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Formula One taking the wrong exit at a roundabout?

With two races till the end of yet another season of Formula One, I do not really have to wait to give my opinion on how the season has been so far. Nothing can happen in the next two rounds of 2016 that has not been screened before. 2016 was nothing like 2015 where there was a mix of scarlet with the silver – Sebastian Vettel often playing the role of a therapist to ease the tension between the two Mercedes drivers in press conferences. 2016 was rather a season full of controversies, record-breaking streaks and anxiety amongst drivers and teams. I must admit, though, that it was quite a bit entertaining. However, on an other side , disappointingly, it revealed cracks in the very grounds on which the sport was built.

Gone are the days when Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost spiced up the on track bombast with their heart-stopping racing or when the media highlighted the off track rivalry between strikingly different but charismatic driver personalities amongst Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Now the sport is at a point where we are witnessing mediocre driving along with PR robotiods fighting for championships.

Which wrong exit did Formula One take at the roundabout? One too many, some answered.

Not too long ago, post the Mexican Grand Prix, the Formula One fraternity and its fans were on opposite sides of the coin, arguing against each other on the penalties issued to drivers. Max Verstappen, for starters, was deemed a champion in the making with his display of great car control. However, it was only time before the fragile minded 19 year old let all the praise get to his head which eventually took a toll on his driving. Teams and drivers have hit out on his on track behaviour, but the FIA, the all powerful governing body of F1, have never openly taken any action against the Dutchman until the Mexican Grand Prix. It is no news that Verstappen has barely any experience in formula cars; it is however interesting to see how Red Bull put a teenager in a championship winning car almost immediately after Daniil Kvyat, another talented young driver supposedly “lost his head” at his home Grand Prix. F1 is making it even more apparent than money speaks louder than achievements even in an achievement-oriented sport.

The FIA’s increasingly muffled reactions to Max Verstappen’s salient antics has not only got fans on the edge of their seats, screaming at their television for sensationalising erratic driving in the name of the F1 specific common phrase ‘good for the box office’, it has troubled other drivers too. Just before the Grand Prix in Austin, all drivers motioned for the implementation of the ‘Verstappen Rule’ in which the FIA clearly states the condemnation of ‘moving under breaking’ – a move young drivers like Verstappen have used on multiple occasions causing mayhem, only to get away from the eyes of the FIA.

On one hand where there is a lack of consistency and action taken against drivers who are in breach of the sporting regulations, on the other is the existence of too many strict restrictions on drivers.

The irony of the rigid ‘Verstappen Rule’ happens to be that the first driver to be affected by the rule is the one who firmly stood for it – Sebastian Vettel, director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association. His defence against Daniel Ricciardo at the Mexican Grand Prix was arguably great racing for the fans. On the limit, giving each other just enough room, it made for good action in what was a dry race until the end. However, since the introduction of the new rule against moving under breaking, Vettel received a penalty shortly after the race – the bemusing fact being that he was penalised for ‘aggressive driving’. What would Mr. Whiting and his team of stewards have done if they had seen Nelson Piquet’s overtake on Ayrton Senna at the 1986 Hungarian Grand Prix?

Safety is the underlying objective of Formula One. However, if drivers like Vettel and Ricciardo, proven to execute fantastic moves, are curbed from their right to race by rigid regulations, why is Formula One complaining about lack of action?

Another major talking point this season is the all famous radio messages. Earlier in the season it caused a major shuffle in what can and cannot be transmitted; however, it has turned into something entirely different post the last Grand Prix, raising questions in the lines of ‘Are radio messages bringing disrepute to the sport?’

Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari, Barcelona Grand Prix, F1, Sportwalk
© Photographed by Alberto Rovira

Once again, Sebastian Vettel had to apologise for his use of colourful language over radio. In fact, it escalated to a point where the FIA were close to banning his participation at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Although famous for his language in the heat of the moment, he has made it a point to apologise to any individual who is victimised by his words. I am no judge on whether this indeed brings disrepute to the sport, however, it gives viewers a look inside the head of a frustrated driver inside his cockpit – something the F1 has been criticised to lack thereof. Ever since the importance of public image overtook the spirit of racing, drivers have been nothing but PR robots, speaking and saying what is right. Radio transmissions have been the best instruments to show otherwise. Vettel’s ‘potty mouth’ is not borderline disgusting or disgraceful as one publication points out, it is an immediate reaction to the FIA’s indecisiveness.

Where F1 currently is, post the Mexican Grand Prix, is the definition of rock bottom. F1 better pull up their socks and take certain measures to regain lost fans otherwise, this looks like a steady downward slide.