It’s tough to please everyone in the world of F1, but these five things would go some way towards doing so…
Formula 1 is a complex sport, with a large number of different stakeholders who are all focused on satisfying their own agenda, from the teams, to the drivers, to prominent sponsors and the governing body.
In light of this, there has never been, nor will there ever be, a time when all these stakeholders feel that the sport is in a perfect place and needs no further changes. Of course, an opinion on whether or not the sport is getting it right or horribly wrong depends on the agenda of the one expressing the opinion.
Regardless of how the 2016 season pans out and what the history books ultimately show, there are a few important things the sport needs in order to ensure that it greets the proposed 2017 rules shake-up in as healthy a state as possible.
A fight at the front
By definition, one team in Formula 1 must have a performance advantage over the others, with the size of the advantage determining the extent of that team’s domination. Since the turn of the century, it is easy to track the respective dominant eras of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, Fernando Alonso and Renault, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, and now Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes.
During the first three eras mentioned above, the dominant team/driver combination was at least kept honest by a competitor that threatened to take advantage of any missteps from the dominant team, with the exception perhaps of Michael Schumacher’s utterly dominant 2002 and 2004 triumphs and Vettel’s 2011 and 2013 title successes.
In both 2014 and 2015, the only challenge to Lewis Hamilton came from within his Mercedes team, with Nico Rosberg keeping the Briton honest on the odd occasion, but generally lagging behind him most of the time.
Irrespective of who wins the title this year, Formula 1 needs a real fight at the front that takes the title down to the wire, preferably with two drivers from two different teams. Hopefully Ferrari have made enough progress over the winter to make this wish a reality.
Success for Haas and Manor
No new team entering Formula 1 should be deluded into thinking that the road to the top will be easy.
The new Haas team, which will make its Formula 1 debut in Australia this weekend, appear to be well-prepared and impressed most in the paddock with their relatively successful outings at the two pre-season tests at Barcelona.
While it would be unwise to expect Haas to win any races or trouble the frontrunners this season, success for Formula 1’s latest entrant would send the message that even during these difficult times for the sport (from a political, economic and environmental perspective) it is still worthwhile to get involved in the pinnacle for motorsport, which may encourage interested parties to undertake an F1 project.
Likewise, 2016 represents an opportunity for the embattled Manor team to make some progress from their customary spot at the back of the grid, which would show the world that even if a new team starts on the back foot, all is not lost.
Progress for the Renault and Honda engines
From an engine perspective, Formula 1 currently finds itself in the grip of a duopoly, with the most competitive teams on the grid last year making use of power units from Mercedes or Ferrari. For those using Renault or Honda engines, successes were few and far between, with neither of the latter engine manufacturers securing a single victory in 2015.
Both Renault and Honda are confident that they have manged to make progress and address some of the weaknesses in their respective power units for 2016. The bad news is that both Ferrari and Mercedes are also confident that they have made a step forward in the engine department.
It is unlikely that either Renault or Honda have made the progress required to consistently trouble the Mercedes or Ferrari-powered cars, but for the sake of closer competition and tighter racing, Formula 1 better hope that they have at least managed to close the gap somewhat, as having more competition between engine manufacturers is sure to be to the benefit of the sport as a whole.
Clarity about the way forward for 2017 and beyond
While the “new” 1.6 litre turbocharged power units are a success from a technological viewpoint, not everybody is convinced that they have been good for the sport as a whole. Since these new power units have been central to the direction of Formula 1 from 2014 to 2016, the result is that some feel that the sport as a whole is in an unhealthy position at this point in time.
In light of this, there has been much toing and froing over what exactly the sport needs to do to ensure that it gets the proposed 2017 shakeup right and ensures that the sport is healthy going forward. Many proposals have been bandied about, including a possible return for refuelling, an increased emphasis on head protection for drivers and even possible changes to the format of the entire grand prix weekend. As mentioned above, these proposals are all connected to the agendas of certain key stakeholders within the sport.
Frankly, Formula 1 has a habit of trying to implement a particular course of action and then backpedalling rapidly shortly after when it becomes clear that the proposed course of action has not been successful. For the sake of the sport’s future, it’s all-round quality and the “show”, the entire F1 community should hope that the powers-that-be get it right first time round. After all, falling viewership figures, both on television and at trackside, are a reality that Formula 1 must address sooner rather than later.
A resolution for Monza
Since the inaugural Formula 1 World Championship in 1950, Monza has hosted the Italian Grand Prix on all but one occasion. The iconic circuit is slated to once again welcome Formula 1 in September 2016, but no agreement exists for 2017 and beyond at this point in time.
Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has remained unwilling to guarantee that a resolution will be reached in time and that Formula 1 will return to Monza next year. It is true that the Italian Grand Prix itself should not be under threat, as the option exists for Formula 1 to visit Imola rather than Monza next year if necessary.
However, the idea that Formula 1 might not visit Monza is a valid cause for alarm for all members of the F1 community. Monza is the iconic home ground of the even more iconic Scuderia Ferrari, the oldest and most successful of Formula 1’s competitors.
In a calendar filled with more and more circuits designed by German architect Hermann Tilke, Monza represents a classic circuit, a facility made for no other purpose than to allow the fastest cars in the world to reach their top speeds. Few scenes capture the passion and raw emotion of Formula 1 as clearly as the ever-present tifosi who fill the stands year after year to carry their favourite red cars to the finish line with the sheer volume of their voices.
It is thus critical to the overall success of Formula 1 that Monza remains on the calendar and that an agreement is reached to ensure that one of the sport’s best-loved circuits has a secure future.