Sebastian Vettel created a bit of a stir when he suggested that the sport had lost its way and that the series needed to be about the drivers with them being the focus. No doubt that what he meant was the technology had become too complex and that the driver was really not a feature in F1 as much as the car and tech.
He has a supporter in his old boss, Christian Horner who said:
“I think Sebastian’s right in his comments, that the drivers need to be the stars,” said Horner. “We’ve got a chance for 2017, and it’s important that we get that right.
“The chassis changes for 2017 need to put the emphasis on the driver, and the cars need to be big and difficult and powerful, and really stretch the driver, so you get a bigger differentiation between the drivers.
“I think that will be a bigger spectacle for the fans and the followers of F1. It’s very important when we’ve got a golden opportunity to address that that we don’t miss that opportunity during the next couple of weeks.”
Horner also knows that reaching consensus among teams isn’t very likely so he, like Max Mosley has recently said, believe a mandate should be made:
“When have the teams ever been aligned? With the engine regulations we saw a compromise end up with the format of engine that we currently have. It was initially supposed to be a 4-cylinder engine and electrical in the pitlane.
“Let’s see what comes out in the next couple of weeks. There’s an F1 Strategy and Commission meeting in Geneva next Tuesday, so I think that’s a critical meeting for what the decisions will be.”
“I think we just need some strong leadership to decide what those rules are going to be. You’re never going to achieve through consensus the right situation.”
It’s an elusive thing, balance. Finding the right combination of driver and car is important. One of the constant refrains I hear from fans is about the technology and how F1 is the pinnacle and things change etc. That’s may be true but all things need moderation. Doing something simply because the engineers can isn’t a good enough reason.
James Allen had an informal survey asking what F1 should be about: the best driver competing on a global stage, the technological advancement or a combination of the two. Perhaps not surprisingly, fans voted (over 2,000 responses) for a combination of the two but what was more interesting is the amount of driver vs technology answers given. Technological advancement was by far lower than the other two categories. You can read it here.
All of this brings me to the point, finding the balance is important but while most feel the series needs to be more about the driver and even some feel little reason for F1 to place technological innovation first, I am reticent of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
This may come as a bit of a surprise for those of you who have been listening to me on our podcasts but we need to be careful of keeping the car and tech very present in the equation. I’m not simply for best drivers being the focus of the series. If that were the case, put them all in equal karts and let’s go karting.
It truly is a combination that is needed so in that, James Allen’s result are correct. In truth, I believe Daniil Kvyat had the most measured and correct view of where the sport should go in 2017:
“Formula 1 is always about showing your skill [and] there is always a way to show you skill. There is always a way to stand out as a driver even if you don’t win.
“But I think there is always something to be fine tuned in any situation and improved. Obviously there has been many things going on in Formula 1 lately so I think it is yet to find the perfect combination but it might not take only one day.”
He said: “Let’s give it a bit of time and obviously it would be great to see a bit [of a] tighter fight for the win in the future. But you have to be patient and I still think we have achieved some really nice races lately in Formula 1 and so it’s been good.”
He’s right. F1 has achieved some incredible technology and there have been some good races but on the flip side, winning 32 of the last 38 races for Mercedes, is really not about typical domination in F1 so much as a really missed regulatory program that promotes competition which combines driver and tech. This is what it looks like with the combination moves too far to tech and away from the driver. Moving too far the other way is bad too.
F1’s mandate, as called for by Horner, needs to find the wisdom of Solomon here. It needs to split the baby and have equal parts driver and car. Why? Because F1 has always been about that combination. The car has always been critical to the series and so has the technology but that shouldn’t trump the driver (which it is now) an F1’s future regulatory changes should always be focused on the perfect combination, not simply being green or finding way the cars can raise the tech equation so high that we could simply drive them via remote control.
Cars need to be opportunities for manufacturers to rapid prototype their technology but that’s within reason because tire suppliers should be able to use F1 in that vein as well. So should young engineers who design car and electronics companies etc. When you give too much free range to one particular element, such as hybrid engines, you lose control of the balance.
Balance, in the end, is key for F1 and that goes for it’s financial woes as well as it’s sporting and technical woes.