Is F1 really a sport?

July 29, 2011

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching motor racing, and I particularly enjoy Formula 1 when the outcome of a race is being seriously contested. But this season the introduction of DRS (drag reduction system) following on from KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) in 2009 makes we wonder what’s going on, and whether F1 really is a sport.

While all sports can suffer rule changes during the off season – rugby has particularly suffered from this, and football (soccer) notably had the controversial offside rule changed a couple of years ago – changing the rules and introducing technology that gives the slower driver an advantage over the chap infront doesn’t seem like cricket to me.

IMHO winning in Formula 1 is now primarily about the cars. A good driver in a great car (Jenson Button in the Brawn car in the 2009 season for example) can dominate much of the season, but actually in the second half of that season, when the rest of the teams managed to replicate the Brawn’s diffuser, the difference evaporated and Jenson managed to win the title only because he’d established such a commanding lead in the first half of the season.

Conversely a great driver in a mediocre car just gets left behind – Rubens Barrichello proved just how good a driver he is when he was Michael Schumacher’s team-mate at Ferrari, coming runner-up twice. But in an underperforming Williams, he’s just not in contention.

Adam Parr, chairman of Williams said:

“For us to design and build the two cars that we will have on the grid on Sunday here, without putting an engine in them, without putting a driver in them, without accounting for the 70 staff that we bring to each race – without all of that those cars cost £2m.”

And as I just pointed out, Williams aren’t really in contention at the moment. How much more do Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull spend?

So really, how much of this is about sporting prowess, skill and ability, and how much is about the money, the designer and the engineering?

I’m not saying I could drive one of those cars as well as any of them out there – I know I couldn’t – but surely if they all got identical cars, whether they were designed by Adrian Newey or not, we’d all believe the results would reflect their sheer driving ability rather than the amount of money their teams can burn through.

For me, F1 at the moment is primarily about making money for Bernie Ecclestone, who hardly needs more than he’s currently got. So when it goes to Sky Sports next season, I for one won’t be watching it. I’m not putting any of my money into either Ecclestone’s or Murdoch’s pocket.

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