OPINIONS
Thursday, Oct 25 03:59pm
AUTHOR: Richard Gee

Column: More of the same please Formula 1 — and quickly!

The last 10 laps or so of last weekend's United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas were probably the best 10 laps of the whole season…

 

…And there's a lot of evidence that Formula 1 now needs to make this level of excitement the norm rather than the exception.

 

Three drivers, three teams and three different engines were in the mix as the race drew to a close and really any of them could have won that Grand Prix in the dying laps. Kimi Räikkönen looked solid, but you can never write off Max Verstappen. And champion elect Lewis Hamilton in third — well surely he was just going to breeze by the two in front? 

 

In the end, Kimi prevailed and it was a hugely popular win too. Such is the vibe for the Iceman. Ditched for Charles Leclerc, the Finn remains unique in Formula 1 for his non-conformity and uniqueness. At the weekend he gained another accolade too, breaking the longest sequence by any driver between wins. 

 

The keyboard warriors were out in force celebrating his 'last win' in Formula 1 and I must admit to laughing openly when I read that discussion on one notable motorsports web site.

 

Err, there are still a few opportunities (including this weekend) where he can win again for Ferrari, and of course two further years to come with Sauber. I'd be cautious about writing him off for the odd good result in the Ferrari number two team next season – or should it be Ferrari Gold Card?

 

They will be fully behind him, focussing on him specifically and hungry to make a step forward from what has been a promising season. Much like when he joined Lotus a few seasons ago. Did rather well then if I recall correctly.

 

Another hugely pleasing aspect of the Grand Prix of course, was the performance of Brendon Hartley – and to my mind that was easily his best performance in Formula 1. Amidst on-going rumours and stories in the press, Brendon put in arguably the best drive in the field outside of the top three. 

 

It really was that good.

 

If you haven't seen the in-car footage of his first lap, then I urge you too because that's where the foundations of a brilliant drive were laid down. And it really wasn't just about staying out of the drama and the debris that littered the first lap. Emphatically not.

 

Brendin pulled a beautiful pass around the outside of one of the Saubers to get started and then caught team mate Pierre Gasly and Stoffel Vandoorne's McLaren napping with a double pass highly reminiscent of that iconic move made by Mika Hakkinen on Michael Schumacher back in 2000 at Spa. Only then the second car Hakkinen passed in the double move – the BAR Honda of Riccardo Zonta – was being lapped.  Look that one up on YouTube and it’s described as Formula 1’s greatest ever pass. 

 

Just saying. 

 

Brendon followed this up immediately with a dive down the inside of more trouble before running wide to get through the Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll mess. He crossed the line 12th at the end of the first lap. Nobody else made that progress.

 

That was only the start, of course, and he kept his tyres alive and performing for longer than most and was still clocking competitive times long after the sequence of pit stops around him began (and many of those were running harder compounds).

 

That's what made his one-stop strategy work and he was able to emerge after his later stop well within shouting distance of the cars around him, most of whom had to stop again. He kept his head under pressure from Marcus Ericsson late on and was rewarded when Esteban Ocon and Kevin Magnussen were disqualified post-race for fuel flow irregularities in their cars. Ninth was no more than he deserved and was a solid two fingers waved in the direction of the critics. He’s far too nice to do that of course, but I really hope he enjoyed the moment.

 

It appears that nobody on the outside really knows what is happening regarding his seat for next year. There's the fact that Alexander Albon has vacated his Nissan Formula E seat – presumably to join Toro Rosso. And much to the annoyance of Nissan. And there's the fact that Brendon says he has a two year contract with Toro Rosso. 

 

Perhaps the apparent delay in any decision boils down to Brendon out-performing highly touted Gasly in recent races and the team potentially considering a way to integrate Albon as a Friday practice driver and keep Brendon in the race seat after all. We can but hope, of course. There is a very popular opinion out there amongst the fans, the Formula 1 pundits and a number of insiders that the Kiwi deserves a second full season having been gracious and positive through some pretty alarming car failures, team strategies and openly hostile attitude from his bosses. The world of Formula 1 though, is not a fair one and Red Bull have the worst reputation of all for swinging the axe on drivers.

 

I still maintain Brendon has more to offer and more to gain from an IndyCar drive, but let's see how the cards all fall. For now though, enjoy the gloves off performances of a very talented racer in Formula 1.

 

Oh, and let's hope Formula 1's commentators actually notice a great drive when it unfolds in front of them. I can't recall one moment when Brendon's drive was mentioned at the weekend. He deserved better. 

 

I suspect the owners of Formula 1 – Liberty Media – were also pretty pleased with the excitement of their ‘home’ Grand Prix. A few weeks ago the 10 team bosses of Formula 1 held their own secret meeting, without inviting the owners, to discuss how the show could be improved. It was the first such meeting since 2014 and included sneaking into the meeting venue through back doors, refusing to comment to the media and a myriad of other tactics to keep it under wraps.

 

Those same team bosses haven't really been that interested in the show in my opinion, but what has seemingly got their attention is the dramatic drop off in appearance money from Liberty and a huge drop off in viewing figures. In other words they are finally being hit where it hurts.

 

Formula 1 though, isn't alone in motorsports in feeling the pinch. NASCAR and IndyCar have both seeb dwindling spectator and viewership figures and are losing long term sponsors who have been involved for a generation and more ,NASCAR perhaps more so than IndyCar.

 

We’ve seen it in motorsport here in New Zealand too, of course. This week Ferrari no less put out a statement saying Formula 1 (and presumably most 'real' motorsports) were under threat from simulator racing. And Barcelona, home of the pre-season F1 testing, revealed it struggles to get more than 10,000 spectators even offering free attendance for those with a weekend pass to the up and coming Grand Prix. By way of comparison in terms of local popular appeal, the international mobile device exhibition, the Mobile World Congress, which takes place in the city at the same time, brings in 100,000 plus. 

 

I could go on, but the point is that we live in changing times and Formula One – and motorsport – needs to take a very significant look at itself and make some dramatic changes.

 

I'm almost certainly not going to be able to even watch Formul 1 on a TV in New Zealand next season either and I'm going to need a bloody good reason to spend money on what is currently a dodgy app being provided by Liberty to satisfy my thirst. 

 

Having followed it for more than three decades, it feels a bit weird not really knowing what the solution should or even could be. I’d be very interested to hear what people out there in New Zealand think too, so please let me know. 

 

For now, at least, I'm going to look forward to more action in Mexico this weekend, to seeing Scott Dixon's movie and definitely riding that first lap with Brendon just a few more times.

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