MONACO (AP) First there were strategy meetings to discuss how to make Formula One more exciting again. Then came a fan survey this week aimed at gathering even more ideas.
What’s still lacking, according to teams, drivers and F1 management officials at the Monaco Grand Prix this week, is strong and resolute leadership to actually carry through with the changes.
The sport’s future has dominated talks this week ahead of the showcase race of the season, with Mercedes again the dominant team so far. Friday is a traditional off-day in Monaco ahead of Saturday’s qualifying, where championship leader Lewis Hamilton is again expected to fight it out with teammate Nico Rosberg for pole position.
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A strategy group has proposed an overhaul from 2017 onward to make the sport more exciting, and drivers launched a global fan survey in 12 languages this week in an effort to bring back alienated supporters. But although the high-profile strategy group, which includes Ferrari and Mercedes, governing body FIA, and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, agreed last week to bring back refueling, more aggressive-looking cars, louder engines, and faster lap times, none of these changes are official yet.
Ecclestone says matters drag on, and he also wants a greater input from FIA president Jean Todt.
”We should stop mucking about, asking opinions. The problem is we’re too democratic,” Ecclestone told reporters. ”If Jean and I agreed … I said to him the other day if you come up with something sensible you’ve got my votes. Whatever it is I’ll support you, and vice versa. We should say `these are the rules of the championship, if you want to be in it, great.”’
Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso says the fact changes are being proposed ”means that the last four or five years were going in the wrong direction” in terms of winning fans back.
Slower races, less noise and a lack of overtaking are among the current problems affecting viewers’ enjoyment.
”In Malaysia this year, the engineers made a calculation that the winner this year compared to the winner of Malaysia in 2006 could be six laps slower,” Alonso said.
At the Spanish GP two weeks ago, Rosberg won unhindered from pole position and Vettel finished 45 seconds behind in third place.
”What (do) the fans want to see? They want to see entertaining races, they want to see overtaking,” Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost said. ”If cars are one-and-a-half, two seconds ahead of the rest of the field, this cannot be in the interests of the other teams (or) the fans. The fans want to see fights.”
With Mercedes taking all five pole positions so far the sport lacks a thrill factor.
”If you give me paper now I will give you the grid order of here, Canada and Austria and I will miss one or two positions,” Alonso said. ”This is what the fans are not welcoming now.”
The ongoing issue of cost control also remains a thorny one.
”After 18 months I think we failed totally to agree on any form of cost control. There’s absolutely no way there is going to be any equitable distribution of income,” Force India team principal Robert Fernley said. ”I don’t think the Strategy Group is fit for purpose and we should be looking at something where we have a clear program.”
Teams are fed up with having to continuously discuss what they should be doing.
Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff says F1 ”needs to have a proper governance” while Fernley adds that ”the teams should be told where Formula One is going.”
Widespread agreement is limited when teams are left to discuss their future.
”It’s rather predictable. Bob’s going to ask for more money, Toto’s going to not want to change anything and we want to change engines,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. ”Every team has got its own agenda and is going to fight its own corner. I think that the sport is governed by the FIA and it’s promoted by FOM (the commercial rights holder). It’s those guys that need to get together and say `what do we want Formula One to be?”’
Horner and Tost called for greater communication at the top.
”I think that Bernie and Jean need to get together and say `this is what we want the product to be, this is how it needs to be governed,”’ Horner said. ”Putting it in the team’s environment to try and agree a set of regulations, you’re never going to get everybody on the same piece of paper.”