Formula 1 is wonderful for those of us invested in it: a compelling concoction of high-speed complexity and adrenaline-filled competition. We ‘insiders’ hang on every twist and turn. But step outside the echo chamber for a second and all is not well.
Fernando Alonso is right - F1 is too predictable. Far too often, to the untrained eye and mind, it is simply boring to watch. Every race cannot be a classic, and it’s tricky to produce consistently great racing without resorting to artifice, but sport sold as spectacle cannot simply hope for the best.
Singapore and Russia were two perfect cases in point. Japan, saved by Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo starting out of position, was only marginally better. Few other major sporting events can be over so quickly yet drag on for so long…
Momentum is key. In most major sports – football, tennis and boxing, to name but three – one party won’t hold continuous advantage. No football team enjoys 100 per cent possession; tennis players must share responsibility to serve; boxers only fight for three minutes at a time before the bell tolls.
Momentum always travels in two directions, or is at least periodically arrested, even if one side wins comfortably overall. In F1, momentum too often travels in only one direction: the quickest driver, in the quickest car, gains a head start in qualifying and remains unchallenged – unless some random occurrence intervenes.
It will require fundamental change to make F1 more appealing. I would suggest binning Friday practice altogether; turning qualifying into a bespoke event (with championship points awarded); and starting each grand prix in reverse championship order (because reversed grids make racing unpredictable). ‘Purists’ will scream blue murder, but people must be persuaded to care in this outrageously competitive media age.
As Alonso regularly points out, the main source of intrigue lies in off-track “polemics”. Such stories form the centrepiece of this month’s magazine, as we analyse the circumstances behind Esteban Ocon’s difficulty in securing a 2019 race seat, and bring you extracts from a new tell-all book about Kimi Räikkönen – one of F1’s most enigmatic characters.
That Räikkönen will continue in F1 beyond his 40th birthday, despite losing his Ferrari seat, suggests he still loves racing enough to make a backwards step. It’s little wonder Kimi can’t shake the bug – he gets to feel the rush of F1 like few can.
And therein lies the rub. F1, and all of us invested in it, must find new ways to engender enthusiasm for a world few people can fully appreciate. It’s time for a sport whose mission statement is to ‘unleash the greatest racing spectacle on the planet’ (at eye-watering cost) to get on with the unleashing.