One particularly notable about some of the comments made on social networking sites is the extreme negativity and hostility demonstrated toward any bit of attempted improvement made by sporting organisers or teams. Formula One is a classic case in point. It seems that no measure of reasoning will get through to people – not even a well-structured, perfectly reasoned article? An argument so often touted is that modern-day Formula One ‘sucks’ and that the racing of yesteryear was all-the-more better than what today’s cast of teams and drivers could ever aspire to achieve. Except, put into a more grotesque context.
Now, are these people correct in what they say? Does modern-day Formula One ‘suck’? Well, that depends upon how you look at the sport. Do you look at the cover or do you read the book? In other words, do you just pay attention to the leaders and occasional lull that happens in almost any motor race on the planet or do you actually watch the Grand Prix? Naysayers and bitter folk will forever detest any argument made in favour of racing held in the present day, no matter how good said argument may be. But, for those willing to simmer down and listen to a self-proclaimed Formula One historian, let me give you my two cents on the matter.
A prominent complaint in regards to the driver line-ups this year is the supposedly ever-increasing number of pay drivers – who gained their seat by the strength of their chequebook as opposed to merit garnered in the lower formula. Few folk actually do settle down in the early hours of the morning to catch the live coverage of the support categories, but those that do would be the ones best qualified to give you an answer as to whether or not a driver coming up through the ranks is any good. Take Lance Stroll, for example. By now, Stroll has not got a good reputation behind him. In fact, a lot of people believe he has tarnished both the development and the image of the Williams F1 Team. He has been vilified and hated by ‘fans’, written off by motoring journalists and treated as ‘another driver’ by many of the personnel in the paddock. I remain one of the few that see the talent that he invariably possesses, though hasn’t fully utilized yet. Watching him ascend through the lower categories of formula racing, it was evident that the young Canadian had something. Money can buy you a seat, but it doesn’t buy you multiple karting and formula racing championships.
Something else I would like to point out – why are we getting so offended about pay drivers entering the sport? Formula One was built off the wealth of rich men and playboys, who had the money to throw at the sport irrespective of how much talent they had. The Grand Prix of old had entrants including the Prince of Siam (modern-day Thailand) and Dutch-nobleman, Carel Godin de Beaufort. Drivers would pit under audacious circumstances which saw them have a quick smoke before heading out on track. The ‘barriers’ at most race tracks were either trees or spectators and the circuits themselves tested the bravery of the drivers. Royalty would descend upon the circuits to gaze upon the peasants that filled the stands and bask in the loud, brutal sport that daring men endeavoured to dedicate their lives to. It had it all, supposedly. Except for one crucial element – the actual racing.
For most people, seeing someone walk off into the distance to win the race is about as entertaining as watching paint dry – or watching NASCAR. But, as of late, this hasn’t been much of a factor, with races generally being quite close and going down to the wire even, with a resilient will to win coming to blows with an equally strong will to avoid losing. This was such a rare occurrence back in the so-called ‘glory days’ that a close finish was when second place finished on the same lap as the leader. Good racing throughout the field was spare, as the performance gap between the cars was far greater than what it is today. We forever complain about the performance gap between the cars being too great when the issue was much more prevalent back in the post-war period. Yet somehow, it was better?
I know a lot of people have turned away from the sport due to the dominance of the Mercedes GP Team. News flash folks – there has always been a dominant force in each era of Formula One. Before Mercedes, there was Red Bull. Before them, it was Ferrari. Then, McLaren. Then, Williams. Then, McLaren, again. Need I go on? When Argentine-veteran Carlos Reutemann could barely keep up with Hector Rebaque thanks to what was an inarguably superior, did you think at that time that Formula One ‘sucked’? Or did you enjoy watching that television set broadcasting grainy images of cars on a stretch of bitumen so bumpy and blistered that it aged a driver by three years, each race? Was it as much a spectacle as you made it out to be? Was it as exciting as today’s Formula One cars? Or are you perhaps more pre-occupied with ‘the sound’?
When the new regulations came into force in 2014, everyone was up in arms as the V8 era (which in itself was not widely loved) was escorted out, giving way to the new V6 twin-turbo power units that we have today. Still to this day, the attitude toward the hybrid-era has been largely negative, to put it mildly. The only issue, as far as I can see, is in regards to ‘the noise’ – regarding the power unit’s to have the sound of ‘vacuum cleaners’. Whilst I agree that the tone of the V10 was marvellous, it would burst the eardrums of anyone within the immediate vicinity. Even with earplugs, it would reverberate throughout your entire system – you FELT the noise! But, did that make great racing or just provide a better soundtrack? What do you care about here? The racing or the sound? If you’ve answered with the latter, you’re not answering with the best interests of motor racing at heart. And that’s not to claim that you don’t care for motor racing, but with the issues surrounding the planet today, irrespective of whether-or-not you’d like to believe them, we can’t strand ourselves in yesterday whilst the rest of the world moves on. Formula One was and is about innovation – not living in the past.
With the advent of the internet, you can go back to these races and enjoy whatever era of Formula One you have fond memories of. I grew up watching Michael Schumacher walk away from the field whilst team-mate Barrichello acted as rear-gunner. Looking back on it now, it certainly isn’t as exciting as what the last ten years offered us. Sure, 2013 was horrible, but most of the 50s had gaps measured by laps. The 60s had sparse variance in driver-skill level. The 70s was the beginning of a time where teams started to play favourites with drivers, thereby creating the plague known as ‘team-orders’. The 80s started to see a surge of technological advances which more-or-less made one team vastly dominate the field. The 90s had much the same issue and the age of the new millennium saw a mainly foregone conclusion with a mercurial Bavarian being handed victory after victory on a silver platter with all the best personnel in the paddock in the red garage. Yet, today’s Formula One racing is worse than ever because the noise ‘sucks’?
Formula One has always sucked. What’s new?