Formula 1 is in trouble and sadly for fans of the once-glamorous sport, there doesn’t seem to be any easy fixes on the horizon. Here are the four reasons why F1 is racing toward failure.
1. Competition is pretty much non-existent.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has been driving fabulously — he wrapped up his third championship last month. And while that’s great for him and his team, some argue Mercedes’ domination has become boring to watch. Where’s the nail-biting competition that once gripped fans?
To make matters even worse for spectators (but better for Mercedes), Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg is basically his only competition. The two have finished 1-2 a record-tying 11 times this season, and it looks like it will probably go that way during Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix considering the results of the first two practice runs on Friday. Hamilton won the first, just edging out Rosberg; Rosberg won the second, just edging out Hamilton.
Here’s the catch…
2. “Boring” wins championships
There’s at least one winner in the current iteration of F1 racing and that’s Mercedes. That’s largely thanks to a strategy the team has developed to ensure it cinches the top two spots at nearly every race. According to Hamilton, however, that winning strategy can make things boring even for him.
“Something has to change,” Hamilton said (via the Daily Mail) after coming in second at the Brazilian Grand Prix earlier this month. “I guess for the fans it is probably not too exciting to watch. It is always nice when you’re at the front — as we have been for some time now — but still being able to race is what fans want to see. I could not get close enough to be able to put on a great race so it was relatively boring.”
The reason Hamilton says he couldn’t edge out Rosberg is because each team within Mercedes uses an identical strategy, which usually keeps the lead driver out front from the start of the race. In this case, Rosberg had the pole position, so he also got to make his pit stops — three total — first. Hamilton would take his one lap afterward.
Mercedes, of course, has played down strategy as the reason for its drivers’ success and instead has credited the racers’ individual performances.
“At the moment Nico is better,” Mercedes executive chairman and three-time F1 champion Niki Lauda said via ESPN after Rosberg’s win in Brazil.
3. The modern-day tracks all look the same
The locations of F1 races have arguably gotten more exotic, but the tracks somehow all look the same. Gone in a lot of the sport’s latest locales, from Russia to this weekend’s Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, are the unique backdrops that used to make each race glamorous — or at least slightly more interesting to watch, even if the competition has become one-note. Tracks in these newer locations are flashy in their modernism, but rather lackluster in their character.
“In principle, taking the sport to India, China, Turkey, Malaysia, Russia or Abu Dhabi was no bad thing. But the expansion was done with an undue emphasis on profit and little concern for the health of the series,” the Guardian’s Richard Williams wrote last month. “If it is to survive, Formula One needs fast, intelligent and decisive action in the form of sensible policies imposed by clear-headed people motivated solely by a concern for the sport.”
Which brings up the fourth reason F1 is struggling…
4. The sport’s leadership
F1 racing is a for-profit business, so it’s not a surprise its leaders want to make money, but critics have complained that the sport’s current leaders have done so at the expense of F1’s future. One man in particular has gotten a lot of the blame and that’s the sport’s chief Bernard Ecclestone. At 85, Ecclestone has amassed a $3.8 billion fortune, according to Forbes, by steering roughly $23.4 billion to the sport in the last 40 years. That all may sound good, but the terms under which some of that money was made aren’t sustainable, critics say.
One of the biggest complaints was Ecclestone’s decision to sell a controlling stake of sport’s commercial rights, which he procured in a bizarre 100-year-deal from ex-FIA president Max Mosley, to the hedge fund CVC Capital Partners in 2005. The deal, which was supposed to allow the sport to hit the public stock exchange, did not go as planned and some say it’s costing the sport resources.
“Whatever profits F1 is generating go straight out of the sport and go to repay loans, so that is one massive drain. What can be done about it? At this stage there’s very, very little that can be done,” leading F1 analyst Dieter Rencken told the Associated Press. “Formula One will ultimately survive, but it can’t survive in this form. It needs a total restructure. The sport will stutter on until 2020 when it can eventually be restructured.”