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Ferrari warns against dumbing down F1

21 December 2017

So all the talk today is of Ferrari once again threatening to quit Formula 1. It’s an age old tactic that the Italian team has pulled many times before in order to get its own way.

Enzo Ferrari was very quick to threaten to leave if he didn’t get his way, a tradition continued by Luca di Montezemolo as recently as 2014 when he was Ferrari president. Now it’s current Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne, repeating at a recent Christmas party something he first said in early November that the proposed new engine regulations for 2021 are unacceptable.

That there is concern that Liberty Media, the owners of Formula 1 since January, is attempting to dumb things down with the new engine regulations that are due to come into force in 2021, is not beyond dispute, but from what I personally understand on good authority, nothing is yet fixed in stone.

The need to improve the F1 show has been called for decades. We tend to look back and remember certain drivers and races through rose-tinted spectacles as if this represented a golden age. However, we tend to have selective memories because between the highlights, there were races that were either terminally dull or the grid was very thin and made up with makeweights with only two or three cars realistically having a chance of winning.

In this modern age where the consumer has so many entertainment choices, there is an absolute need to improve things, but at the same time Formula 1 has a special place that has to be treated with respect. I am mindful of what happened to IndyCar. When I went to my first Indy 500 race in 1970, the grid comprised a grid of 14 different chassis, including incidentally McLaren and Brabham all powered by either a Ford or Offy. Now look at it – one chassis, a spec aero kit, brakes and gearbox and a choice of Chevrolet or Honda engine.

For the purist, this is dire and while for the diehards, the Indy 500 is the race of the year, when it comes to the rest of the series, the crowds are pretty thin and TV viewership at just over half a million in 2017 is pretty paltry. In comparison, and I know it’s not fair because motorsport is a much more specialist sport, the average viewership of an NBA game is 20 million. What would help Formula 1, incidentally, is bringing it back to the free-to-air broadcasters. I am sure I am not alone when I say that I have a good many friends who are not interested enough to pay a subscription pay to watch a race. As a result, the TV audience has dwindled away.

I do understand that if you are a team owner, cost above everything is paramount and that the sponsorship levels in this championship are way, way below that of Formula 1, but the danger of introducing too many spec parts into Formula 1 and diluting its ability to innovate in search of that precious tenth of a second cannot be overstated. IndyCar is not the template in any shape or form that Formula 1 should follow.

It’s a fine balancing act that Liberty Media has to tread, and the concerns of the teams do need to be taken on board and while Marchionne does push it to the limit with his threats of withdrawing his team, despite its special status, his words should be heeded.

Finally, on that happy note, I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

 

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