Is F1 at this moment, as we stand poised to enter the 2016 Formula 1 season, in trouble? The short answer is no. However F1 faces an ever increasing array of issues and if they’re not careful they could face real trouble in the not too distant future.
There is a new qualifying format that nobody seems to like. Costs are on the rise primarily due to the Power Units nobody this side of Mercedes seems to like, and there were some baffling scheduling decisions. F1 is at a crossroad, they must find solutions or risk facing major problems.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the 3 round knock out style qualifying F1 was using. It needed no changes and yet, the FIA has decided to tweak it. The 3 round system will remain, but with the added twist of individual drivers being eliminated every 90 seconds in the closing minutes of each round. This change was made to try and boost TV ratings for qualifying.
I find it difficult to see any significant rise in viewership thanks to the new format. The old format was more than fine, it was perfect. 3 sessions with every driver having a chance right up to the closing seconds to advance or capture the pole. It was such a success that race organizations all over the world now use some form of this format. Hell, even NASCAR uses it. I’ll reserve final judgement until after the first race in Australia but it feels gimicky to me. If F1 wanted more drama there are other ways. Chiefly find a way to make the sport more competitive.
This brings me to cost. I know F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle of automotive racing development and technology. Tech development is hardly cheap but costs in F1 are quickly getting out of control. This is due in most part to the ludicrously complicated and expensive Power Units. Even top dog Mercedes takes a loss on every unit they sell. When the best supplier can’t break even on their sales you have a huge issue. As a business model, it isn’t sustainable. It’s not like they can charge more either because the private/non factory backed teams are at the edge of their budgets with the exception of Red Bull. Power Unit costs are so high that teams investigated a possible cheaper alternative for the privateer teams. Which, rather predictably was shot down by the 4 Power Unit manufacturers. Why would they approve something that would take money out of their pockets and potentially make their competition better?
Here lies the problem, the manufactures want to push the envelope which is costly. The Smaller teams are already at their budgetary max. If costs increase, you could see more teams fall out of the sport. Which in-turn snowballs. To fill the grids the bigger teams would have to field more cars which would increase their expenses. Eventually they decide it is no longer worth it and depart. I doubt the FIA would let it get that far, but things can escalate quickly. The FIA needs to get costs under control sooner rather than later. It won’t be easy and there is no perfect solution but something has to be done to control costs.
Managing F1 is no small task. But the FIA is beginning to look suspiciously like FIFA. You have F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone’s legal boondogles, and destinations getting Grand Prix’s on dates that don’t make any sense. Take Baku for example. It is the capitol of Azerbaijan and it get’s the 2016 European Grand Prix. Ok, not the first choice of locations, or 2nd, 3rd or 27th Baku does have deep pockets and that’s all the FIA really cares about. Build a safe track and pay us, 2 requirements for a new Grand Prix venue. Having met those requirements Baku gets the Grand Prix.
What truly baffles me is the date they chose for the race. It is the exact same weekend as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This prevents any interested drivers from copying Nico Hulkenberg and racing in the French endurance classic. Hulkenberg won overall with Porsche in 2015 and was looking forward to defending his title. In addition several other F1 drivers expressed interest in racing at La Sarthe. Now if this is just a 1 year scheduling misstep then it could be forgiven. Here’s hoping that’s exactly what it was and not something more dastardly. I’ll leave the conspiracy theories to you guys… for now.
It isn’t all doom and gloom for F1 in 2016. Ferrari appears to have closed the gap to Mercedes which means we could have a 2 horse race this season. McLaren – Honda appear to be on the rise and America rejoins F1. Sadly our driver hopes were dashed when Manor cut ties with Alexander Rossi in favor of a government backed driver from Indonesia (A country where roughly 40% of the population lives in poverty.) America is back with Haas F1! This alone will have me watching this season. Because F1 like soccer sucks you in with national pride. Like soccer the Americans have never really been that great in F1. But now we have a dog in the fight and were backed by Ferrari! So here’s to another season of F1. Hopefully F1 takes a hard look at itself and decides to make proactive changes to the issues looming over the sport.