Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Does Formula 1 Have A Future?

Formula 1 is in trouble. On reading the news, only negative articles can be found as the sport I’ve loved since 1976 plunges deeper and deeper into turmoil. The only recent piece of good news has been the announcement that Jenson Button has been given a seat for 2015 by McLaren Honda. Things have changed so much that for the first time in even my living memory, the World Champion plans not to wear the number “one” on his car.

The sport is riddled with politics and Bernie Ecclestone doesn’t seem to want to do much about it. Jules Bianchi lies seriously ill in a French hospital, beginning his rehabilitation process still unconscious after his horrible accident in Japan. Yet the FIA seem to have washed their hands of it and have blamed Bianchi himself.

Today, the breaking news is again negative. ORF the Austrian, German speaking broadcaster, are seriously looking at dropping Formula 1 from their schedules, as did RTE in Germany itself. With the Schumacher and Vettel eras in full swing, Germans adored Formula 1 and tickets were scarce for the Grand Prix there. Fast forward to 2014 and there were thousands of empty seats at Hockenheim whilst elsewhere in the country, huge crowds were seen at The Nurburgring for the fan and financial friendly Whelen Euro NASCAR Series. It seems Germany is falling out of love with the sport and looking elsewhere. The two main circuits in Germany are in financial strife.

Moreover, today the news has broken that McLaren Honda have joined the other teams in calling for an end to the engine unfreeze. Not surprisingly, only the all-conquering Mercedes team are happy with the status quo and you can imagine why. As I understand it, the other engine suppliers want to be able to work on their engines during the season, which is currently forbidden. Maybe the racing would have been even better in 2014 had Renault been able to work on their power plant, for example.

To add to the uproar being made by teams, the smaller teams want a larger slice of the financial cake purely to survive. We still await the news on Caterham’s future, but we do know Haas F1 have taken over Marussia’s assets ahead of their 2016 debut; we will have to wait to see what will happen there. Therefore, there will be twenty cars at the very most on the grid for the Australian Grand Prix next year; it may even be eighteen cars or fewer. A sad state of affairs, but, given the state of the world economy, it’s hardly a surprise.

Formula 1 costs far too much, despite all the cutbacks like the engine freeze, and more is needed before we lose another team. Indeed, Lotus are not yet confirming their place on the 2015 grid, adding more smoke to an already burning political fire. A grid of sixteen cars in Melbourne would be disastrous for the sport as a whole, and it’s these costs that are meaning teams have to employ “pay drivers” with less talent but who bring valuable sponsorship money. The main victim of this is GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer who rightfully earned his place on the grid, yet Felipe Nasr, the driver he beat easily in 2014, has big Brazilian sponsorship money, so has been given a drive for Sauber alongside fellow “pay driver,” Marcus Ericsson. Palmer is by far the best driver of the three, yet is out in the cold.

Formula 1 is tearing itself apart. We have had threats of teams boycotting races and, somehow, all the teams have to sing off the same hymn sheet. Maybe an independent mediator is the answer. Heads need to be banged together before it’s too late, or Formula 1 will die a slow, painful death.

The teams must agree on a set of workable regulations, and that includes Ferrari, who seem to believe the sport revolves around them. They must realise that it doesn’t and the sooner they stop believing they are better than everybody else, the sooner they will win championships again.

Sadly, I can only imagine that the days of free-for-all broadcasting have gone. Paid TV is becoming more prevalent in Formula 1 as they can and will pay the big money to show the sport. Let’s just hope that, come the end of the decade, these big-money broadcasters still have a sport to show.

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