What’s Wrong With Formula1?

Except for Max Verstappen and his bold maneuvers on track, I got bored during the broadcast of the 2015 Chinese Grand Prix. Okay, I admit, Pastor Maldonado entertained too, in parts. But that was it! Post-race, I wondered, what’s wrong with Formula1? And I couldn’t find a direct answer.

After a drab 2014 Formula1 Season, we have two marquee manufacturer teams battling for wins on track – Ferrari vs. Mercedes. In this, we have (yet) two World Champions fighting at the front – Vettel vs. Hamilton, not so typical a script for Formula1 for the last few seasons. We also have another former World Champion (Raikkonen) in a Ferrari trying to find his way to the front; not to mention, the other Mercedes driver (Rosberg) who desperately wants to win his first World Championship too. My point is that we finally have a battle of sorts to follow.

What’s Wrong With Formula1?

Add to this mix, Mclaren are patiently trying to script their comeback with Honda. That Alonso and Button are fighting hard to avoid the last two slots in the race classification is fun to watch too. We also have a competitive Williams – after nearly a decade and Toro Rosso, who seem faster than Red Bull Racing. All in all, there are battles (however small) taking place for nearly every position on the grid. (Read: Thank You Mclaren)

We also have fresh talent who have impressed (yet) in their debut season – Nasr, Sainz Jr., Verstappen and maybe Ericsson too. When we interviewed David Coulthard on the Inside Line F1 Podcast, he admitted that the newer formula is relatively easier to drive, but that is beside the point. The younger drivers have battled hard and have entertained us well, of course, scored much needed points for their teams. (Read: Formula One or Formula Rookie?)

Despite this, I wondered, what is wrong with Formula1? Why are fans consistently turning away from the sport? I can’t remember many tweets / posts from fans who have enjoyed the races this year barring Malaysia – attributing that to the element of surprise! (Read: Game On, Ferrari)

Is it the new ‘formula’ in the sport? Are we in such a stage of technical complexity that it is a turn-off for most of the fans? Is it the lack of engine sound? Is the Mercedes dominance and the lack of performance by Ferrari, Mclaren and Red Bull Racing hurting more than it should? Is the business of Formula1 affecting the sport directly for the first time? Or is the negativity about teams shutting down, or struggling to line-up on the grid the problem? (Read: Your Chance To Own An F1 Team)

Is the migration of the sport of newer territories affecting the traditional fan base? Is it Bernie Ecclestone’s leadership or the FIA’s lack of direction? Or is there a mismatch between what the fans are expecting and the sport is delivering? (Read: Formula One Needs Better Marketing)

Despite being involved with the sport for many years, I am unable to pinpoint where the problem lies. But I believe much of the questions that I have asked have some or the other answer which add up to the issues the sport faces. And while I am unable to pinpoint, I think I am able to list down my expectations from the sport (which I shall share in my next post). (Read: What Formula One Can Learn From Red Bull)

This is where I would like to invite fan comments. Tell me what you believe the issues with the sport are? Maybe if I get a good number of responses, I will send this post with the comments to FOM for them to refer as ‘fan survey’!

And I know this post isn’t one that will generate much of a positive response. The first negative response was from my co-driver and partner-in-crime Mithila Mehta who argued that the sport has made progress from last year on the very points I have raised above. But then again, she’s a purist, like many others who will read this blog post. Most of these purists would watch the sport even if there were only two cars racing each other on track! Let’s face it, we didn’t tune away from the six car grid in the 2005 United States Grand Prix!

Lastly, here’s your chance to tune in to the latest episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast ‘Max Worst-happened’. The title credit goes to my father (Atul Shah). Yes, we are an out-an-out Formula1 family!

We speak about Max Verstappen’s entertaining drive, followed by Alonso and Raikkonen’s championship winning comments. Lastly, we pray that Rosberg takes the fight to Hamilton, because the Ferrari vs. Mercedes seems more hype than substance. Tune in!

The Inside Line F1 Podcast is now available on various platforms and I would welcome you to choose your platform to listen to the humour that we add to the otherwise serious and complex sport of Formula1. And while our podcast frequency is weekly, come ‘like‘ the Inside Line F1 Podcast on Facebook and on Google+ for far frequent humorous updates from the world of Formula1.

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The Inside Line Formula1 Podcast is produced and hosted by Rishi Kapoor and Kunal Shah. Follow us on Twitter and on our SoundcloudDailyMotionSpreakerMixCloud and YouTube channels.

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

15 comments On What’s Wrong With Formula1?

