October 26, 2014

The day the F1 pyramid scheme crashed: a rant.

F1, a pyramid scheme?  Too harsh?

Maybe a little but in the last few years, the main concern of F1 has been to raise higher and higher revenue for main investors rather than for the sport.  To prop up what has become a gargantuan and bloated system,  it's been a constant adding of new venues in unlikely places and teams of questionable  pedigree.

The Russian GP, it can be argued, was the epitome of where F1 now finds itself: a propaganda exercise for a dubious government on a dull, pointless track in a place, Sochi,  that has as much to do with auto racing as it had to do with the Olympics, coincidentally another grand event less and less people seem to care about anymore.

As it turns out the Russian GP was the venue where you saw a team, Caterham,  stop a car mid-race because they seemingly ran out of money and another, Marussia, only run one car because they really could not afford to run any cars but were in their home country so they had to do something.

Worse, Caterham lied about the reasons why they pulled
Kobayashi's healthy car into the pits and Marussia justified running only one car by saying it had been out of "respect" for Jules Bianchi, injured in the previous race in Japan.   This was a crummy, cynical manipulation by the team who used Bianchi's tragedy to mask their financial issues.  Caterham and Marussia will not race the remaining races this year, Marussia could not even scrape enough money together to run their American reserve driver at the American GP.

But as lousy at this looks, the best you could say it's that it was teams doing what they can to survive in a system that treats smaller teams as the filler they in fact are.   F1 always had crap teams but those small teams once had a chance.  Mclaren, Williams, Brabham, they all broke through because of their ingenuity and innovations.

That is unlikely to happen anymore, rules are more confining and the whole sport is designed to please the big auto manufacturers who now are essential for the survival of the  sport.  Mercedes, by some accounts, spent something like a half a billion dollars to get to where they are now,  dominating the sport.    After a couple of unspectacular years, they had made noises like they might lose interest, as Honda and Toyota before.   Next thing you know, Lewis Hamilton moves from Mclaren with the intervention of Bernie Ecclestone and Mercedes gets  "secret tests".  Now, the Silver Arrows are dominating the sport,   coincidence, I'm sure.    The same will happen with Ferrari soon. and so on.

Of course, as it stands, F1 has to act this way.  The sport needs big manufacturers to spend so that investor revenue expectations can be met.  Meanwhile it squeezes race promoters in ways that make it a huge financial burden for fans to go see races live.    When fans go, they are treated to a less than spectacular show.      Fans wanted to see Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel fight it out, not a battle of two Mercedes drivers with cars anyone on the grid could drive to a podium finish.

Cars may be amazing technical achievements, almost as fast as the V8 but using 30% less fuel, but I guarantee nobody cares about that.    I keep going back to that interview Alonso gave before Canada this year saying how these cars are boring, that you simply cannot push for more than two laps before you have to start saving fuel or tires or charge a battery.    Granted, we all know Fernando, like any racing driver, would not be complaining nearly as much if the Ferrari F14T was a rocket but, is it right to have F1 be about conservation?

Ok, ok, I know, racing was always about managing resources, fuel, tires, brakes. but you felt that choice was in the driver's hands and that a heroic push was always possible.  That's simply not so now.

I have followed F1 since I was a small child, longer than I care to admit at this point.  I could be described as F1's biggest fan, it would not be a huge exaggeration.  Yet, I'm losing interest.   If F1 is losing the likes of me, it's in much bigger trouble than it admits.

/rant, your turn.


  1. My current disinterest in F1 stems from the artificial gimmicks designed to make more passing opportunities
    but mainly from the polar bear friendly sounding cars. I haven't once
    this season turned up the volume to a deafening level to hear the start
    of a race. I'll admit the battle b/t hamncheese and brittany spears has
    been spectacular but it doesn't make up for everything else that is
    wrong with F1. The new Tilke tracks are obscenely similar and boring,
    excluding COTA. In my world, I'd like to see v10 and v12 powered cars with lower levels of downforce and more emphasize on mechanical grip.

  2. I've only been watching and following F1 for a short time, since 2010. But, even in that short time, I've seen the sport decline. First it was the domination of Vettel and Red Bull, only to be followed by Merc and their drivers. There have been truly good and enjoyable races in that time, but *only* when the race bucked the dominant trend.

