Maybe everyone needs to shut up a little bit about F1

The 2016 season has gotten off to a bit of an odd start if you consider the outrage over the new qualifying format, the muted but successful new tire regulations and potential competitive progress of Ferrari not to mention Haas F1.

In many ways, the grand equalizer of reaction toward Formula 1’s product is truly the F1 fan and yet this season—perhaps compounding in a linear fashion over the last few years—has been high on critical narrative and social media outrage.

It seems that the fan’s opinion, and social media vehicles for sharing the opinion so pervasively, has become corrosive to F1’s product. The two bodies, F1’s product and the fans it appeals to, have come into conflict and I would argue that it is, at some level, the most visible impression growing in the fertile ground of Twitter, Facebook and other mediums—it has been leveraged as the true narrative of F1’s woes.

The debate over F1’s ills has segmented the paddock and brought about stiff words against drivers, teams, owners and regulatory officials. It’s left some fans claiming that the folks who run F1 have sunk to, what Mencken called Booboisie, levels of existence in their quest to solve the issues.

Ultimately the value of F1 is really at play but how do we actually value the sport? The value of the sport plays a huge role in the rules we make, the money we spend the investment we see and the people who choose to dedicate their lives to the series. The fan’s opinion is part of defining the value of the sport but it’s only a piece of the equation and it tends to be one that is becoming more and more weighty in the court of public opinion.

A Parallax

One the notions that I’ve been considering is that of the Parallax and how it could be entirely possible that we, the fans, are viewing the same object as the owners, stakeholders, pundits of F1 are but from a different viewpoint. It is difficult to understand the nuance of F1 as a stakeholder or team owner or team employee or driver when so much of their world is steeped, daily, in the sport. They see it from one particular angle and that’s perfectly understandable but it does make me wonder if they truly can take in the entirety of F1 from a completely removed position from a viewpoint of nothing looking in on something.

The point I’m trying, poorly, to make is that as fans, we have many options these days for our attention and we can evaluate F1 from the angle of being a WEC fan or MotoGP fan or a NASCAR fan or Indycar fan. We have, competitively speaking, the luxury of looking at F1 from a different coordinate and seeing it for what it is—or isn’t. A comparative analysis naturally occurs in our minds as the space we view F1 from is removed yet grounded motorsport pastures.

As many ideas as people involved

Surely the pundits, stakeholders and owners are very intelligent people and one can deduce that there are nearly as many ideas of how to move forward as there are actual stakeholders in the sport. The sport isn’t short of opinions on how to move forward but to F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, this is part of the problem—everyone has an opinion so very little gets done in the current arrangement which is often called F1’s new democracy.

In the past you would hear about some of the conversations, power struggles or decisions that were made in the sport but when the series decided to become the champion of hybrid racing and the financially viable, cost-capped racing program it wanted to be, it struggled under the weight of it’s own desires when they either failed to work as expected or were not received as they had hoped and the sport began to popularize the internal discord and brought much of it into the public marketplace of ideas and opinions.

Conjoined with a new F1 Strategy Group and voting system, the series became and easy target for fan derision and when that level of discourse ramped to cacophonous levels, it became even more convoluted as stakeholders began absolving themselves of any culpability in the decisions that were buckling the knees of the sport. So much so that the GPDA felt compelled to offer their own letter which effectively did two things—removed the drivers from any culpability and yet reasserted themselves as stakeholders who were put upon by poor decision and management of the sport. In short, they, like we fans, were suffering from errant decisions thrust upon us…or so they said.

It is a curious thing to watch and yet I am careful not to jump to quick conclusions even though others who toil in the sport are seemingly doing that very thing. The finite complexity of the fine-tuning nature of this series means that even the smallest of changes can have serious knock-on impact that could either not be foreseen or wasn’t strategized out of the decision as a possibility.

Claire Williams said this week that the sport would do well not to drag the concepts, such as changing qualifying, into public view prior to giving serious consideration to its veracity as a regulation change and the impact it may have on the sport. That’s perfectly understandable but it is not without its generous measure of hindsight being the polish on an otherwise pedestrian comment.

As a fan viewing the sport in a parallax, I find that I am not stakeholder with particular financial risk other than the cable bill for the broadcast package I have in order to watch the sport. I am a consumer of the merchandise the sport promotes—yes I have a car with Pirelli tires on it and it is only fed Shell V-Power + Nitro—and many bits and baubles such as clothing and hats.

On the other hand, I do own a website that covers the sport daily and even in the off season. As such, I follow the sport closer than many might but I am still not at risk of losing cash or employment due to poor management or bad decisions. I look upon the sport from my vantage point with a comparative notion of other racing series I enjoy but I also view F1 in the prism of what has gone before.

History as a road map

Is it the height of being a stodgy old fool to consider that when contemplating F1’s current ills, my mind cast immediately back to times when the sport was less challenged and more entertaining? Would it be a stretch to measure all of the changes F1 has tried in the last 5 years and find them wanting? Then to suggest that we look back to F1’s core precepts and return to good, entertaining racing? Perhaps.

As the stakeholders in F1 look at the sport from their vantage point, there are so many individual interests that are being championed that the current system with which they operate is confining and nearly impossible to accommodate all who participate. I don’t envy their challenge.

In the end, is it not perhaps the more noble endeavor to embrace F1’s current woes, find resolve and patience for its challenging path it must walk to remediation with respect for the participant’s individual interests conflicted with the sport’s interests and the pundit’s interests?

I see F1 from a completely different viewpoint but that doesn’t make my opinion—amplified though it may be via social media—any more reasonable or viable than those who view the sport from the paddock. It’s constructs and sporting regulation tinkering drive me nuts but in the end I am no more apt to turn the TV off than I am to not draw my next breath…if I have any ability to ensure my next breath or the next race.