    • I really don’t wish to watch an economy drive. Seems that’s lost on most commentators in F1 who seem happy watching cars go around the track more and more slowly to preserve fuel and save tyres. Okay maybe we are stuck with these crazy Hybrid power units, which should never have seen the light of day in F1, but why can’t they at least be driven to the limits without economy factors getting in the way. This isn’t racing its just a bunch of cars doing their best to get to the finish, where is the interest in that?

  • 1. Ugly cars
    2. Terrible engine sound
    3. New rules and regulations a disaster
    F1 was excellent when the teams pushed the limits of the car (engine/gearbox). Free revving engines lasting one race maximum. Everything pushed to the limit.
    The new rules have killed F1. It is not F1 anymore.

  • I don’t think it’s technical complexity because WEC is gaining fans and that’s considerably more complex from that perspective.
    I think you touched upon part of the problem in your post. F1 feels scripted. DRS passes telegraphed laps in advance that take all the suspense and excitement from the eventual pass. Almost-total “Noah’s Ark” grids and finishing positions that indicate team performance is the primary factor to an extent rarely seen before. People being prevented from participating in their own races due to the sheer extent of fuel-saving and tyre management involved.
    Faster cars passing slower cars is fine (and faster drivers passing slower ones more than merely fine). A certain amount of team superiority is fine. Some management of limited resources is fine. But F1’s taking these things to such extremes that it’s sapping the interest and excitement out of it. And it’s now been like this since 2011. Gradually, people are believing that F1 won’t change and doesn’t care enough to change meaningfully – that the powers-that-be are more lost concerning F1’s future direction than I was when trying to find my way out of the ELMS paddock on Saturday*.
    It’s difficult to be impressed by the new talent when a guy who needed 5 years to win GP3 – a step below F3 and three below F1 – (Danii Kyvat) took to F1 like he’d never been anywhere else. F1 cannot be challenging enough when stuff like that happens as a matter of routine. And changing the licence rules doesn’t help as it just kicks out those with low amounts of money rather than giving those who succeed a serious challenge to conquer.
    Other issues that I have heard cited for people turning away from F1 include:
    – Poor treatment of teams, including ridiculous excess payments to big teams and lying to small ones (Marussia/Manor being the classic case cited)
    – Poor treatment of drivers. The main ones cited to me were McLaren’s dithering over its drivers this winter and Sauber’s apparent inability to work out that 5 (or 6) drivers will not fit into 2 single-driver cars.
    – Grids and results obviously determined by money, in a way that rubs it in people’s faces in a way that wasn’t done last decade
    – Poor commentary (too little discussion of the race and too much hype, as well as commentators being several steps behind the music)
    – Pay TV (for the UK especially; most people don’t have pay TV, many who do don’t use a company that has F1 as an option and many of those who do refuse to pay extra for the sports package)
    – Engine sound (I still think it sounds like the Soundblaster 16 rendition of an F1 engine used by the 1995 computer game “Grand Prix 2”)
    – A perceived lack of desire or survival instinct in the paddock. Bernie Ecclestone is guilty party in chief but there are many others contributing to the impression.
    – Media obsession with Mercedes and TV insistence on only showing about 3 cars’ races properly. Not good for those supporting other cars, or indeed
    – Bad choice of font for the timing things (changed font for this year), meaning that TV viewers often can’t read where cars are in relation to one another
    – Unhappy Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso. McLaren building a decent B-spec car (at least, one that can reach Q3 on merit) mid-season would probably be worth 5 million viewers.
    – Assorted stupid politics.
    – Increased awareness of alternative motorsports. WTCC is now the most watched motorsport series. MotoGP is gaining viewers after losing a few over the last couple of years. WEC is getting more popular slowly. Even WRC is making a comeback…
    As you can see, there are a lot of reasons people are turning away. And ther
    * – By “lost”, I mean “tried to reach my hotel – which has its own gate at Silverstone – and found myself visiting both ends of the inside area of the track, in a outside-of-track campsite, behind some random grandstand and outside the main entrance before finding the hotel gate. About 4 miles more walking than necessary! (Note: Silverstone is about 4 miles long, so that’s like doing a lap of the track for no real reason).

  • Simple:
    – More teams or cars
    – less restrictions to (engine) development
    – More diversity, more tyre manufaturers for example.
    – Allow refilling fuel during pitstops.

  • We need another season like 2012 (apart from the McLaren screwups). At this point the qualifying pretty much tells the whole story.

