31 May 2018

Formula 1 Boring - Whatever Next?

Following on from Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso's  suggestion that the Monaco GP was boring, which it generally is, it occurs to me that the fundamentals of the "sport" have been lost and thus most races are boring.  Here's my view.

In the past twenty years we had the Schumacher/Ferrari dominance. Which prompted the grooved tyres etc. A lot of people complain that the dominance made it boring and from the point of view of variety that may be correct. However the nature of the beast has always led to dominance. 

Right at the beginning before the World Championship was founded in 1950 there was Mercedes and everyone else, even Auto Union struggled. Then at the beginning of the Formula One World Championship the first two years were dominated by Alfa Romeo and its drivers, Farina and Fangio. Alfa and Fangio won in 1951; then, in 1952 it was Alberto Ascari with Ferrari, nobody else came close. Likewise the team and driver won in 1953.

All through the fifties there were close battles for the title but we know Fangio won four times. Almost Schumacher dominance. Yet the key to those races was that you could see the drivers working the wheel. It was exciting.

Take the sixties and the success of Lotus who, with Jim Clark took two championships and with G Hill one. Here there were two drivers who won four WDCs during the decade (Graham Hill for BRM). Also Lotus won with Rindt (Posthumously). Yet Jim Clark is revered by many enthusiasts. As is Schumacher. Nobody complained at the team’s or the drivers’ dominance. Again the cars were alive and you could see the drivers fighting with them.

Then in the seventies, once again Lotus and Ferrari shared most of the spoils. The cars, by now sported big wings and big fat slicks. And they danced. Ronnie Petersen sideways is an abiding memory in anything he drove. He wasn’t a champion (sadly) but he was always worth watching. But he wasn’t the only driver to make the cars slide and dance; Emmo, Hunt, Lauda et al, were all worth watching. Later in the 70's we got the likes of Jones and Andretti (returning) who took the fight to the leaders, and in Andretti’s case, won the WDC.

In the 1980's we got those fantastic turbos and awesome power with ground effect. Those cars ran on rails but they were soon legislated against, so we got active suspension.  Although McLaren dominated the decade with five out of ten WDCs there was no complaining. Williams won a couple too. Awesome cars and if they looked a little bit more stable than previously, we could see how difficult they were to drive. The chassis used to shake and vibrate due to the power.

Looking at the 90’s from my perspective. The restriction to V10s was wrong. But we got some great cars such as the FW14B. We also had some great championships 1994 and 1996 stand out for two different but obvious reasons, although the loss of Senna blighted the former. We had the 1993 European GP where the drive of the century occurred. The cars were still a handful to drive but they started to look similar. Perfect? No. But the racing among all the teams was plain to see and in many cases close. Even if by then passing in a pit stop was becoming the norm.

The Schumacher dominance began around 2000 but he’d already won two WDC’s by then. However there were plenty of others who won in the 90’s and the competition was pretty close. We forget that there were five seasons in the 2000's when Schumacher didn’t win. We did have two tyre companies at this time which meant the cars were not all set up for the same levels of grip.

Then, in 2009 we got KERs. All of a sudden cars were running odd laps in order to build up the necessary energy for a quick burst. How daft was that? Then to make matters worse in 2011 we got DRS! As if the only thing that should happen in Formula One was passing . Thus they invented a system that penalised the guy who was busting his nuts to lead and win!

At the same time tyres became an issue. They were designed to fall apart and this they did so all of a sudden, despite using KERs or DRS to get in front, the winner was the one with the right set of tyres on at the right time. And the cars? They were running on rails, controlled from the pits with minimal driver input, no gear levers, no left foot braking, steering kickback dampened etc. 

So, why is it boring and why do we need false means for overtaking?  Because we aren’t watching people drive their nuts off!  We are watching a sterilised TV version of what someone who doesn’t know, thinks Formula One should be. In the 50's to 90's we had less on board graphics, so we had to watch what the car did to see how the driver was performing. Now we get almost inside the driver’s helmet which is technically impressive but have you noticed there is very little input into controlling the car? And a fast corner doesn't look that difficult from the roll bar. On top of which the reliability has taken away that element of uncertainty that driver A will actually finish. So to counter that the FIA issues daft penalties.

For the record I didn't find the 2018 Monaco GP boring but that was mainly due to the knowledge we all had that Daniel Ricciardo's power unit, or whatever, was hobbled thus could he finish or was he vulnerable to attack?  It was an element of uncertainty in an otherwise processional race.  There is no doubt that the drivers are capable and Monaco exaggerates their capabilities, so much respect to them.  But those cars are so technically advanced there is little excitement in watching them.

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