F1 to make driving harder…take that Max!

I won’t lie; I have mixed feelings about this story from AUTOSPORT. The Formula 1 strategy group is now focused on making F1 cars more difficult to drive. It assumes that a lack of appeal for fans can be found in the notion that we are turned off by how easy it is to drive a current F1 car as evidenced by the signing of Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen—the 16-year-old son of former F1 racer Jos Verstappen.

Signing Max hasn’t implied driving ease so much as it has challenged the wisdom of hiring a young man with limited race craft and experience. To suggest that Max’s ability to drive a current F1 car indicates the ease at which these cars can be driven and thus souring the F1 fan base is a bit of a stretch in my opinion.

Max has been driving karts and racing since he was 4-years-old and his father is a former F1 driver so the kid knows his way around a racecar. If you threw me into the car and I was setting times that were eighth tenths off Fernando Alonso’s pace, then maybe we would have something to hang our hat on but Max isn’t the best measuring stick in which to indict F1.

The issue that is souring the milk isn’t the ease at which the cars can be driven as technological evolution has made the systems better and better over time. The cars of today have neutered Eau Rogue and 130R corners where in the past they were never taken full throttle. That’s aerodynamic efficiency and the evolution of F1 car technology.

The issue that is souring the milk is the lack of competition and the ability for cars to compete with one another on track due to aerodynamic wash and car instability as well as the negative impact on tires and retardation of speed when one car follows the other. To cope with the wash, drivers can’t run nose-to-tail and wheel-to-wheel as often as they used to—although it has never been prolific to begin with—and this creates a lack of on-track action.

The cars themselves may be easier to drive but that’s the technological evolution of the car in total, not just F1 cars. If the FIA is intent on being “Road Relevant”—and clearly they are or we wouldn’t be using hybrid systems with a flatulent V6 turbo—then why are we now discussing the de-evolution of these cars in order to make them a harder to drive? How road relevant is that? Does that not betray the technologically advanced series of motorsport milieu teams like to throw around?

F1 and the FIA are trying to have their cake and eat it too—or in the case of Jean Todt’s FIA, “there’s no bread, let them eat cake”. It’s a balancing act and I am not trying to shove their nose in it but you will always have a challenge when you want F1 to be road relevant, sustainable and the height of technological evolution only to then ban certain pieces of obvious technology—traction control, ride height—in favor of constructs such as DRS or HD tires.

So teams feel fans are losing interest in F1 due to it being too easy to drive the cars and there is a resounding lament of the glory days when drivers would exit the vehicle sweaty and exhausted?

Not to be contrary but how would I know if the car is not as difficult to drive? Sure, I can take Jenson Button or Felipe Massa’s word for it but it’s not a tangible folks, fans don’t see that from the world feed. They don’t see the intricacies of managing “Strat 3” or ERS levels or other nuances. What they do see is a lack of competition and on-track action that excites them—and I speak in generalities here.

Once again, we ignore the elephant in the room, which is that circuit design isn’t flattering the evolution of the technology and the black art of aerodynamic evolution has the series firmly lodged in a postal code that left road relevancy long ago.

I don’t want to bad-mouth this effort before it begins but hopefully the FIA will avoid constructs and come up with meaningful solutions to allow for the continued tech evolution without resigning itself to circus gimmicks and parlor tricks.

I am all for improving F1 but it seems to me that the teams have shown that they are not completely in touch with what the fans really want because their own institutional biases—naturally occurring—are placed well above the individual. Protecting the institution over the individual seems to be a recurring theme these days in every walk of life and in F1 it will continue to skew the ultimate goal that is getting fans emotionally engaged again.


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