The Inside Line #105: They just don’t get it

 

TILI Logo PrintNiki Lauda was right, completely right. Formula One is a sport, and if someone is keeping score, then there is one winner, and a bunch of losers. In the aftermath of the Canadian Grand Prix, where Mercedes converted another 1-2 on the grid into another 1-2 result, the team’s non-executive chairman wasn’t about to apologise for the race being more dull than what we’ve become accustomed to in Montreal over the years.

“Together with (team principal) Toto (Wolff) I can only run the team in the best possible and most professional way and win every bloody race,” the ever-quotable Lauda said.

“That’s what I’m here for, and the rest I don’t know. It was a perfect result, nothing wrong, we couldn’t have done a better job.”

Niki Lauda was wrong, completely wrong. Formula One is entertainment, and the Canadian Grand Prix was a snorefest. The team with the dominant car in F1 cruised to victory – literally, as concerns over fuel consumption and tyre wear saw the Mercedes pit wall ask their drivers to go slower, brake earlier, not be aggressive, lift off the throttle and all but crawl into corners. Short of a mechanical breakdown, nobody was close to beating them anyway, so why stress the cars? At the end of 70 laps, the team bagged 43 constructors’ championship points, two more trophies and showed that it has more of an advantage over the rest than we perhaps thought. And, quite frankly, they were the only winners.

Formula One finds itself at a crossroads at the moment, with too much arguing about the future and what it wants to be, and too little being done about what it is, or what it has become. Several teams are struggling to stay afloat, others are trying to use those financial concerns to pick at the carcasses of the weak and fatten their own bottom lines under the guise of ‘what is good for the sport’, others are embarrassingly bitching and moaning now things have gone bad for five minutes after running roughshod over the opposition for the best part of five years. The sport doesn’t promote itself, an inaction of madness in an ever-crowded sporting and entertainment market, and those at the top covet power, money or both, to hell with how it comes and who it comes from. A glance at the news generated out of Montreal showed that 80 per cent of the stories were about things that haven’t happened yet, might never happen and probably should never happen. Improving the on-track product and getting that message across seems to be lost on those on the inside. What’s the point in manoeuvring yourself to be best placed for the future when the present is such a bloody mess? Particularly a future when you don’t know who will be watching, and in what numbers.

Last season was, considering one team won 16 of the 19 races, gripping. New technology that was intriguing even if the benefits of it were horrendously ‘promoted’, a first-time Grand Prix winner who punched above his weight, a new force emerging, several flashpoints between the key players in said powerhouse team, and a championship that went down to the final race, double points not needed. This season? Lewis Hamilton looks stronger than ever after his second title, Nico Rosberg looks like someone who knows he’s not quite as good in a superb car, Daniel Ricciardo’s smile has occasionally waned [1], and nobody looks like getting a shot at the podium’s top step again unless we get some freak hot weather than allows Ferrari to repeat Sebastian Vettel’s win in Malaysia somewhere else. You wouldn’t be surprised if Mercedes took each of the final 12 races, and Hamilton around 10 of those. Who’ll be watching then? Even the British broadcasters might be tired of cheerleading for Hamilton by Abu Dhabi. [2]

Of course, there’s always been politics, grubby money-grabbing, power-hording and the like in Formula One. Goes with the territory. But have we ever been in a place where the future of the sport appeared more cloudy? As other motor racing series’ around the world gain traction (hello, WEC) and the potential ways for people to spend their increasingly hard-earned money in a smaller window of time only increase, Formula One seems stuck in the dark ages by comparison. Many of the suggestions to “improve the sport” are little more than throwbacks to the past, when several of the key players were just old and wealthy rather than being old, wealthy and completely out of touch [3]. Will someone or a group of someones take charge of Formula One and steer the ship in a sustainable direction and not be influenced by power, cash, legacy or short-term gain? Are we simply in a holding pattern until one of life’s unbeatables – Father Time – does its work? [4] I fear the answers to those two questions are ‘no’ and ‘yes’, in that order.

Formula One goes to Austria this weekend, and Red Bull’s promotional arm should see that the event is well publicised almost in spite of those on the inside of the paddock gates. The return of the picturesque circuit nestled in the Styrian Mountains last year was a highlight of the season, with a surprise pole-sitter and an intriguing race coming against a backdrop of packed stands, knowledgeable and appreciative fans, and plenty going on elsewhere around the facility. Amazing what can be achieved when something is promoted and marketed positively, isn’t it? Canada was little more than a cure for insomnia, but this should be much, much better – and some welcome good news for a sport that desperately needs it.

An Austrian GP preview is the focus of Episode 105 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week; my rant above is not. Might save that for another week …

— — — — — ———-

[1] Perhaps the biggest shock of all.

[2] Who am I kidding?

[3] I read a story over the Canadian GP weekend about ‘the future’ where the combined age of the interviewer and interviewee was around 140. Which would have been fine if it wasn’t complete dross. But Zandvoort in 1968 was great, wasn’t it?

[4] The other? Gravity. Hat tip to Jalen Rose.

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