heard ‘it will always fix itself’.

“Lehman Brothers went under and that was the start of fixing things [in banking].

“Whether it is a racing team, or a driver who should be in a seat and is going to end up being on the street, those are going to be things that we need to take notice of.”

If sub-prime mortgages were the vehicle that brought the system correction, what are the sub-prime mortgages of F1? I would argue the hybrid engine formula and the sport’s move toward sustainability and other causes have been a real harbinger of the fall and when you compliment that overtly complicated tech that only four teams can afford with an over-the-top dependency on aerodynamic downforce that begets constructs in order to mitigate its impact –such as DRS or high-degradation tires—you begin to create a toxic cocktail you’re asking your fans to imbibe.

The evidence could perhaps be seen in some small way in which fans reacted to Indycar’s attempt at poking F1 in the eye over their bloated corporate responsibility movement in the form of hybrid engines. Indycar knew this was the polonium in the tea and the made a few smart moves regarding their cars, aero and engine formula and even touted they would not become an electric series etc.

The issue for Indycar is that the reaction was very positive but the entire exercise was muted because their Achilles heel is driving around unimaginative oval circuits trying to kill themselves on catch fencing at 220mph. I’ve advocated getting rid of oval in Indycar in favor of imaginative road course and the retention of the Indy 500 as the only oval on the calendar. I digress.

The point is, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet as they say and perhaps Zak is suggesting just that. Mercedes leaves? Bummer. Ferrari leaves? That’s so sad. In the end, the sport has to think about the sport and in doing so, it has deference to the main manufacturers who are currently propping up the current formula but is it the right formula?

“They need to get it done this year and we have been talking about it long enough,” he said.

“They have got all the right ideas, they have had all the input from the teams, they know where the resistance is – they just need to do it. They own the sport.

“While there are things they cannot do in 2019 and ’20 because of the governance, it is a clean sheet of paper in ’21, and they just need to do what they say they are going to do, and be hard about it. And if people don’t like it, they can leave the sport.

“I do believe Liberty wants to do what is best for the sport, but those teams that have the ability to spend above the budget cap are going to see it as a disadvantage to them.

“But they should have enough confidence in their racing team that they shouldn’t have to be dependent upon money to buy their success.”

Zak seems to be putting pressure on the fact that Liberty’s goodwill is being used against them but he’s chosen not to engage the FIA and Jean Todt’s role in perpetuating the regulations, setting the regulatory course that got us to this point—admittedly with the help of F1 working group which included the then boss of Mercedes, Ross Brawn—and seems to be folding like a chaise lounge on the desires of Mercedes to keep kicking the can down the road as Zak mentioned above.

It’s a tough time and as I have said a thousand times before, this is perhaps the most critical time in F1 history…unless they all punt and just stick with what we have now but that has big risks too…namely losing more fans.

Hat Tip: Autosport

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Younger people are not as interested in racing as was previous generations. Everything about automobiles will change. I am an F1 fan, but I can see it dying as is NASCAR. Its not just the regulations, its new generations that have different interest. Perhaps we should race cell phones.


Most people that I know who span the generational segments, don’t know a darn thing about F1 and probably have never seen a F1 race. I haven’t seen any data showing the distribution of generations in their knowledge of F1 or enjoyment of F1 racing. However, my gut tells me that unless more Americans are exposed to F1, this will not change.

Tom Firth

But I think that hits on another issue of the lack of strong promotion for F1 in the United States by the series itself.


It does seem that the proportion of younger generations interested in motorsport, and automobiles in general is reducing. I think your last comment about ‘racing cell phones’ is a big factor. Older generations have had to get their motorsport fix vicariously watching and reading about the people actually out there doing it. Younger generations are getting a slightly less vicarious involvement playing ‘video games’. Its more fun to be a participant than a spectator, so I wonder if the potential motorsport fan base is getting drawn into gaming? That might apply to other traditional sports fan bases really, its certainly… Read more »

Tom Firth

I think Liberty are going to have an enormous fight to turn the supertanker that is F1 in any direction other than plowing straight ahead. Whether thats related to technical regs or monetary terms or any of the several ‘issues’ F1 might have to deal with in the next 10 years. I do think hitting the nuclear button and destroying relations with Ferrari and Mercedes would be extremely unwise though. CART hit the nuclear button and look what happened.


