Race Blog
2016 Barcelona Test


“F1 is quicksand. Only the foolish or naive would set foot there.”

Not really what the sport needs to hear right now but spoken - as they recently were to me - by the Chief Marketing Officer of a major global brand they strike at the core, hit hard at the realities faced by so many involved in trying to sell exposure in the sport right now.

Look at news that’s been breaking recently.

Ridiculous - and entirely unnecessary - new qualifying procedures, approved one day, dismissed the next only to be reapproved hours later. A sticking plaster fix addressing a problem that didn’t exist while other glaring faults are brushed under the carpet or seemingly ignored altogether. 

A pathetic tinkering with qualifying isn’t what’s called for, rather it’s the fundamentals that are at fault. The management of the sport as a whole is hopelessly outdated because those that manage, (the FIA and FOM) are not in sync. Bitterness, arrogance, infighting and acrimony abound, all infecting the sport with a negative mien that is destructive in nature.

Of course, in the ultra competitive sports arena world there are mega-brand sports that get it right and go - as a result of embracing professional and all-encompassing values - from strength to strength. Let’s look at one of them; the National Football League. 32 team owners who all have a say in the direction of the sport, they comprise the board if you will. Roger Goodell - as the Commissioner of the NFL - runs the league with a strong hand but, as his position is elected by the owners of the league's clubs, he’s very well aware that his job is in the hands of the men who put him there. The owners allow the Commissioner to enact rules and strategic planning that’s to the well being of the sport as a whole and therefore the franchise teams they own. It’s nothing more than a simple example of effective checks and balances.

F1 meanwhile doesn’t run this way and appears for all the world - while rules and money are squabbled over by those that both run and race in the sport - to lack anything resembling a cogent plan, appearing at best rudderless, at worst clueless.

Wolfgang Durheimer, the President and CEO of multi-national super brand Volkswagen - when commenting recently upon his company’s possible involvement in F1 -  summed up the mood by questioning the predictability of the rules, engines, technology, ownership and stability of the sport as a whole, ultimately dismissing any possibility of VW entering F1 anytime soon.

Bernie Ecclestone, in his role as the chief executive of the Formula One Group, derives power from the vacuum he has created around his position. There is no successor and if there is a plan - for F1’s future - he keeps it well hidden. The sports governing contract; the Concorde Agreement, is no more than a recipe for dividing spoils while doing nothing to address the marketing of the sport, transparent governance or forward planning.  

Bernie’s world is entirely monetary with the teams and stakeholders being forced to react if they want to participate. It’s little wonder, therefore, that no brands of any substance are kicking the door down to join in.

The key to the health of any organisation can be found in the quality of the media that follows and reports on it and the eminence of the brands that seek to align with it for mutual gain. If F1 had an obvious future a buyer would have been found by now. Despite the repeated reporting of global financial gloom and doom there’s lots of money available for anyone who has a clear vision. If potential buyers kick the tyres and walk away without drawing other buyers in then that’s typically evidence of a fatal flaw in the opportunity.

Run it properly and the sport will recover, evolve, and inevitably find a buyer.

As for the sporting side of F1, there needs to be more ‘slice and dice’ on the circuit. While we know it isn’t easy to drive a grand prix car at top speed it may be a bonus if it looked a fair bit trickier than it appears to be at the moment. Isn’t it better to have the guys who race, heroically challenged rather than comfortably calm?

While the Formula One Strategy Group’s engineers fuss over multi-million dollar 100 piece front wings - that serve little relevance in the broader sense - have they ever commissioned a study to understand the impact of aero on cars to find a sweet spot in the equation that would provide the right formula to allow the handling required, to tame some of the power, without causing loss of control for other - following - cars, therefore encouraging close racing and increased incidence of overtaking?

The plans for 2017 F1 - wider cars, wider tyres, lower lap times and more aggressive styling - may go someway to helping the visual oomph, marketability and appeal of the sport but - as some have proposed - a return to ground-effect aerodynamics patently will not. My basic understanding of how aero affects a race car’s handling tells me that simply increasing the power to grip ratio makes for more stimulating an experience for both drivers and spectators alike.

If you want more excitement, add variables and then encourage teams to push the envelope. Suggesting that teams create flat-out-racing-repulsing-high-level-reliability components is foolhardy. A thoroughbred racehorse owner doesn’t encourage his/her jockey to ride the beast at 70% of its capability in the hope of running it in more races. No, he/she buys, trains and pushes them to the limit. Formula 1 is supposed to be the ultimate motor sport series…

The farcical nature of that oft-repeated and oh so wearisome phrase ‘cost cutting’ should be banished for ever more. While regulators and teams pay derisory lip service to the mood they spend untold millions on a mile long list of unnecessary, excessive and extravagant irrelevances that serve no useful purpose to the good of the sport. Far better to be honest and upfront, admitting that F1 is about spending all you have. Those who cannot afford to participate can run teams in the lower formulae. T’was ever the case and forever will be.

With all the uncertainties ahead Formula 1 faces trials, tribulations and ultimately testing times, with the very real worry that irrevocable decline will seriously take hold before effective change is brought to bear.

That time is quickly running out…


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