Formula 1 isn’t Formula 1 anymore. Well, that’s what a few powerful figures of the sport proclaimed publicly last month. And it didn’t stop there. This was backed by an unreasonable demand to bring about changes in the new formula that was introduced for the 2014 F1 season. And we’re only a handful of races into the season – kudos!
The sport has an innate ability to shoot itself in the foot. First, they (the teams) write the regulatory changes themselves without anticipating what the change would yield (oh those noses). Then, they go about publicly denouncing them. Strange! Whether there’s genuine concern for the sport, and where it’s headed (technically and commercially), or the intent is simply to slow down the Mercedes cars is anyone’s guess. And, of course, mid-season changes have been used in the past to slow down the fastest team – so that tactic isn’t much of a surprise really. First for Ferrari, then for Red Bull Racing, and now Mercedes. Welcome to Formula 1.
Am I in favour of mid-season rule changes? No! We saw what happened to the fortunes of Ferrari and Sahara Force India last season when Pirelli was forced to change their tyre compounds due to safety reasons. Mid-season rule changes not only affect the image of the sport, but also bear down on the sport heavily in terms of costs. And we all know how expensive Formula 1 is (isn’t that why most of us didn’t purchase tickets to the Indian GP?).
This technical instability can be understood to a certain extent – especially for a sport that has seen declining interest from car manufacturers and sponsors in the last decade. But to make this instability public would only keep sponsors away furthermore. Well, Montezemolo’s statements may not affect Ferrari’s commercials given their iconic stature, but my heart does go out to the mid-field teams – who, along with proving the worth of their own teams, now also have to justify the worthiness of the sport. As an aside, it would be interesting to know why McLaren is yet to sign a title sponsor.
Then, of course, we have the small teams (or the ‘disenfranchised six’ as they call themselves) up in arms against the ‘top four’ for their role in the influential Strategy Group, which decides (and enforces) rules and regulations for all to follow in future seasons.
But Formula 1 must be some kind of drug, otherwise why else would an American outfit (Gene Haas) purchase rights to enter a team in the 2015 (or 2016) season. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited at the prospect, but you have to believe that the fortunes of Caterham, Marussia and HRT would have frightened anyone from entering the sport. In fact, if you think about it, Sahara Force India is the only ‘new’ team that’s managed to break through the rows of back markers and establish itself as a credible contender today.
Trackside, Mercedes is expected to rule the roost for the moment. One of the reasons is that making strides on the engine front is far more difficult than bringing aero updates for the car at every other GP. Which also means that we could see a season long battle between Hamilton and Rosberg – with Mercedes powered Sahara Force India, Williams F1, and McLaren in the mix as well. No wonder then that Mercedes is releasing interesting advertisements on the Monday post-race. ‘Race on Sunday, sell on Monday,’ an age-old philosophy that hasn’t always been applicable in F1.
The ouster of Stefano Domenicali from Ferrari, meanwhile, indicated yet again that in the cutthroat competitive world of Formula 1, ‘perform or perish’ is the formula. This also means that barring Red Bull Racing, the other top teams (McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes) have made changes to their senior staff in a bid to shake-up the formbook in Formula 1.
Marco Mattiacci’s appointment would have been a surprise to many in the paddock. Especially since the services of Brawn (who Ferrari lasted tasted success with) and Whitmarsh (ex-McLaren) were available. But Ferrari have probably realised that needed a radical change to steer their mammoth Formula 1 operations and maybe, just maybe, a non-F1, non-technical Italian with no prior baggage in the sport is their best bet.
And given Mattiacci’s involvement in the road-car business in the Middle East and America, I’m sure that Ferrari would also want to see him drive more synergies between their Formula 1 and road-car programs (much like Mercedes). If you’re a tifosi, much like I am, the next few years will be interesting for the Prancing Horse. But their chances to resurrect the 2014 campaign do seem bleak at present.