This morning, Monday the 13th December, the day after the 2021 Formula 1 season finale in Abu Dhabi, I’m not going to focus on Williams Racing and its efforts at the end of a tough, yet promising season, because there is something far more pressing to discuss.
This season, above any other, the decisions made by the governing body have been repeatedly called into question, and not only – as you would expect – by the parties on the wrong end of those decisions.
Decisions, that when viewed collectively, appear to have little to do with fair racing, and everything to do with engineering a spectacle for TV and F1’s crusade for self-promotion.
Haphazard application of penalties for track limits throughout the season, the bizarre Belgian Grand Prix where cars completed two laps under the safety car & considered enough to constitute a race, the reluctance to penalise Max Verstappen in any meaningful way that contrived to have the two title protagonists going into the last Grand Prix level on points, the strict enforcement of some regulations and the liberal, almost ad-hoc application of others…
I could go on. And it absolutely stinks.
Liberty Media – who bought Formula 1 in 2016 – are a mass media company. They are in the entertainment business. And since taking over F1 they’ve committed huge resources to blur the lines between ‘entertainment’ and ‘sport’, culminating in the hugely successful Netflix show ‘Drive to survive’ which has attracted a new younger, US-centric (the dream for F1) audience to the sport.
But Drive to survive isn’t just a documentary. It’s a docu-soap. It manipulates, and it dramatises, and it scripts its storylines to make them into something other than they actually are. Something more entertaining.
And it would seem that Liberty, and Formula 1, and the FIA, have allowed this to bleed over into the SPORT (very important word). They now take the regulations and interpret them in the way that is going to make for the best television.
But sport isn’t like that. Not every World Cup final is going to go to penalties. Not every 100m sprint is going to end in a photo finish. Not every world series baseball thing is going to be a five, er, match(?) thriller with a home-run (I think that’s a thing) winner. Because that’s the nature of sport. It’s unpredictable, and the best person or team on the day should have the best chance of winning, irrespective of how entertaining it is.
Formula 1 lost that yesterday when F1’s under-fire Race Director Michael Masi decided to bastardise F1’s rulebook and set up a one-lap shootout for the Formula 1 world title at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that MASSIVELY penalised Lewis Hamilton (who had been leading the race comfortably, and was on-course to take the title), and MASSIVELY favour Max Verstappen who was well and truly beaten, but whose fresher tyres were guaranteed to give him the speed to beat his rival over a lap.
This pick n’ mix approach to the application of the rules gave the tv, F1, and Drive to survive their dramatic ending, but in doing so, manipulated not just the outcome of the race, but also the championship.
And when Masi chose to ignore the correct restart procedure that would have meant the race – correctly – ended under the SC, he sold the soul of a once great sport, and turned it into a show, made for television – rather than a sporting contest.
We, and they need to decide – is this what we want? WWE is entertainment, but it’s not a sport. Football is a sport, but it’s not always entertaining. Which is F1? If it’s the former, I’m out.
The yoof can have it.