  • It’s become too contrived and has strayed too far from it’s roots. Bernie’s endless quest for money money money, has robbed F1 of it’s heritage. No German or French GP, and no historic races are safe. Monza, Silverstone or Spa could easily disappear. Monaco is safe, but it doesn’t exactly evoke thoughts of passionate racing and excitement, just wealthy people showing off. In contemporary F1 it’s okay to race round God-forsaken circuits in front of empty grandstands, just so long as they have the money to buy it. There’s no passion at the tracks, and precious little visible in the sport at all.
    In the past the majority of the teams were there to compete in F1. Sure, they had works engine deals and big sponsors pouring the money in, but that was just a means to an end, and the teams were there to race. Now it’s just a marketing exercises. It’s so expensive to take part that only massively wealthy corporations an do it – and they didn’t get to be massively wealthy by being sentimental. As soon as it no longer makes sense from an commercial point of view they’ll close the doors and walk away, just like Toyota or BMW, leaving behind the husk of a team, or nothing at all.
    Money made F1 big, but it’s killing it too. $70m was enough to win the world championship in 1997, not it won’t even keep you on the grid. It’s insanity, and it isn’t sustainable.
    F1s biggest strength has slowly become it’s biggest problem. Bernie is an old man who’s out of touch with the real world. He only has one aim, and that’s more money. Hamilton has been in trouble for spraying a hostess with champagne, but what the hell was she doing there anyway? There are plenty of guys who like to see pretty grid-girls and ‘hostesses’, but it *looks* sleazy and dated and sexist, and just the kind of thing an out-of-touch old man would demand. Can you imagine what would happen if someone tried to introduce girls in bikinis at the Ryder Cup or Wimbledon, just to stand around and look pretty?
    F1 makes no real use of social media. The F1 official apps are laughable and just a way to gouge money. £20 a year for timing data.
    The sport has lost touch with it’s fans.

  • Cars are slow (The Rally cross cars acclerate faster!!!)
    Drivers getting old (Think of half the grid with guys like max)
    Restricted rules.(WEC is way more innovative today)
    Main reason-They left out India from the calender!!!!

  • I feel the same as you Kunal. When one sits to pinpoint, it is difficult actually.
    The one thing which F1 has picked up nicely finally is the social media. Much work needs to be done but they have given it a go at least.
    Cost is one of the biggest problem most certainly. The difference just too much between say Mercedes and a Sahara Force India, I am not even counting Manor here. There has to be a solution for some limitation and distribution. The teams can’t sit back and only debate without any action. From what it looks like is, everyone has its own agenda and only gets into debate to have themselves secured. Cost needs to be worked out someway.
    Marketing as you already pointed out in your previous blog needs to be enhanced most certainly. Tapping newer market but with different strategies for different countries. What works in one country, may not work in other, which is why, a lot of the newer venues falls out so soon.
    More fan involvement and easy access. F1 fans are not like Indian cricket fans who will pounce on their stars to click a photo or meet them. From what I have seen, F1 fans have some kind of decency in their approach. All the time I have been to the paddock, I didn’t see the ‘real’ fans getting the chance to see teams closely. Everyone cannot get the chance but most of them should get.
    Make the sport slightly cheaper.

  • First of all making F1 relevant to road cars isn’t the way to go.Grand prix cars should be alot faster than they are today,we talking about 6-7 seconds difference to the early 2000s cars and 6-7 seconds are a lifetime in racing.To be honest i don’t mind how the car looks it should just sound great and go fast.I was recently watching Jenson Button’s Interview after his first race in which he mentioned he was getting a lot tired and wasn’t able to concentrate mid way through the race which we don’t see today.Last weekend Jolyon Palmer got his first practice session and said F1 cars are only faster down the straights and on acceleration and are similar in cornering speeds compared to GP2.F1 cars should a lot more physical so that drivers have to be tough and not skinny just to reduce weight,and only way to that is increase cornering speeds.I guess it would be stupid to back to the v8 and completely dump the hybrid engines.It wouldn’t make any sense since F1 teams have invested hugely in these engines.I guess FIA and bernie are talking about how F1 will go from 2017 onward if they keep or don’t keep the current engines regulations one team or more team and some fans wont be happy about it.F1 rules changes or not,there is always someone who isn’t happy about it and that’s the way its always been.F1 as complex as it is there’s always a negative impact on any rule change be it related to the engine or as simple as banning helment changes.Thanks for reading 🙂

