Sure, the rhetoric is fun and the counterpoints can be emotionally stirring but Red Bull’s call for regulatory equalization is not something new—the question is, is it right?
Red Bull’s Christian Horner has suggested that the FIA look to regulatory options in order to equalize the performance advantage Mercedes clearly has in 2015. Lewis Hamilton’s punishing performance in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix was one big pill to swallow and shows that the next 20 races are surely prone to become Mercedes fodder. Horner suggested that in the best interest of F1, the FIA look at equalizing the balance:
“When we were winning, and we were never winning with the advantage they [Mercedes] have, I remember double diffusers were banned, exhausts were moved, flexible bodywork was prohibited, engine mapping mid-season was changed,” said Horner.
“Anything was done, and that wasn’t unique to Red Bull.
“Whether it was Williams in previous years or McLaren, I think it is healthy to have a situation [of closing the field up].
“The FIA, within the rules, have an equalization mechanism; I think it’s something that perhaps they need to look at.”
Now, before you launch into an emotional-furnace tirade about how Red Bull didn’t ask for that when they were winning, Horner’s point is just that—he wasn’t asking for equalization when they were winning, he was the victim of it.
There is precedent for this as well. Ferrari were clearly dominant and the FIA issued regulatory changes to slow them down—so much so that even Ron Dennis—Ferrari’s staunchest rival at the time—at McLaren said it was not incumbent of the FIA to slow Ferrari, it was McLaren’s job to catch them.
When Renault was doing extremely well, the FIA determined mid-season that the teams J-Damper’s had to go and the drop in performance advantage disappeared over night. As Horner points out, blown diffusers, flexi-wings et. al. were banned to slow Red Bull down. It’s a part of F1 but where Horner may have been simply transparent, this regulatory hobbling of teams is generally not so openly discussed in public and the reaction you are seeing on social media is the reason it isn’t.
Horner tried to explain the larger picture for the general public:
“Take nothing away from Mercedes, they have done a super job,” he said.
“They have a good car, a fantastic engine and two very good drivers.
“The problem is the gap is so big that you end up with three-tier racing, and that is not healthy for F1.”
Even that comment was not received well and it’s truly odd. When Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel were winning, many fans marginalized Vettel’s talents and even titles by slathering him with what I call Best Car Syndrome—I wrote and editorial about it here.
Fans were very vocal about how this was another Schumacher domination that they tuned out back then and they were tuning out when Vettel won his 2nd and 3rd title. They claimed F1 had lost the plot and ability to provide exciting, competitive racing. Those voices are largely gone these days now that Mercedes is winning and in particular Lewis Hamilton is winning.
I get it. If there were an American driver in F1, I would want them to win and I would cheer for them but I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t compromise my overall view of the sport and simply steep myself in nationalistic obtuseness. If Mercedes go on to win nearly all of the 20 races in 2015, I’m pretty sure even Lewis would rather there be serious inter-team competition because he lives for that setting. He himself has marginalized Vettel’s success due to Sebastian having the best car. He derided the situation and suggested he only likes serious competition and titles won under those auspices. Back when Seb was winning (2013), Lewis said:
“I feel for the fans because I remember the period of time when Michael Schumacher was winning,” Hamilton was widely quoted in the British press as saying.
“I remember waking up in the morning to watch the start of the race and then going to sleep, and then waking up when it ended because I already knew what would happen.
“I am pretty sure a lot of people were doing that, at least in my family.”
He even felt that the sport had lost something big:
“I guess that shows where the sport is today.”
Now, you may feel that Horner wasn’t calling for equalization back when Red Bull was winning but you don’t hear Mercedes and in particular Nico or especially Lewis, as champion, calling for it now and Hamilton himself knew what the impact on the sport was…that’s when he wasn’t sleeping through the race. Is he “feeling” for fans now? Horner is. And no, I’m a Ferrari fan so if you feel I’m trying to support my team, I’m not.
As for Ferrari, they’ve taken the McLaren road on the issue suggesting that it is their job to catch Mercedes.
Here’s the issue for me, I was furious when the FIA started inventing ways to slow Ferrari down back in the Schumacher era and I was not happy at all when they did the same to Red Bull. I stood in a sparse crowd of F1 fans as I was basically, in critic’s minds, saying that I like domination and processional racing. That is not what I was saying back then.
I believe Ron Dennis, and now Maurizio Arrivebene, are right, it is incumbent upon the other teams to raise their game and beat Mercedes. If Lewis wins 4 titles on the trot then that’s the way it is. I was not happy when Lewis was playing the press and fans about “feeling” for them and thought that was childish behavior. At the time I felt, as I do now, if Lewis didn’t like it, then drive faster. Now I believe Daniel Ricciardo must do the same and Lewis shouldn’t apologize for having the best car—even though we know he doesn’t like it by his own admission.
What the FIA did to Ferrari and Red Bull was not right in my opinion but I do understand the global perspective from their position as well as the commercial rights holders. It’s not the most entertaining racing when one team is kicking everyone else in the teeth but that’s why Mercedes came to F1, that’s why they spend what they spend and do what they do. To hobble that would be a construct but there is a caveat.
If the FIA want to change the regulations for 2017, then they can do that. If they want to move it up to 2016 (they recently voted on that and I assume Horner voted no for 2016), then that is fine but changing things mid-year is really heavy handed as we saw with J-Dampers and flex-floors etc. These systems were approved at the start of the season. If there is something that contravenes the rules that is discovered, then yes, change it but changing a previously approved system is really harsh. I fear that may be what would happen in the case of Mercedes and that’s not very fair.
Fact is, the series is still reeling from this change to hybrid engines and McLaren are now paying a hefty price. The Mercedes team has done the best job of designing a system they were lobbying (threatening) F1 for and that’s the politics of F1 but the knock-on effect hasn’t been good for the sport. It’s great for Lewis and even with this pummeling domination, it doesn’t seem to be viewed as a negative on his title(s) like it was Vettel’s and Schumacher’s.
Make hay while it shines I say but let’s give Horner some credit as he’s been the victim of regulatory squeezes intended to stop his team from dominating the sport and he’s simply calling the FIA out on the issue and suggesting it may be time to do the same with Mercedes. Truth is, Lewis is winning and I think that may be the result that will freeze the FIA in its tracks from doing anything to prevent that from happening.
Hat Tip: AUTOSPORT