It’s 2021. It’s Sunday, the cars are staged, the red light goes out and while Mercedes may have a terrific package and pole position-narrowly-it is the Renault of Carlos Sainz who wins. Some tactical moves in the pits and perhaps a 3s pit stop by Mercedes left them vulnerable and Renault pounced.
It was a welcome win for Renault after scoring a 3rd place finish behind Ferrari and Mercedes two weeks ago and the points were dearly needed as Force India’s win earlier in the month has put pressure on Renault in the constructor’s championship. The season is shaping up as a real battle with wins by Ferrari, Mercedes, Force India, Renault and Red Bull.
As we mentioned on our recent podcast, Haas F1 joined a chorus of other team who feel Liberty Media needs to layout the 2021 direction of the sport and not just the engine formula but cost caps, budgets, revenue distribution and more. Autosport has an interesting article in which Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei has been surprised by the public commentary about ongoing negotiations.
“You’ve seen some of the public discord where we’re trying to build more balance by things like trying to build cost caps in, trying to level the payments out, so they’re not so favourable to the winners,” said Maffei.
“Why? We want to create the NFL perspective, where on any given Sunday, anybody can win.
“There’s some tension around that, and it’s probably noisier yet than we thought it would be, and there will be more as we go through the period when we move up to renewing the Concorde Agreement for 2020, and renewing the relationship – or a different relationship – going forward.
“It’s a little bit of a surprise how noisy all that is. Most of us are used to conducting business like that in private.
“Anything around F1 gets blared out across the headlines of the world, whether you like it or not.”
Greg is new to F1 and may not be aware that this is par for the course. Applied public pressure and commentary from teams or ownership is a hallmark of F1 given the money and power involved in the sport. One could argue that this isn’t constructive to business negotiations while other might argue that it is transparency and that Liberty Media should get used to their words and action being on display.
What I homed in on was his comment about the NFL. Liberty Media have used the NFL as a sort of sporting model to be emulated or at least borrowed from in their attempt to re-fashion Formula 1 and bring a better balance and fan experience as well as business model. They often cite the spectacle of a Super Bowl as the type of experience they wish to replicate.
The first challenge is that F1 is not a stick and ball sport where the main ingredient is eleven men of exceptional physical size and fitness who use a series of tactical plays in order to win “on any given Sunday”.
In my mind, Ferrari and Mercedes don’t spend the kind of resources and make the kind of commitments to participate in a series that is designed to let any team win on any given Sunday. They spend the resources they do in order to win every Sunday. Because the driver makes up a certain percentage of the equation, the car is a critical element that NFL doesn’t have and that’s where the “Any given Sunday” concept becomes difficult to achieve given the resources top teams spend.
The closest I can equate to the NFL is the Patriots who have spent massively to load their roster with the best they can get and that includes coaches and staff. Still, they can and did get beat this year. In the case of Mercedes, that’s not an easy scenario to replicate because the regulations find them with a baked-in advantage with the power unit performance they have.
In the US, NASCAR has tried to compete with the NFL for eyeballs in the fall by changing their championship structure-the chase for the cup-and other things to keep folks engaged. They have not tried to replicate the NFL but the spec nature of their series does allow for a closer concept of “on any given Sunday”. Here again, the big teams seem to bubble to the top with the smaller teams running in 15th or worse during the season.
I said over a year ago that Liberty’s desire to make F1 a sort of NFL on wheels is something that isn’t remotely close to the DNA of the sport and the concept of a Super Bowl experience was being used a lot back then. It is important to know what words mean and I recoiled back then at the thought of trying to make F1 into a pomp and circumstance event with key elements borrowed from the NFL or other stick and ball sports that don’t include a car.
For me, it is not important that any car on the grid can win on any given Sunday. What is important is that the cars are designed to race each other on track without the negative aero impact for doing so. If a team is a mid-field team, they should be able to race competitively with other mid-field teams and not simply follow each other around with a 1.5s gap between them due to dirty air waiting for a DRS zone to make any move.
I don’t watch much NFL for multiple reasons these days and I am not keen to have F1 become the wheeled version of football. Formula 1 has a host of existing characteristics that have appeal, but these have been lost to aero, constructs and regulations that have negatively impacted the finer points of F1. Liberty could start by unraveling these constructs and engaging the F1’s real majesty and mystique. Let’s start with the notion that on any given Sunday, F1 fans can see great racing on track and go from there.
Hat Tip: Autosport