In some ways the 2016 F1 season is for me a sort of season-long referendum. You see, for the last couple of years, I’ve been bored. And I’m not alone.
Not because of the engines. Hybrids are essential for relevance, for technological development and yes, for PR. If anything the hybrid rules aren’t open enough – despite being more advanced than most championships, F1 is currently 2nd to the WEC on both hybrid technology and raceability.
Not because of the drivers. The drivers are as good as any set of drivers in history. Not better, not worse. Would I change some? Yes. But ultimately this isn’t like the days of absolute no-hopers, running massively off the pace and/or crashing all the time. Given the opportunity, these drivers would be just as racy and just as exciting as those in any other era. They don’t have that opportunity and probably won’t this year either. Let’s hope they do in 2017. It would be nice if they could say what they think a bit more, but fans have been asking for that for a long time – and actually in the last few months the likes of Alonso, Button and Vettel have been more outspoken.
I’m a little bored of the teams but they are only playing to the rules of the game.
I’m not even bored by domination. It happens. And dammit I sat through the Ferrari years 2000-2004 so I’ll bloody well sit through this! What I learned in the Ferrari years was to watch the midfield because the midfield is fascinating. Plus any fan who watches sportscar racing should be adept at watching the entire field, the entire story, not just at who is going to win overall. Mercedes or Red Bull or Ferrari running away with it isn’t fun, we’d all like more competition, but ultimately they’ve done the better job and any frustrations should be directed at the other teams for not being as good.
I’ve been bored by the tyres. F1 shouldn’t be about conserving tyres. Even 24-hour endurance racing isn’t about conserving tyres these days, they go hell-for-leather the whole way, so why is F1? It would be okay if they were designed to the limit and the drivers were pushing to the edge. But they aren’t. The current F1 tyres are designed to be artificially bad in the hope of improving ‘The Show’. But it doesn’t work. Teams always push the limit, so instead of burning through the tyres and pitting several times, the drivers now cruise to the next stop, well below their own performance and that of the car, to make the tyres last as long as possible and reduce the number of pit stops – this is faster over a race distance. The Bridgestones and Michelins of 10 years ago would run rings around them.
I’ve also been bored by the appalling way F1 is being run. Grands Prix in authoritarian dictatorship states. A fundamental lack of marketing from Bernie & FOM, quite the opposite actually when the promoter actively talks the sport down. A terrible financial model which, despite making tens of millions, leaves some teams struggling and circuits making considerable losses even though they have to charge fans hundreds of pounds, euros or dollars just for basic seats.
Oh and DRS, just.. no.
If this carries on, I don’t know how much longer I can keep watching. It would be a tremendously hard wrench to stop watching entirely, but I’m already at the stage where F1 Grands Prix are no longer ‘must-see TV’. Right now I don’t mind whether I miss a race live and watch it later. There are races on the calendar I don’t care if I miss entirely. I never, ever thought I’d get to that stage, let alone contemplate giving up.
Think positively. What has kept me going has been the pure sport. It is still there, if you dig hard enough. The stories. The improvements team to team. The way drivers tackle the races. The new drivers coming through (and sadly the unfortunate talented drivers getting shafted by teams desperate for cash). The differences between teams and cars even if those are ever-shrinking. Despite all the problems, somewhere underneath it all a version of the sport still exists.
2016 is interesting. There’s the very real possibility Mercedes will be challenged by Ferrari. There’s disruption in the midfield among Red Bull, McLaren, Renault (ex-Lotus) which will really mix things up, if not in 1st and 2nd in the race result then certainly from 3rd to 18th.
There are new tyres rules, complicated ones, which should add a variable without affecting things too greatly.
There’s also this weird new qualifying system, I won’t dwell on it but let’s say firstly I’m not (yet) a fan, on paper not at all, but also let’s say we should see it before judging. I’m keeping an open mind.
There are signs things are changing. The sport is finally listening to the fans – for better or for worse. Changes to the cars are coming in 2017 or 2018, they may not be the right changes, it certainly doesn’t look like it, but we’ll find out in due course. At least by then F1 cars ought to be jaw-dropping fast again!
Even Pirelli seems to be getting the message – make better tyres.
The UK has an exciting new TV deal with Channel 4 taking over. I’ll miss the BBC coverage but most of that team has landed at C4 and the number of hours seems about the same as the recent BBC deal, and I’m used to that now. Let’s face it, even hardcore fans don’t need live coverage of 21 races worth of practice sessions. And the highlights give me a chance to do other things in the day before settling in to watch – just as long as I avoid social media (spoilers!). I’m really intrigued to see what C4 can bring to the experience.
Team By Team
My team-by-team preview follows in the next post.
Whilst I agree with the need to go for the hybrid formula, I think it has been done the wrong way, and with the wrong tyres. But the competitiveness side of things should even itself out if the rules remain fairly stable and others catch up, and I hope that’ll show signs of happening this year.
Will 2016 be ‘The Best Year Ever’? No, of course not. But it could be the best year of the 1.6 litre hybrid era, and that’ll be good enough for me.