I agree with you Tom, my post says much the same in a much more wordy way ;-)
Bernie has indeed left L.M with a juggernaut, with lots of interlinking parts, its not going to change easily, or quickly.


I have always believed the present state of the sport starting with the present agreement that brought the FIA Strategy Group made of up of (some but not all) the teams and manufacturers would be the sport’s poison pill. And I still believe that. But going into their 3rd year of ownership, Liberty has got to do something…anything but be complacent with the status quo. And Zak is calling them out on that. I bet, behind closed doors, other team managers are saying or thinking the same thing. What’s our future, Liberty Media? Do they stay course with the present… Read more »


L.M have said that they’re not going to negotiate through the media, so we’re not getting the hype and hyperbole that we are used to from the Bernie and Max days. Hopefully behind the scenes L.M are finding a way to work with all the parties to come up with something that results in an exciting and sustainable future for F1 after 2021. But as you say, ‘inquiring minds want to know’, I thought Ross Brawn had said that they’d be rolling out the draft plan by now. Certainly in the absence of real information from L.M, speculation and b.s… Read more »


We’re living in a period of great disruption – technologically, politically, sociologically – its a massive and ongoing task for L.M to steer through this. They have invested billions to buy the rights to F1, and want to continue to make a return on investment year on year. Its always seemed unlikely that they’d be taking a ‘clean sheet’ approach to changing F1. There is so much risk involved, and personally, I don’t think F1 is a ‘broken’ as many on this site want to believe. Based on the last couple of seasons you’d be hard pushed to argue that… Read more »


Isn’t perception a funny thing? I look at F1 and think that the regulations have strangled the engineering in order to create closer racing, you see the opposite. I also hold the view that F1 never has been about close racing, its been about the smartest engineering winning (the pinnacle of motorsports technology). The evidence is there to support that view, just ask MIE. How are Mercedes able to be 1 to 2 sec a lap faster than FI and Williams? Because they have the financial resources to exploit every aspect of the aero and chassis aspects of the regulations,… Read more »


The regulations at the moment are very restrictive to try and limit speeds to a level that is safe for the circuits currently used. I don’t see how a cost cap can be sensibly policed given the major manufacturers could hide development costs as part of their road car programmes, even Williams have a separate engineering arm that could be doing linked research.

Some years ago I wrote that the regulations should be changed to limit the return of excessive spending. I still see merit in that approach.



Thanks for the repost Dave, that remains a well considered set of proposals.
It would be fantastic if the FIA/L.M came out with regulations that covered all their open wheeled series as you’ve proposed.
It also reminds me that after four years, I’m still awaiting your response on my comments. Who do you think you are Jean Todt?? ;-)


Hi Todd,
I posted a reply to you on this.
I don’t see it on my tablet, but it did show on ‘recently posted’.
Can you see it?

jiji the cat

sometimes someone just need to grow a pair


“…namely losing more fans.” Questions:
1. Are the electric cars series gaining support?
2. Is Indy Car growing?
Answers to those to may shed some light on Zak’s and your on-target assessment.


I response to 1 – yep, It certainly is, not so much with old crusties like us lot, but certainly for under 25’s. Two good links below.
On 2. Is that relevant outside the US?


You could go back to a simple high-reving V6 turbo and it still won’t attract new manufacturers without a budget formula. Merc and Ferrari are probably spending $1B a year if you throw in their hidden R&D. Why would any new manufacturers want to join F1 if this hasn’t been addressed? No wonder the big boys don’t want change.


The problem is the fans. I keep hearing this “The world is going through a technological upheaval and F1 must navigate through it, etc”. Yet, we don’t hear about horse racing dealing with this problem, or tennis, or rugby; what’s the difference? The difference is horse racing doesn’t have lunatic fans that demand it be “road relevant”. It’s the fans who have become coward-canopy (halo) nazis! A sport that has fans who demand it be relevant to something now totally unrelated (road cars) and be so safe that the sporting equipment is ugly (the halo) has no future.


Haha! Nice one Nige, “its the fans” :-)
Have you considered MMA?

jiji the cat

i don’t agree that it is the fans that want road relevancy, it is a concept pushed by the manufacturers and backed by the FIA.
I think we fans have had it rammed down our throat.