    Having a constructors payout that gives nothing to the 11th place team is fairly stupid. The regs have been tweaked in such a way that it demands that massive funds be spent to be competitive, and as you note, for the deeps pockets of the mfrs, but the rewards are too few for small teams. The result we're seeing isn't too surprising.

    When I watch documentaries of the 70's and 80's and see these small scrappy teams compete, and win, along side the big boys, I wonder what truly happened since then to take that magic away. It doesn't help that Bernie has turned this into a sport that requires a parasitical relationship with governments, who underwrite much of the costs for the events. Was it this way in the 70s and 80s?

    Screw all this marvelous green tech and screw Bernie and Todt for degrading this tremendous show. Go back to V10s and 12s; hell, I'll settle for the V8s. Let the boys rip it up on their own terms. Bring the magic back.

  3. Being middle class schmuck from Canada, the distribution of wealth globally to the top 5 % scares me .... And I suppose F1 is not immune. I am OK with the formula, and I think we need to see how 2015 goes before we revert to wingless v12's. With re homologation of engines, red bull , Ferrari and maybe toro Rosso would be challenging further up... Honda is another interesting story to watch.

    While I hate to see money decide who wins, it always does , even grass roots racing has the rich Dad, 45 ft RV pulling into the local Kart track

    So maybe we see 5 teams with 4 drivers each ... Upside more teammate battles,
    less back markers, closer racing....downside, no way a naturally talented designer, driver, aero dynamist, mechanic .... Can decide to raise some money and go racing at the highest levels... But we lost that a long time ago
    Which is sad for sure

  4. Add to the list: WRC and DTM.

  5. It had been a long week so I decided to sit back and enjoy a few formula 1 videos on the youtubes while I drank some bourbon. Just typing in F1 into the search box gave me full races from seasons across the decades. Documentaries and season reviews kept me entertained for hours.

    Observations from this trek through time.

    There is always a dominant team. Lotus, Williams, Ferrari. Their reign may only last a season (Brawn) or five years (Ferrari), but one team stands out. However; while watching races from the 60s the suspension failures stood out. In the 80s I also noticed the turbo failures, along with the suspension problems. These failures meant that top teams could be brought down and lesser teams win the race.

    We live in an era when engines can last several races, not just a qualifying lap. This reliability means that when a team is dominating, they most likely will continue to dominate.

    Innovation takes money. Lotus introduced sponsors so that Chapman could spend more money on his toys. It brought us some of the greatest machines the sport has scene.

    I agree that the innovations of 2014 will not hold our interests for too much longer. I accidentally clicked on a fan clip from a race earlier this year and the noise could not come close to the V12s I had just been watching.

    Unfortunately, that lack of sound has not made the sport any less dangerous. The wrecks we have witnessed in Formula Zero and at the Japanese Grand Prix have illustrated that.

    The dominance of the Mercedes does not bother me. As stated above there have always been dominant teams. I am bothered by the fact that the influx of capital to the sport has meant that these dominant teams race on crappy tracks and the innovations of today make me look to the past for excitement. Nostalgia is something we turn to when we long for a "glorious" past that did not necessarily exist. Increasingly I have to defend my love of F1 by saying, "Have you seen Rush?"

  6. The problem with modern F1 is that people today (and when I say people of today I mean fans that have taken a liking to the sport in the last six to eight years) have absolutely no clue what F1 used to be. They blindly turn up at the races and tune in their television sets to watch an inferior product. Beginning in 1993 they started to narrow the tires, therefore the last real F1 season was 1992. Just head over to YouTube and watch the 1992 F1 year in review and watch the greatest show on earth in its finest hour. Fans today can't even begin to comprehend the level of colossal power, the charisma, the ferocity, the bravado, the audacity, and the splendor of of real F1 from the late sixties to the early nineties. It was the ultimate freak show sport the world had ever seen.. I was twenty years old when I discovered F1. My dad took me to Montreal in 1993 and I was blown away. After the race my dad and I just sat in the stands for an hour watching everyone file out. I was transfixed. It was the greatest EUREKA! moment of my life(well wait, there was that one time on prom night)...but I digress; today F1 is run by a tribunal of morons who don't have the sports best interest in mind. Not only do they have their greedy self-interests in mind but they kowtow to these people who have some stupid politically correct environmental agenda. The problem with political correctness is that its a lie. Strong, intelligent people don't want a lie, they want the truth...cause the truth lasts. It always perseveres. We need to get back to real racing. Wider cars, bigger wings, wider tires, nothing less than a V10. Ask Nikki from the interview a couple of weeks ago what real F1 is. The man speaks the truth. The truth spoken by a real racer!