  • The issue is the cost of the sport. It may seem like this is against what the sport strives to be (i.e. The best cars which cost a lot of money), but there are a couple reasons why cost is effecting the sport in a negative way.
    1) New Teams
    The 3 teams which entered the sport 5 years ago are now long gone. With last years hybrid engines for a team per year costing 78.7x the amount of the amount which was needed for 2013 for a team (despite the engine amounts reducing from 16 per team to 5 per team), it’s getting ridiculous for a team to enter the sport, as it’ll no doubt end pretty soon. This is mainly down to the fact that they’re stuck at the back, and trying to get points is now really difficult. We had the ounce of hope in Monaco 2014 with Jules Bianchi getting the first 2 points for Marussia. Even engine manufacturers are finding it difficult, with the FIA making it extremely difficult for Honda to enter the sport due to the new regulations.
    2) The Fans watching on TV
    Although many people have a Sky TV package which enables them to access Sky Sports F1, many, like myself, do not. This means that under normal conditions, we have access to 9-10 live video-based races per year, which means that you’re missing out on 50% of the action per year. And trust me when I say that either watching the highlights (when you already know the result) or listening to the radio commentary is not as exciting. Back in 2009, when you had Jenson Button/Brawn Gp’s underdog story, F1 was at it’s peak, because it was easily accessible, and enjoyable to watch (although I may be slightly biased as a JB fan)
    3) The fans wanting to go to a race physically
    Going to an F1 race nowadays is really expensive. Note how quickly tickets at Silverstone sold out after they reduced their ticket prices to £99 from at least £200. It shows that there is demand, but people simply don’t have the money.
    If you’re a British fan, and you’re wanting to go to a race in a different country, it’s even more expensive.
    Take the Belgian GP (which I’m going to this year), £400 per person for the full weekend. Then take into account flight costs, hotel costs (which are bumped up down to the increase in business due to F1), and other things you would need, and for an F1 fan, it becomes a nightmare.
    When you have the Chinese Grand Prix, which comes to the point when you can see the lettering made from the different coloured seats on the really big curve at the start of Sector 3, and there you have you’re problem. People who are struggling with money, can’t see an F1 race live at the track, and with F1 going to the places where fans aren’t (eg. Azerbaijan or wherever it’s going in 2016).
    That is the problem with F1

  • Long story short:
    – mandatory tyre change – fail
    This should be revoked. Driver/Teams should have same, like now 3-5 different options to chose from. Preferably with 0,5-1,0 sec pro lap difference, what can make 3-5 secs between very soft and very hard tyres. Driver should be rewarded for being able to drive fast and maintain his wheels, not being punished.
    – more tyre manufacturers to chose from
    – excluding team radio
    Drives should be drivers not box pawns
    – race incidents should not being punished
    – no limits on developing engine, chassis
    – car, engine and driver should give 100%, not like now downgraded to 75%-85%
    Point is, when driver gets in his F1 car, he should be on his own. Today F1 looks more like remotely controlled F1 toy cars.

  • Hi Kunal, There can be a number of factors to make F1 boring. As mentioned by some of the other readers, the engine sound is one of the factors. Secondly, the strict rules that have been applied for “racing incidents”. I think where there is a fight(for positions), there will be accidents. And if you are going to punish the drivers even for touching, then nobody is going to push to the limit. And the fans would love to see drivers pushing to the limit. Who will love to see teams jostling for positions by planning pit stops. Also, other factors are poor tyre life, fuel limit etc. Also, we have wet weather tyres, but those are rarely used. Last race I remember was Brazil 2013, where Hulkenberg was leading a wet race. Why to have wet weather tyres when the race is going to be red flagged when raining. Now i can just see 20 cars going round and round and overtaking by the method they call as “undercut”

  • The problem with Formula 1 these days is that it lost it escence. The technology and safety issues have conquered the sport, bad regulations, super high costs, all these made F1 cars to be limitated, boring, easy to drive, no spectacular, ugly shaped, no sounding engines, not real.
    The formula one championship always was about the pinacle of driving skills, speed, incredible high powered and noisy engines. These components made F1 an incredible spectacular sport.
    Today, the technology that this new hybrid F1 has is hard for the public to understand. Until a few years ago you had an internal all fuel combustion engine, a semiautomatic gearbox, a steering wheel, 4 whells and aerodinamics package. Now you have a very complex hybrid turbo “power unit”, DRS, ERS, MGU…. etcetera. THIS IS NOT ATTRACTIVE. The fans want to see REAL OVERTAKINGs, not coreographys. The fans want to feel the sound of the engine, that sound that makes you orgasm when the car passes in front of you. The fans want that the drivers can show their skills. This F1 has became in the most artificial sport ever.

  • Formula 1 is supposed to be the pinacle of motor sport racing. That means everything pushed to the limit for the sake of making the cars go faster and faster year after year. At the same time challenging the drivers skill’s to the limit. They key is BALANCE between the two. Now that’s said, there is also a business side to Formula 1. And I think thats what is wrong. The business side is interfering with the pure sport of F1. Simple way to bring the fans back.
    1. Make the cars break lap records from 2004
    2. Make the cars beautiful
    3. Make the cars very challenging to drive
    4. Make the cars sound like a v12, v10

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