Formula 1: to fix the spectacle, stop meddling with it

Bernie Ecclestone has recently called together a working group to look in to the growing decline in television audiences for Formula 1 and to establish why the sport is losing popularity. The working group, which includes team members, journalists and the exiled Flavio Briatore, will aim to establish what is wrong and what changes can be made to improve the spectacle.

But here’s the thing – no changes need to be made.

Let’s take a look at this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix: rain before the race left the track slippery and the prospect of more rain had strategists wracking their brains to understand which tyres should be on the cars at their next stops, Lewis Hamilton was starting from the pit-lane with the sole mission of beating his team-mate, and Sebastian Vettel figured he was in with a good shout for the win.

The team that got the tyre strategy most wrong was McLaren. A safety car caught the leaders out, leaving no time for them to dive in to the pits to change tyres but Button, along with much of the rest of the pack, came in and found himself fitted with another set of intermediate wet tyres while the rest of the field were switching to slicks.

Returning to the track the Briton found himself in second place but questioned the tyre tactic. Confidently, the team told him that more rain was due but as the field followed the safety car round, Button’s concerns grew as a drying track lay ahead of him.

When the safety car came in Button was able to quickly despatch the Red Bull ahead of him, which was on dry tyres, as the McLaren’s wet tyres worked better on the still-damp track.

But within a few laps a call on the radio from the team confirmed Button’s fears: no more rain was due and the track was drying. He had to change tyres, a decision which took him from first to eighteenth in twenty-five seconds.

Mayhem and melee continued, with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso leading for much of the race. The tantalising prospect of a Ferrari win lay ahead of us as Vettel pirouted on the damp final corner and car after car slipped and slithered off the track until, in the last three laps, Alonso’s tyres gave up.

Ricciardo, who had managed to get past the unbelievably second-placed Hamilton, bore down on the Spaniard who, struggling for grip, found himself easy meat for the Australian, who went on to win.

It was a true race and proved, if nothing else, that Formula 1 isn’t boring. But here’s why Ecclestone doesn’t need a working group to decide what’s wrong with the show. He just needs to tell the stewards to keep their noses out.

Despite the variety of incidents the stewards didn’t penalise Button for an unsafe pitlane release, Alonso wasn’t punished for gaining an advantage after cutting a corner, Hamilton wasn’t criticised for being firm with his team mate, pushing him wide to prevent him overtaking. Perez and team-mate Hulkenberg didn’t find them on the end of a post-race review with the stewards for their coming together.

Everything was deemed a fact of racing, and the show was all the better for it.

What lets Formula 1 down at the moment and is putting off fans is how often the race is manipulated by the powers that be, how results are changed for the most minor of infractions.

Let the drivers do their jobs, let the teams do theirs, and the quality of the show will improve immensely.


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