Spectators vs Regulators: The Calm Down Edition

October 31st, 2016

Another race came to a close yesterday and of course we had another round of radio communication outburst and penalties flying all over the place. My question is: do we really need this circus?

Once again at the centre of attention was the young Max Verstappen, who really seems can’t stay away from being slapped on his hands for being a “naughty” driver. Yesterday was the latest installment in the series: Vettel gets angry at Verstappen on the radio. This edition also featured a never seen before: “F**k off Charlie [Whiting]!”.

The reason for all the anger was Verstappen cutting a corner and maintaining his position while fighting with Vettel for third place and then later trying to back the german into his partner Ricciardo. The steward gave Max a 5 seconds penalty after the end of the race which made Vettel run for the podium after to replace the youngster. Funny thing happened tough: Vettel got a 10 seconds penalty after the podium ceremony, meaning he ended up after both Red Bull drivers and making Ricciardo the rightful owner of the 3rd place trophy. Guess what the penalty was for: moving dangerously in the breaking zone! This is the rule that was introduced in Austin in order to calm Verstappen after the all the “outrage” of his fellow drivers (read: Vettel).

So from a spectator point of view, Vettel looked like a little boy only capable to whine as he can’t overtake another skilled driver, only to be penalised exactly for the same reason that his nemesis was punished for.

Which is kind of amazing and made me laugh quite a lot when I saw the news of Vettel’s penalty!

All of this mess made me think about F1 from a higher-level view. It seems now clear that F1 is a different sport from a spectator point of view than what it is for regulators on the ground.

We as TV and track viewers, we live and we crave for some action on track. The kind of action that makes you jump from your seat/sofa, that makes you hold your breath until the end; the kind of action that made F1 great. Lately I’m happy if I can stay awake past the first 2 laps after which nothing will happen. The most you can hope for is for some mechanics to make a mistake during a pitstop so that another drive can overtake, without actually overtaking.

This level of action has been progressively killed off by new rules and restrictions, that yes aim at making the sport safer for the driver but is also progressively killing all the excitement.

There’s an easy comparison here that can be made. Next weekend, tune in the GP2 race before the F1 and you’ll see what excitement looks like. There are hardly any boring races, and you’ll see all the action you want. I’ve seen amazing battles over the years and drivers using every inch of the track and then some to try and gain a position. We are many years off the last time I’ve seen 3 F1 cars entering the same corner at the same time to pull off something of an amazing overtake.

To circle back to yesterday’s race, what we are seeing now in F1, especially with Max, is a driver who is bringing the best of GP2 up in the major category and getting punished for doing so.

In recent years, F1 got very comfortable, probably too much so. With all the rules and regulations and the fictional technical restriction, is no wonder that the sport is loosing viewership. And it’s not just TV either. The Malaysian Grand Prix can be another casualty as the CEO of the Sepang Cirtuit is thinking of dropping the race from the calendar as F1 “is no longer exciting”.

To countermeasure all of this, for the past 6 months everyone is saying the 2017 regulations will change all of this, making the sport extremely exciting once again. I remain hopeful as always, as I really really love the sport, but I won’t certainly hold my breath.

In the meantime, I think everyone should count to 100 before shouting; adrenaline or not.