The RACER Mailbag, August 31

The RACER Mailbag, August 31

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, August 31

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Q: Liberty Media has made a large financial commitment to F1 in the U.S. with Miami and Las Vegas. I know there have been hundreds of thousands in attendance at recent races, but is that sustainable? I don’t know where these “fans” are coming from. I don’t think they are NASCAR fans, and after reading Mailbag complaints, over the years about foreign drivers in IndyCar, probably not from there, either. So are those in F1 attendance really motorsports fans, or are the Netflix and/or video game/iRacing fans? If it is the latter, I don’t think they will keep coming back.

Bruce Kerr

CM: I’ve always felt motorsport fans are motorsport fans, and they might have a heavily preferred series but when cars start racing they can get hooked. But from F1’s point of view, I definitely think it’s the Netflix effect that has opened the sport up more, and I do think they’ll keep coming back.

What Netflix has done is get them to engage with the stories within the sport – the drivers, the team members, the underdogs as much as the big manufacturers – and see the value in a sixth place for Haas or a Williams in Q3. And that means even if they go to a race and the grand prix itself isn’t a great spectacle, they’re becoming hooked on other aspects. Plus every race is now making itself much more of a big event with concerts and other activities to ensure fans have a good time.

To give you a recent example, on Sunday’s SiriusXM show that I’m part of, there were four callers we took at the end of the show – two male and two female – and three of them cited Netflix as either getting them into F1 or reconnecting them with it. Now they’re phoning into radio shows asking questions or giving opinions as they get even more involved.

Q: For those who haven’t been following F1 since the early ’60s, I was wondering if you could give a history of the four-wheel-drive experiments in F1? As I recall, BRM, Lotus, Matra and McLaren all tried four-wheel-drive during the late ’60s through the mid-’70s.  None of them were successful, as they were incredibly complicated for the engineers and the drivers.

My question is, given the incredible tech advances since then, do you see any teams trying this approach again?

Bob Isabella, Mentor, OH

CM: You’ve got the history bit covered for me there Bob, as it’s a pretty short list. The first was the Ferguson P99 that only entered one world championship race but did win the non-championship Gold Cup at Oulton Park with Stirling Moss behind the wheel.

Lotus was certainly the most committed to trying to make four-wheel-drive work but never managed to, and 4WD has been banned since 1982 so I definitely can’t see any teams trying it again! It would take a complete change of regulations that really doesn’t need to happen because, as you say, the tech has advanced so far in the road car world that F1 doesn’t need to push it forward in the way it does with sustainable fuels and hybrid systems.

Stirling Moss and the Ferguson P99 Climax on their way to a disqualification for receiving outside assistance at the British GP at Aintree in 1961. David Phipps/Motorsport Images

Q: So, when Mercedes or Ferrari wins the 2026 F1 constructors title because the Audi and Porsche entries were taking points from each other, who at the VW group gets fired?

It makes no sense to have two brands competing against each other in F1. I remember when GM had four brands racing in NASCAR then finally figured out they were racing against themselves. Goodbye Buick, Pontiac and Oldsmobile (remember Pontiac and Oldsmobile?). I seem to remember some noise about VW becoming IndyCar’s third engine supplier before Dieselgate. Seems like it would make more sense to run one brand in F1 and another, at a much lower investment, in IndyCar. Alas, IndyCar’s third engine supplier is like Bigfoot, often rumored but never seen.

Bill Carsey, North Olmsted, OH

CM: It’s interesting you ask this question Bill, because it actually got asked of Audi (well, a variation of the question did) in Spa last weekend when they announced their arrival. They raced each other at Le Mans as totally separate brands so it clearly has value that they see, but I’ll let Audi AG chairman Markus Duesmann answer the rest:

“You can imagine that was a huge discussion, but both our brands have a lot of fans, and both our brands have their special character, and that’s why we decided to keep it completely separate and do two operations.

“There’s several reasons, several different teams. The powertrain has to be designed specially for the chassis, and that’s why we decided to split it, as we will have completely different chassis, so completely different power trains.”

Q: When Stefano Domenicali said “unless there is something like a meteorite, I don’t see a girl coming into F1 in the next five years,” I presume he was referring to said meteorite causing the extinction of dinosaurs like himself within the F1 paddock and management. In which case, that would probably be the healthiest option for the sport, and I welcome his out-of-the-box thinking.

It’s clear to anyone who pays attention that F1 isn’t the best 20 drivers in the world, not even just the 20 best men. There are notable examples of pay drivers that it would be hard to make the case they’re even in a list of the 200 best in the world, one of whom would have been on the grid this year if not for his daddy getting all his money sanctioned so he couldn’t pay anymore. That Domenicali can’t think of a single woman in the world who, with a similar level of funding, would be better than the worst F1 driver in the next five years indicates a severe lack of creativity from an executive whose job description should include deeper thought than this.

Perhaps his satisfaction with their partnership with W Series is indicative of Stefano having a bit too much agreement with one of the worst of David Coulthard’s takes: his belief that “the mothering gene” keeps women from having success in the sport. Seems clear to me it’s just the mediocre old men like Coulthard and Domenicali who worry the field-fillers they have so much in common with will be replaced by more talented women if they don’t figure out a way to keep the outdated misogyny of BCE alive in the series somehow.

Bakkster, Team Meteorite

CM: Let me start by saying I was on the call where Domenicali made that comment, and while it was an absolutely unnecessary aside, it doesn’t include the wider context of his answer, which was that F1 is working on improving the pyramid to get more females racing at a lower level. From there, he feels they will have a better chance of getting to F1, because he doesn’t see a big enough pool right now to make it realistic in the next five years.

And he’s right that it’s not massively likely (although far more likely than his analogy). Who is being actively pushed towards F1 aside from Jamie Chadwick? And she’s still got a few steps to go. I see Jamie racing in F2 next year and therefore being very close, but it’s also true that it would be damaging to just put any driver in an F1 race seat just because they’re female, and then have them not be competitive and reinforce the misplaced view that they can’t do it at that level.

Where I totally agree with you is that if someone wants to bankroll a driver enough, and give them enough experience and track time, then they will reach a level where they are more than competitive. But I think it would be worse for Domenicali to say “hopefully someone will spend millions getting a driver to F1 and then it’s not our problem,” and better to say the likelihood isn’t high enough right now and F1 needs to support lower down the pyramid.

His choice of words was stupid, though.