F1’s fall from grace
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MONEY AND POLITICS HAVE PUT A MUCH-LOVED SPORT IN DIRE STRAITS
Formula 1 is ruining itself by descending into a spiral of acrimony fuelled by money, politics, egotistical posturing, an incapable and toothless governing body, crowds evaporating like raindrops in the sun and racing that is becoming something only the purist can appreciate.
So, what is new about all that? It’s always been the same, hasn’t it?
Perhaps so, but at this point things look much worse.
The Mercedes team recently announced it had lost around NZ$180 million on the 2014 season. That is more than the season’s operating budget for some lower teams and illustrates the enormous gulf between those who can spend their way to success and those who cannot.
The once (and not too long ago) all-conquering Red Bull team is close to shutting the factory doors as it cannot get what it calls a competitive engine, and will almost certainly take Toro Rosso with them.
Lotus appear to have been saved by a bailout from Renault.
Two smaller teams have registered a complaint with the European Union questioning F1’s governance, showing the system of dividing revenues and determining how rules are set is unfair and unlawful.
Having to go to lawmakers, cap in hand, to sort out your sport’s problems is nothing short of desperation and reflects badly on motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, which appears totally uninterested in its flagship — a flagship that is by far its main funder.
FIA president Jean Todt seems more interested in trying to become an international statesman than an effective leader of the sport. It is a real possibility that only six teams will be competing in the 2016 Championship and bigger teams will be allowed a third car.
This weekend’s race takes place at Sochi in Russia, a venue with an F1 tradition stretching back all the way to 2014, and a race with an uncertain future. Next year there will be a race at that hotbed of F1 fanaticism, Azerbaijan.
The more traditional tracks, which fed the sport for years and fired the imagination of the true fan base, are left to scrabble money together to satisfy the “suits” in the corporate offices of F1’s ultimate owners, CVC Capital Partners.
It is not for the likes of Silverstone, Spa or Monza to go to their governments and beg another few million to keep the local Grand Prix alive.
F1 has become an egotistical and political football to be bounced around among oil-rich Middle Eastern countries to keep the cash conveyor-belt rolling towards the glutton that is CVC.
This has resulted in a future calendar that takes no heed of the challenges to the teams. We have stratospherically complicated and expensive technology on the cars, yet the collective minds of F1 cannot get together to make real racing possible.
Self-interest and a siege mentality rules among the major teams at the expense of the very fabric of the sport.
No matter how much the peripherals of the sport annoy me, I will keep watching it, but I have to admit the racing is not as riveting as I would wish
Those who do not share my dedication simply do not watch the races anymore.
Ticket prices have transcended into a luxury annual trip. TV companies around the world have asked how they can escape from, or modify, contracts they have with ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone.
He has been responsible for F1’s growth over many decades, — making himself and countless others extremely rich in doing so — and has made it into one of the world’s biggest televised sporting entertainments. Perhaps that is the problem.
Ecclestone peaked with the sport a little while ago and what it is today is the result of an 84-year-old man’s obsession with not letting go, and seeing only the next deal or next challenge.
Despite his shrugging-off of F1’s mountain of problems, there must be an undercurrent of deep concern.
Whatever those problems may be, there is surely only one goal: to make the racing better, make it more equitable and to get the fans to want more of it.
Because unless those fans are there, and the audience builds up again, F1’s money problem will solve itself.
There will not be any.