After a 2015 campaign which admittedly lacked the blockbuster moments and barring a handful of classic races, was a little lacking in on-track entertainment, the debate is on in regards to what the sport needs to enthrall again. However, it seems that fans have followed the lead of the teams in failing to reach consensus on almost every discussion topic. This was a fact highlighted in a recent article on the Top Gear website, in which fans were offered a series of questions in regards to the hot topics of the day.
It made for some intriguing, if slightly concerning reading, which I will analyse in coming articles. First up, why fans that believe a move back to V8’s is required might need to think about long-term implications.
To begin with the intrigue, it is fascinating to see the absence of consensus among fans which reflects the confusion inside the paddock. This confusion regarding what is required to break the current pattern is what continues to cause problems.
Ultimately, F1 is facing an identity crisis. It has always been present in the sport, yet the 2014 regulations put this feature on a pedestal. To stay relevant to road car technology – an integral goal, given that it is this factor which proves so appealing to manufacturers – F1 has relinquished some of its ability to entertain.
For instance, while the hybrids exhibit pioneering technologies, they are quiet, leading many to call for the return of the decibel-inducing V8’s. To compound the dissatisfaction with the V6’s, Mercedes have mastered the regulations better than their rivals and as such, have gained what seems to be, at times, insurmountable pre-eminence.
While Mercedes’ excellence is not the fault of the regulations directly, the close poll results in response to the “should V6’s be kept” question is a poignant exemplification of the previously mentioned identity crisis. Fans are undecided on what F1 needs to be. V6 technology makes the sport technically relevant while V8’s are dinosaurs, but would lend to closer competition given the narrow window for differentiation.
However, those that consider a move back to V8’s need to consider the bigger picture. Taking a backwards step would lead to discontent among manufacturers like Mercedes, Renault and Honda. Its important to remember that it was Renault who championed the regulation overhaul and Honda who came back to the sport BECAUSE of the relevance of the new tech.
These manufacturers are not in the sport because of the fun they have competing. Sure, the personnel who nurture ideas and design racing cars no doubt love the buzz of competition, but their superiors in boardrooms will look at the impact the sport directly has on its road car programme.
Selling more road cars is goal number one and if their F1 endeavors fail to have a positive effect in showrooms across the world, they will swiftly lose interest – regardless of how entertaining the racing is.
Hence, the relevance vs entertainment question is more complex than it seems some would first envisage. F1 needs to strike a balance between the two, which has proven incredibly difficult. The Top Gear piece highlights Bahrain 2014 and Hungary 2015 as events where the spectacle has coupled with the new technology, evidencing that it is possible for the two ideals to co-exist in the sport.
A difficult balance to strike – you bet – but unless F1 is destined to become a spec-series, changing its DNA forever, it is a battle that the sport MUST continue to fight. Patience is a virtue when it comes to this one.