Procession or Penalty – Formula One in 2019

So far this season, it seems like the only excitement that leaves us talking long after a Formula One race is the penalties handed out by the stewards. For the last two weeks, almost every day dawned with a ‘new’ update around the five-second time penalty that Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel received during the Canadian Grand Prix. Now, following the French Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul Ricard, Daniel Ricciardo was handed an even harsher punishment consisting of two five-second penalties – demoting him from P7 to P11 – and three points off his racing licence.

Now, I consider myself a fairly reasonable person who has the emotional maturity necessary to step back, observe the evidence, digest, and then make up my mind. I have re-watched all the videos of both incidents until I can confidently recite them move for move. I also recognize that the stewards have a job to do, and doing that job means following a rule book that outlines what is and is not allowed on-track. However, like many F1 fans I had a very strong and immediate response to both the Vettel and Ricciardo penalties. So, I had to ask myself why and the reasons – while not surprising – highlight what I think are some of the fundamental frustrations festering at the heart of modern F1 races.

What happened to let them race?

I’m bored. Let me repeat that – I. Am. Bored. The entire two hours of an F1 race should not be a procession of some of the world’s most experienced drivers in some of the world’s most technologically advanced cars going at breakneck speeds around a circuit for 50-70 odd laps. How is that racing? At best, that should be defined as speeding. God forbid someone attempts a pass – as Ricciardo did today in the final lap of the French Grand Prix. Without going into details, that was the most exciting moment of an otherwise lacklustre race, but once again post-race decisions ultimately determined the outcome – not the flag.

Is it time for the FIA to revisit and amend some of the regulations limiting what drivers can and cannot do on-track?

Is it a race if the outcome is set?

The answer is no! I’ve now sat through eight races this Formula One season with near-predictable podium outcomes. I mean, good for Mercedes for having all their ducts (yes, that’s a pun) in a row. The strength and strategy of the silver arrows are something to behold, but surely even they yearn for some sort of challenge. When they finally got it in the form of Sebastian Vettel winning pole during qualifying at the Canadian Grand Prix, look what ended up happening? Once again, I won’t bother going into the details, but even Lewis Hamilton looked excited when he knew he’d be battling Vettel at the front.

Can the 2021 budget cap truly be the answer to reducing the gap to the front teams?

Is it two races or one?

Did you miss the mid-field battle between Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi-Matias Räikkönen, Nicolas Hülkenberg, and Lando Norris during the final lap at the French Grand Prix? I did, too. While television cameras were pointed at the drivers at the front and another Mercedes one-two in the making, apparently the most thrilling part of the entire race was happening elsewhere.

How many races are we meant to be watching during the Grand Prix?

If it’s not for the fans, then who?

This might be hubris, but I believe F1 is first and foremost for the fans. We’re the ones coming out in the tens of thousands to watch the races. The ones paying extra for channels just so we can watch our favorite drivers battle it out every two weeks for a spot on that coveted champagne-drenched podium. We’re also the ones who stick with the calendar even though we’re left frustrated and unsatisfied time and time again.

There has been a strong outcry this season from F1 fans – myself including – that something needs to change in order to make the races fun again. The question is, who’s listening? The FIA along with drivers, team bosses, and other prominent figures in the racing world met this June to discuss the future of Formula One, but I wonder how many of them truly represent the fans. Did we have a voice during those meetings? And is that voice truly representative of what we, the fans, want? I’m seriously asking here.

Formula One is a business. It’s a brand. And each business needs to take care of its customer base. But are we being taken care of? Is the service being offered actually meeting our demands? For me, qualifying is the most exciting part of an F1 weekend. I’ll gladly spend money to sit through the one hour Saturday session, but I think twice before paying top dollars for race day.

These are just my opinions. You’re welcomed and encouraged to share yours.

¬PP

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