  7. Finishing order for the Russian GP shows the team gap perfectly.
    The only reason we didn't have it in perfect team order is Kimi and Massa are being seriously outdriven by their teammates.

  8. The current F1 ownership and the teams refuse to learn from the lessons of other major professional sports. The NFL distributes the TV revenue equally among ALL of the teams. That, combined with a draft system that provides advantages to the teams with the worse records has resulted in a much greater parity over the last 20 or so years. Sure, there are some top teams which overall have better results but there have been many smaller market teams that have risen to the top and this has done wonders for growing the overall interest in the the NFL. Plus, the enduring human trait of pulling for the underdog is satisfied by that system.

    Granted, F! doesn't have the regional/local fan basis of the NFL but providing the diversity of a full complement of 10+ teams and at least the possibility of surprises and the drama of underdog teams having some success would do more to increase world wide interest and viewership to F1 than all of the gimmicks or the predictable and slavish catering to 2 or 3 "top" teams.

    Sad to say, I think it's likely that the short term greed mongers will run F1 into the ground until it ceases to exist. The only hope would then be a new series run and *owned* by the teams.

  9. In Russia, they got to push hard from start to finish. And we got boring racing...so Alonso is not exactly correct. What's good for a show and what's good for drivers?

  10. Oh, I agree, the engine, sorry, "Power Units" are not the issue except for the cost to develop which made a mockery of all the FIA's effort towards a budget cap. Manufacturers care about the engine type, I'm sure most of the viewing public is interested but, only tangentially.

  11. If there is one thing you can count on F1 "fans" to do, its moan and complain. Why? Because F1 is ever changing and someone always swears the product of their generation is always better because in their head all they see playing are the highlights. Fireballs, sparks, 5 seconds of ear piercing noise etc. Never mind the fact you would get over the noise in 5mins if you were lucky enough to watch the racing track side. Its never the complete picture of what the racing was like. F1 of the past was much simpler. It was essentially engine limited. There were no Trulli trains until what the 90s? And people conveniently over look the damage that did to racing just so they could slag DRS, KERS etc. Back in those days the technology was space age or there was no need for it. Let's keep things in perspective. The Silver Arrows are killing it right now, but we've since realized their strength isn't just the power unit. They have a solid chassis and aero to boot.

    I would argue that F1 has never been better. Like others have mentioned, innovation costs money. You may have the brightest idea but sometimes that idea just cannot be brought into fruition without the money for R&D. Never mind the cost of human capital. People with bright ideas arn't cheap. F1 might be doing a clumsy job at cost control, but at least they are trying to address it. A free for all F1 would mean those with the deepest pockets(Ferrari and McLaren) would continue to dominate and shoot down any new changes that were not beneficial to them. Look at the ruckus Ferrari is making over the "engine freeze." They are trying to mislead people into thinking they are being blocked from developing their engines. In reality only something like 7% of the engine is frozen until 2016? Once you've taken the test, you can't go back and change your answer because you got the answer wrong. That's essentially what Maranello is bitching about. Do your homework and study harder for the next exam. What Maranello is hankering for is the glory days when they could simply spend their way to championships.

    In the old F1 there would be no Brawn(even if it was Honda at the start). Teams like Force India or Williams would never lift a finger to Mclaren or Ferrari. Red Bull? Probably not dominate to the extent they did. Just like anything, eventually you reach a steady state and it becomes harder and harder to make gains. That's why I like F1. Every few years there is a reset. We are currently in the first year of F1's biggest reset in ages. Could we at least give it a year before we trash it? The cars will only get faster next year. If you took the W05 back to Australia right now, it would blow away the times set in RD1 of the championship.

