Why Formula 1 Racing Has Lost its Luster

Formula One, referred to as F1, is a motorsport discipline sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) with a rich history, dating back to its first-ever race in May, 1950, on the United Kingdom’s classic Silverstone Circuit.

Formula One, referred to as F1, is a motorsport discipline sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) with a rich history, dating back to its first-ever race in May, 1950, on the United Kingdom’s classic Silverstone Circuit. Over the decades, the sport has become a global phenomenon and is, along with the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup, one of the most popular and profitable sporting events worldwide. Formula One’s revenue topped $2 billion in 2019 and in 2018, the number of followers across F1’s social media platforms—including Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter—grew significantly, reaching 18.5 million, confirming F1 as the fastest-growing sport on social media. While the sport continues to earn significant money from viewership, most fans, including me, question its future popularity due to its now lackluster racing.

F1 has Become Unbelievably Predictable

Six-time F1 Champion Lewis Hamilton has won six of the first 10 races this season and has built an impressive 44-point advantage to his nearest rival, teammate Valterri Bottas, in the FIA Formula One World Championship. Team Mercedes, Hamilton’s and Bottas’s team, has won eight of the first 10 races in the 2020 season, bumping it up 174 points ahead of Red Bull Racing––a point gap that has almost guaranteed Mercedes the 2020 Constructor Championship. Mercedes has been unbeatable in the Constructor Championship, and Hamilton has won 67 of his 128 races since 2014. It would be understandable if some fans find themselves watching the start of the races, napping for an hour, and then coming back for the last few laps––just in time to listen to the commentators screaming, “Lewis Hamilton takes the chequered flag once again!” For example, in the 2020 Belgian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton led every single lap of the race, making the race predictable and, to a certain extent, boring for the fans to watch. To be clear, blaming the drivers for their exceptional skills is not a valid argument; instead, the issue lies in how money has become the main driver for success. Wealthy teams, like Mercedes and Red Bull, have vast funds to improve their technology, while poorer teams, like Williams Racing, struggle to finish with a driver in top 10 of a race. Hopefully, an F1 cost cap––already on the agenda of F1 higher-ups––will lessen the gap between the teams and ensure fair play––a necessary means of bringing back the game’s competitive spirit.

DRS Makes Overtaking Meaningless

In motor racing, the Drag Reduction System (DRS) aims to reduce aerodynamic drag to increase top speed and promote overtaking. The DRS is an adjustable rear wing of the car which moves in response to driver commands––an artificial and unfair aspect of F1. Overtaking in F1 has never been easy and has always created the most intense moments within the race. Before 1994, if a racecar wanted to overtake its opponent, the driver would have to work endlessly, shifting across from left to right and right to left until the right moment came; overtaking was purely down to the driver’s skill. Yet, with rear wings that flap open to reduce the amount of drag, a press of a button in the DRS zone––a specific part of the track set by the FIA where the DRS can be used––easily allows cars to zoom by one another. To bring back the exhilarating spirit of F1, DRS should either be eliminated or a rule should be implemented that allows racers to activate DRS anytime. This way, overtaking will not only take place in the DRS zones but anywhere on the track.

Pit Stops Affecting Race Outcomes

Due to certain Grands Prix having well over 50 laps of racing, a winner is often decided by pit stop strategies, in which teams decide on a few occasions when drivers will enter the pit lane and come to a dead stop to replace worn tires or handle mechanical issues. The shift occurred in the 1994 season, when F1 allowed pit stops for refueling in order to accommodate lengthier competitions. Since then, more race results have depended on pit strategies rather than an overtaking move or competent defensive racing, since it’s now commonplace for drivers to leapfrog places while the racer ahead of them replaces tires. Teams with speedy pit crews and competent strategists benefit from this more than others. For instance, in the 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix, Ferrari’s failure to quickly assist Kimi Räikkönen caused a significant loss in time in a pit stop disaster when one of the crew members failed to attach his tire quickly enough. Furthermore, in the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix, due to Red Bull’s communication failure in the pit lane, Daniel Ricciardo––current Renault driver––was left stranded with no tires, allowing Hamilton to take advantage and fly by, eventually winning the race. Though some may argue that pit stops are part of the game, to avoid situations where races are dictated by pit stop incidents alone, shortening the number of laps in a race would allow drivers to compete based on skill rather than hoping to pass their competitors due to a superior pitting strategy.

Structure of F1 Tracks

Many, if not all, tracks in F1 consist of minimal straights for overtaking and unnecessary chicanes––tight sequences of corners in alternate directions which slow down cars. Though chicanes present a potential opportunity for drivers to overtake after a long straight, F1 should consider making all first turns simple, and eliminating purposeless chicanes in parts of the track where early or worthless crashes could ruin the race. For example, in the first corner of the 2018 United States Grand Prix, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, Williams’ Lance Stroll, and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc crashed as all cars were squeezed together. Unfortunately, Leclerc and Alonso could not finish the race, and Stroll ended up in the last place.

Formula One rose to popularity in the 60s and 70s on its reputation of being a fierce and thrilling battle between passionate racers. However, if F1 does not make immediate changes soon, it is bound to face a drastic decline in revenue, popularity, and fans.

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