It’s no secret, that in recent years, the television viewership and attendance at the events for Formula One are declining. Without the people coming in, buying merchandise or viewing it on the television , teams and organizers are struggling to meet the various stringent requirements of the FIA due to strict regulations.
Safety norms around the track mean more marshals and barriers are to be used and the track is not cheap to maintain. The teams, have a lot of expenses and the very technical nature of the cars lead to a lot of money spent on developing the correct parts. High costs result in a huge financial strain on both the team and the organizers. Recent reports show that Lotus, Force India are struggling to make ends meet, Caterham folded and the German Grand Prix which was to be held at the Nürburgring, was unable to go ahead as per schedule as there were disagreements between the promoters and the FIA commercial holders group, Various financial difficulties on the track added to their woes.
The drivers are the most important component of a race (every person, be it the engineers, crew or the marshalls and directors are important but people watch a race to see the drivers battle). In the recent past, driver’s safety has been steadily improving and rightly so. If drivers keep dying, I doubt there will be many thrill seekers really wanting to risk their head with a high chance of dying or serious injury. But people normally get entertained due to the danger factor.
What else could justify people in Ancient Rome crowding to see the gladiators in combat (where the loser is almost, always killed). Why would people in medieval Europe love to see jousting the most, which has a high chance of injury? Why is wrestling a fairly popular sport/pastime or why do people love to see daredevils perform deadly stunts?
So the talk around the sport is:
Should they make the sport more thrilling and dangerous? Would the price of safety be worth paying?
The safety of parties involved is really important. Drivers especially need extra care because the impact forces are magnified at high speeds. So as the sport has progressed, a number of changes are added to the safety aspects. Run off areas, tyre barriers, the virtual safety car are some of the many new features. The cars today can surely protect a driver from an impact that could have killed him 30 years ago.
But with safety and other regulations such as fuel limitation, the drivers have their movement restricted. Now, drivers cannot make aggressive and fuel consuming manoeuvres to overtake other riders or duel for the places. That is what the people loved; the on field battles. Hunt-Lauda, Schumacher-Hakkinen, Senna-Prost were some on field battles that everyone really looked forward to. With fuel restrictions primarily, the drivers cannot overtake and have to manage their fuel more rather than worrying about who’s ahead of them or behind. This really has made the sport boring for many spectators and viewers.
The sport was still pretty risky until the early 90s and drastically changed following the death of Senna in 1994. Even now the risks exist. Felipe Massa nearly died when he was hit by debris in 2009. Following the death of Justin Wilson in the Indy Car race, there have been talks for extra cockpit protection.
The F1 camp is split on the decision.
There are the purists who would welcome the risky nature of F1 back in the current scenario. There are those such as Massa who are not at all in favour of adding more risks to the sport (which is understandable given his past). He is more in favour of making it a more thought out process, which will ultimately follow if the changes are implemented which will result in the drivers having to make intelligent decisions.The other camp includes Niki Lauda and Kimi Raikkonen who believe that the sport needs to be more dangerous to draw back spectators.
So how should F1 change?
There are talks about making the cars more difficult to drive (if they are, it might see more struggles) that is by increasing the speed, downforce. The 2017 regulations are apparently set to make the car very interesting, but one can’t comment until implemented.
What could be done now is to remove the fuel restrictions and introduce re-fueling in the race. This will make pit stops much more fun to watch like before and there will be more emphasis on the pit strategy. If the drivers spend longer hours in the pits, they need to make up more ground time, but with lesser amounts of fuel and there would no limits on how much fuel they use (provided they give the 1 liter sample at the end of the race) which would undoubtedly increase the pace of the cars.
The questions on how the sport should progress has two conflicting paths. The best way to tackle this is by making both the sides come to an understanding by taking the best ideas from both. The danger factor should be reintroduced to a certain extent, making it a thrilling spectacle, but, at the same time it should not be dangerous to the drivers, marshals, crews or the crowd.
The need of the hour is the drivers’ freedom to battle on the track and this would surely ensure the sport is revived to its highest fame.