The 2017 Formula One season ended with yet another snorefest in Abu Dhabi, one of many tracks where actual passing is virtually impossible due to a Mickey Mouse layout. Valtteri Bottas led from start to finish while Lewis Hamilton coasted home in second place.
There were almost 5 seconds of pulse pounding action in the 90 minute race when Bottas ran wide at one corner late in the race and let Hamilton get within a second of him, but he quickly recovered and pulled out a comfortable lead again. Sebastien Vettel brought on Ferrari home in third place — 20 seconds behind the leader — while Kimi Raikkonen finished another lackluster season in fourth, 40 seconds behind.
2017 brought fans such high points as 35 spot grid penalties for teams that were forced to change an engine or transmission before the FIA, in its infinite wisdom, thought appropriate. The FIA has this absurd notion that fans care a flying fig leaf about durability of powertrain components. Note to Jean Todt, the taciturn head of the organization — they don’t. Next year’s preliminary schedule features 21 races — the most ever — but the teams will be forced to complete the expanded format with one less engine. Beginning in 2018, they will be allowed to use only three engines for the entire season. This year’s driving champion, Lewis Hamilton, frets that next year’s car will be like driving a bus because the drivers will be forced to conserve the equipment instead of battling each other on track.
The brainiac in charge (that would be the aforementioned M. Todt) believe it spices up the show when cars have to start from the back of the and mix it up with back markers. He couldn’t be more wrong. There aren’t more than a handful of fans who can describe the components of the current powertrains. Motor Generating Unit — Heat? What in the name of Juan Manuel Fangio is that? 35 spot grid penalties when there are only 20 cars on the grid? Try explaining that lunacy to your friends.
The highlights of the season all involve crashes, not racing. Sebastien Vettel’s road rage incident in Azerbaijan stands out along with the ridiculous grand caramboulage at the start of the race in Singapore that saw the two Ferraris make a sandwich of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull at the first corner.
At the end of the television coverage, the NBC broadcast team waxed eloquent about the “spectacle” at the Yas Marina circuit. Colored lights, smoke, fireworks. Oh, my, it was surely something to see! Unfortunately, there was no action to see on the track, which is theoretically the point of motor racing in the first place. The director was forced to focus on the battle for 12th and 13th most of the afternoon.
Formula One is in big trouble for one reason and one reason only. There is very little actual racing taking place out one the tarmac. The promoters and muckety mucks in the luxury boxes are trying things like having Michael Buffer, the man who has made an entire career out of shouting “Let’s get ready to RUM…BULL!” at boxing and wrestling matches, bring his schtick to the pre-race ceremonies at the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. Whoever dreams this stuff up must have an IQ equivalent to a musk ox.
Formula One has been talking about “spicing up the show” for 20 years now, but things keep getting worse. More and more tracks make passing all but impossible. Aerodynamics — especially front wings that look like the cow catcher on a steam locomotive — also limit the ability of drivers to get close enough to the car ahead to pass. Instead, the sport relies on jury rigged systems like the ludicrous drag reduction system to allow some form of fake passing.
It’s that time of year when I like to take the leaders of the sport to task for being dunces. The sport needs more passing and that means less emphasis on aerodynamic downforce and more on mechanical grip. Circuits need to be redesigned to promote passing, not prohibit it. Durability rules are for dummies. Shutting the bottom teams out of sharing in the pot of gold the sport passes out each season is stupid. The smaller teams can never hope to compete if the cars at the front get to spend ten times as much money.
Many racing series use a “reward weight” system to make the racing more competitive. If you win one race, you carry a weight penalty in the next. It’s a simple, cost effective way to make sure the fans get to see some real racing. Some also use a “reverse grid” system to accomplish much the same thing. Neither costs anyone a dime but they do make the action on track more interesting for the fans.
Exciting racing makes for excited fans. Excited fans tell their friends and help grow the sport. They buy tickets to the races or watch on television. More viewers drives up ad rates which means more money for everyone. Formula One has a history of overthinking everything it does. I always goes for the most complex, insanely intricate solution when simple would do. Someone should tattoo the words “Occum’s Razon” on Jean Todt’s forehead.
If the sport has been talking about spicing up the show for 20 years or more, perhaps it’s time to admit it’s not working and it’s high time to try something else. I would humbly suggest Formula One come up with a rules package that encourages real racing. Forget the arcane world of aerodynamics. Give the fans passing and lots of it. Please, we’re begging you!