Same As It Ever Was: Racing In F1 Hardly In Crisis

Leading up to the 2015 British GP, Formula 1 critics were in a full-blown cacophony.

Former FIA President Max Mosley remarked that there was “too much artificiality in the racing,” resulting in “uncompetitive and, at times, boring racing.” Red Bull team advisor Helmut Marko once again threatened the team could quit due to the team’s lackluster engine performance, and to many fans, the clear domination from Mercedes AMG Petronas conjured calls of F1 becoming boring and processional.

But hold on a second…

While the financial difficulties of the sport are well documented, when you focus on the essence of Formula One, it’s hardly in crisis. Think about it, competitive racing is not – and has never been – the top priority for the sport. Sure, we’ve had great battles and rivalries, but when was the last time F1 looked like BTCC or Global Rallycross?

Just a typical Sunday afternoon for BTCC.
Just a typical Sunday afternoon for BTCC.

The latter series regularly see shards of carbon strung across the track in a dizzying mess; a melee of drivers and teams fighting for positions like frenetic kittens over a ball of string. Spec manufacturers, engines, and even requirements all designed to ensure anyone can win with the right combination of setup, skill, and luck. Go too fast, add weight. Too slow, here’s a little more power.

That’s not F1.

F1 is a spectacle. A chance to see celebrities, to see teams with rich histories at exotic locales, and hopefully a demonstration of the most funded skilled drivers taking the dominant package to victory. It’s for the wealthy to flaunt their wealth and for sponsors to show off their hospitality suites and put diamonds on the front wings of their cars.

Monaco: the quintessential F1 track
Monaco: the quintessential F1 track

F1 is the seaside tax haven dotted by multi-million dollar yachts, racing under the lights of a burgeoning Asian metropolis, or arriving at an immaculate desert oasis. Famous racetracks of yore like Hockenheim, Monza, Spa-Francorchamps, and of course the Nürburgring Nordschleife – once glorified for their wonder – now left to be reclaimed by nature, or simply outlawed.

The sport has followed the grandeur to the new wonders of Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Sochi, et al.

Eau Rouge can now be taken flat-out…and we’re strangely ok with it, because there’s still a show to see on Sunday.

Even with these new tracks and the celebrity, there is still good racing to be had. Great, hard-fought moments between the mid-pack drivers, a street fight between teammates, even the occasional breakthrough from the underdog. It’s not as if the competitive racing doesn’t happen, it’s just currently overshadowed by a team that spent the money, and is reaping the benefits of doing their homework.

A processional F1 season isn’t unheard of, either.

Before Mercedes AMG it was Red Bull and Adrian Newey. Year after year, a package with unmatched torque and grip. Sebastian Vettel remaining at the front of the field from lights out to checkers was the norm. With success came controversy, of course, and the Red Bull was the perfect example of “you’re only cheating if you get caught.” Qualifying versus race ride heights, blown diffusers, and flexing front wings were only half the story of a team that skirted the grey areas of the rulebook, but were victorious where and when it mattered most.

Michael Schumacher and Ferrari dominated in the early 00s.
Michael Schumacher and Ferrari dominated in the early 00s.

Before Red Bull was the historic domination of Ferrari, led by Ross Brawn, Jean Todt, and Michael Schumacher. 5 championships in the mid-00’s as an unrelenting force of nature chewed through almost unlimited funds, laps at Fiorano, and arguably, favoritism by the governing body of the sport itself.

Then there was Williams-Renault of the 90s, names likes Mansell, Patrese, Hill, and Villeneuve all tasting a slice of success as the Grove-based squad raced its name into the history books as an elite force in Formula One.

Mclaren-Honda, the partnership that gave Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost some of the sport’s most revered moments as the two clashed in ways not unlike Hamilton and Rosberg – albeit on a scale turned up to 12.

And it can even go back further; Lotus, Brabham, Cooper, Ferrari, and Mclaren all bringing fairly dominant packages all the way back to the 50s that were only hamstrung by reliability.

The point is, domination in F1 comes like waves crashing against a row boat’s port bow, sometimes it’s one or two championships at a time, sometimes it’s four or five, but it will come and it will upset the competition. Those who can break down the season’s rulebook, push the boundaries of what is legal and what is illegal, and avoid the plume of white exhaust smoke will see victory.

The fans still show up to see the show - the spectacle
The fans still show up to see the show – the spectacle.

And no matter where those waves go, we’ll be here to watch it all happen.

The spectacle is the draw, the chance to see cities and landscapes completely different from our own, to festoon ourselves in prancing horses and leavemealoneiknowwhatimdoing shirts, and cheer, celebrate, shout, grumble, and curse.

For that, it’s the same as it ever was, even in 2015.