MEDLAND: Austria showed F1's spark – and its shortcomings

Image by Andre/LAT

MEDLAND: Austria showed F1's spark – and its shortcomings

Insights & Analysis

MEDLAND: Austria showed F1's spark – and its shortcomings


 I promise you I’m not writing this week’s column with a smug smile on my face, but I definitely could be after the past seven days, given that my previous ramblings ended with:

“There’s plenty for F1 to improve on, but give us a fight for the win and the increased possibility of failure when there isn’t one, and you’ve got yourself a much more compelling watch.”

 I think it’s fair to say that the fight for the win in Austria made this weekend’s race an extremely compelling watch. Max Verstappen’s drive was nothing short of epic.

But it doesn’t mean Formula 1 is suddenly fixed, in the same way that it wasn’t completely broken just because of how boring the French Grand Prix was deemed to be.

I’ve written before about how we need the less exciting races to make the classics stand out, and we pretty much got that exact juxtaposition in the space of the back-to-back races over the past two weekends.

It might seem a little odd, but I’d argue that it was Austria that showed us more of what needs fixing in F1 than France did.

From the first practice session, drivers were getting punished for making mistakes. Front wings were failing all over the place because of the vicious curbs that were waiting in the run-off areas, particularly at the end of the lap.

Front wings, like everything on an F1 car, are expensive bits of kit, which led Red Bull team principal Christian Horner to say something that, to be honest, infuriated me.

“The problem is they (the curbs) are too inviting, it’s neither fish nor foul,” Horner said. “We know they are there, it’s just the angle they really need to look at.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about these types of curbs here over recent years. So I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more discussion, it’s something that Charlie (Whiting) was pretty keen on and hot on. It needs something that is either more substantial or more of a deterrent because the invitation is there for the drivers to use it.

“In other sports, it’s very clear if you are in or out. I think that should be the same in F1. But if you look at it again, there are tracks we go to with walls. If you took it to an extreme, we race at street tracks around the world without any issue. I think the problem is when you are in no man’s land with these sorts of curbs.”

I’m sorry. What?

Drivers, team bosses, fans… basically everyone has been calling for drivers to be punished when they go off track, rather than having the ability to run wide and potentially gain time. Track limits have been a hot topic. So we go to a circuit where the deterrent is in place, and it damages the car, and suddenly that’s not right either?

The curbs were off the circuit. They are not designed to be used, that’s why they damage the car. To say “they are too inviting” is laughable. I half expect Horner to arrive in Monaco next year and complain that the walls damage the cars and they’re a problem because the corners could be taken quicker without them.

To be fair, those curbs DO look inviting. Image by Andre/LAT

I should probably apologize to Horner at this point because he’s just become the catalyst for a rant that is about much more than his comments at the weekend. (Which, funnily enough, were not repeated when he was talking about Verstappen’s victory after the race). What it highlights is the inability for teams to agree on anything, and the need for the FIA and F1 to take complete control of both the writing of the rules and their application.

And it’s not just the team input in regulations that needs addressing. The post-race delay wait for a decision on the incident between Verstappen and Charles Leclerc also served as a prime example of why the drivers need ignoring to an extent, too.

When it comes to a racing incident – and by that I mean an incident in the race, rather than one where there is no obvious blame – the drivers should not be allowed to put across their point of view.

Decisions are regularly made during the race without the need for a meeting, but when it happens near the end, then more often than not an investigation takes place after the checkered flag to allow those involved to state their case.

I can’t think of another sport that does this in the same way. In the NFL or MLS, a referee doesn’t stop the game after a questionable tackle, call over the two opponents involved, sit them down to hear from one why they got clattered and the excuses from the other before making a call. These are professional referees – they see the incident, they judge it immediately and their ruling is final.

The same should apply in Formula 1. Every incident should be treated the same in terms of how it’s ruled upon. The same incident between Verstappen and Leclerc would have received a decision within a few laps if it happened in the first half of the race, and that’s how it should still be treated later.

Even if it happens so late in the race that the podium needs delaying by a few moments to allow a final call to be made, so be it. It would allow the fans that have paid hundreds of dollars to attend to see the top three safe in the knowledge that they are in the final order, and would add to the drama and tension for those watching on television, too.

Austria was a timely reminder of how exciting F1 can be when there is a fight for the win on a good track, and how so many aspects are close to being very good, rather than needing a radical overhaul.

But it was so nearly overshadowed by a three-hour delay to confirm the race winner, long after the fans had left the circuit. The drivers themselves had even gone by the time it was determined that no further action would be taken against Verstappen.

It’s not the FIA’s fault that it took so long on Sunday in that it followed the process as it is currently stated, but it’s a process that should change. Leave the drivers to fight it out on track – ideally on a track that will punish their mistakes without the need for investigations – and leave the stewards to make the calls when required.