    I say good riddance to Caterum, Virgin, HRT and Marrussia. They arn't racing teams. They are business ventures. If they were smart they'd take their massive F1 budgets and run competitive cars in Indycar, GP2, WSB 3.5 or sports cars. Heck, they might even win championships than waste their money on F1. Their style is so nouveau riche. These guys managed to get huge sums of money from sponsors and went straight for the top shelf product(F1). They could have worked their way to the top in a more modest fashion but no. They tried to rush prestige and got burned out almost instantly. Its no secret that F1 is expensive. If you can't operate 2-5 races in advance, you have no point being on the grid. The top teams are probably planning a season in advance. The new power units are probably a 5-10 year project that finally made it to the grid in 2014. It's only a matter of time before these new cars reach their true potential. Sure the V8 or V10 era cars were faster over a single lap. But would they be faster than the current cars if they had to carry race distance fuel and all the other ancillary components modern cars are carrying? This isn't time attack, its Grand Prix racing.

  12. I'd have to say that everyone has good points and I agree with most; more mechanical grip, more noise, more underdogs, better venues. But what stands out to me, is that this conversation has taken place for as long as I can recall. I'm not saying it's irrelevant… it needs to be had, but… well… It's irrelevant. By in large, the entire world, not just F1, has become a chessboard arranged by and for the privileged few, who only have their own personal interests in mind and will do whatever necessary to secure and grow that position. No matter how obscene. It applies to nearly all forms of sports, business [which have become one in the same] and politics [ditto]. And it covers all points of the globe. The rest of us will be placated only as far as is necessary. They no longer care about the loyal devotees. Once they found out they can feed us crap, call it steak, and most will begrudgingly come back for more, we were screwed. If it grows the bottom line "acceptable losses" are just a part of the process. It's rather ironic though; the same formula behind the current F1 power plants holds true for the masses. …Get as much as possible, while giving as little as possible, for as long as possible, without blowing up. The sad truth is, those of us who frequent sites like Axis are the choir and they want new converts. …Better get used to it too, because it's not likely to change any time soon.

  13. I for one would be happy to see Caterham and Marrusia go. Hopeless backmarkers don't add anything good to the race. More concerning is that teams with legitimate pace are also struggling for funding (Force India, and even Williams in recent years).

    Clearly the revenue split needs to be more even. And perhaps FOM should take less of the pie.

    I think that a major problem with current F1 is the narrowness of the rules governing car design (that drove Newey out). They are intended to keep all the cars close and to keep costs down, but that's clearly not working. When the parameters are very narrow, only the richest teams will be able to tweak out the little details that make all the difference.

    If the rules were more flexible, the lower tier teams could try something more radical that the top teams wouldn't risk. One of the great things about the old days of F1 was seeing a variety of cars racing that had different approaches and different tradeoffs.

    Personally I've almost stopped watching F1 and am watching MotoGP instead. Great racing, heroic performances by the riders, and non of the nonsense.

    I think F1 could take a page from what MotoGP has done with the classes, and the special rules for Ducati this season. Instead of penalizing the lower tier teams with smaller constructor's prizes, reward them with some benefits in the rules. Maybe allow them more freedom in car design if they're in a lower class. Give them free choice of tires.

    The top teams should be smart enough to know that it benefits everyone when the sport is more competitive.

  14. After 40 years of F1 interest, usually at fever level, I'm about done.

  15. My point in that respect is that thy really could have done a lot more to connect the new engine regs to a marketing push for new manufacturers and the younger generations of folks out there who will never really know NA-powered racing series or cars during their lifetime. These hybrid systems WILL eventually replace all but the most specific drivetrains and designs (they're even rolling them into the heavy-duty truck market).

    Endurance racing and high-end sports cars have all embraced the power and possibilities of compact, high-energy hybrid systems, flogging F1 for adopting the tech is backwards. Even your most recent post about a certain track terror from Ferrari wouldn't be quite so fab w/o some of the gee-whiz tech that did dribble out from F1 dev.

    So from an outside perspective, if you looked inward, this change was less political and 'green' than an attempt to lure the manufacturers back into the sport, which we all mostly accept. I think the other factors were just minor.

  16. What is different now from, say, the 1990s? I know there were a bunch of dead-end teams that never really got anywhere. Did any of them see advancement?


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