Since its inception in 1950, Formula 1 has been considered the pinnacle of motorsport; no other racing class is more prestigious. Characterized by the glitz and glamor, the stars, the historic venues, and of course the expensive, sleek, fast, and monstrously loud cars, Formula 1 is the series that every racing driver dreams to be a part of. However, over the past few years, rule changes have created conditions where the sports lost some of the characteristics that makes it so attractive to both fans and drivers. What used to be intense and action packed races have become, at least a majority of the time, mundane and stale.
The first thing I would like to discuss is the change in the overall style of the car. Formula 1 cars were becoming more aerodynamically complex starting around 2005/2006, reaching its peak development in the 2008 season where they looked aggressive with many pieces of aero work all over the car. However, in 2009 the FIA, Formula 1’s governing body, changed the rules and many of the aerodynamic pieces were dropped from the car. Now cars have a dropped and wider front wing, and a tall and narrow rear wing, taking away some of the car’s aesthetic beauty. Not to mention, starting in 2014 the FIA mandated that Formula 1 cars switch to hybrid power units (engines), meaning that the once sharp and roaring engines were now emitting low, yet still loud, buzzing sounds. These changes have taken away some of the essence of Formula 1, as the cars are known to be beautiful pieces of work with an aggressive look, and engines so loud that your jaw will drop in utter amazement.
One of the biggest changes to happen in Formula 1 was the banning of in-race fueling starting with the 2010 season. This was mostly done to prevent pit lane fires, which can be very dangerous for the pit crew and the drivers. What this rule change means is that cars must carry a full race fuel load from the start of the race, and it takes fuel strategy out of the race equation. Teams used to fuel their cars differently, allowing cars to either run longer stints or shorter stints, and it also put less stress on the tires since the cars were lighter. In my opinion the fuel strategy was one of the most exciting parts of the race, and now since the cars stay on track the whole time, except to change tires, most of the passing is down to just having a faster car than the driver in front. The debate to bring back refueling has been going on for a while, but it looks like the rule won’t change anytime soon.
The next big change that happened in Formula 1 in recent years is the ban/reduction in testing. In 2010 the FIA banned all out of Grand Prix testing to reduce the cost of the sport. As a result, teams were not able to test out technical innovations ahead of races out on the track, and had to rely on simulations, calculations, and wind tunnels instead. This rule ultimately reduced the action in the sport, as cars would never have major developments throughout the season, and the same 2 or 3 drivers would be winning every race. In recent years, due to dull racing, the FIA has gone back and allowed some out-of-season and in-season testing, but in my opinion it is not enough for teams to dramatically change their cars.
The final change that has happened in F1 is the banning of certain technologies that teams developed to make their cars faster. While not a specific written rule, there have been numerous times when a team on the grid has designed a piece of aero work, or some other feature on their car, that makes their car faster and more competitive. These developments are great for teams that are in the midfield or back of the pack because it allows them to catch up to the front runners. However, the FIA has decided to ban technologies like the double diffuser, the F-Duct (although teams agreed to ban this one), and sidepod-mounted wing mirrors, all just to save costs and “improve the sport” by “leveling the playing field”.
The drivers also aren’t very happy about the constant rule changes and technological bans that the FIA are implementing. The GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers’ Association), which is comprised of all drivers driving during a Formula 1 season, had this to say regarding the current situation:
“Formula One is currently challenged by a difficult global economic environment, a swift change in fan and consumer behaviour and a decisive shift in the TV and media landscape. This makes it fundamental that the sport’s leaders make smart and well-considered adjustments. We feel that some recent rule changes – on both the sporting and technical side, and including some business decisions – are disruptive, do not address the bigger issues our sport is facing and in some cases could jeopardise its future success.”
There is hope for the future however. The 2016 season has started off with plenty of excitement, building from the previous season. The current main Formula 1 rivalry has been between Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, which has gotten very heated at times. For most of last season, Hamilton was able to edge out Rosberg, winning 10 out of the 19 races compared to Rosberg’s 6 race wins. However, the start of the 2016 season has seen Rosberg winning the first 3 races, while Hamilton’s races have been hampered by bad starts, technical issues, and crash damage. This past weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix is yet another example of a promising future for F1 as the race was filled with plenty of overtaking, collisions, and interesting race strategies; I hope this trend continues.
Is Formula 1 still the pinnacle of motorsport? In my opinion it is, but it is nothing like it used to be. Races used to be filled with tons of passing and changes for the lead. The new era of Formula started off as just a train of cars following each other around the track with very minimal passing and the same 1 or 2 drivers winning every Grand Prix. Races have slowly started to get more exciting, but that is more due to rivalries, weather, crashes, and risky strategies. There is still a lack of thrill that the fans and drivers are accustomed to. If the FIA wants to level the playing field between teams in terms of spending, then my advice to them is to blend the past two Formula 1 eras together and just let them race.