Following a last Grand Prix exceptional in every sense of the term in Abu Dhabi, which saw Max Verstappen triumph, several commentators are already wondering about the future of the discipline, increasingly subject to controversial decisions formulated by the race stewards. .
Is F1 a victim of its own success? It was just time to digest a very tense last chapter in Abu Dhabi that, already, the analysis arrived. This final race of the 2021 season sparked passions, perhaps more than ever in the history of the discipline. Between pro-Hamilton and Verstappen supporters, social media exploded on Sunday afternoon and it was hard to sort through opinions and thoughts. This final duel, which turned in favor of the Dutchman, raised deep questions about the spectacular dimension that Formula 1 has taken on in the last two years. With all its components and what they imply in the competition.
Did the extravagant media exposure of F1 influence the final result?
As we know, the Netflix series dedicated to F1 and published on the platform in March 2019 has given a new impetus to the discipline. A kind of gigantic documentary behind the scenes of the paddock with a quickly addictive narration, “Drive to Survive” (“Pilots of their destiny” in French) this Sunday attracted millions of followers to their screens (+50% audience for Canal +, the French broadcaster, in two years, record this Sunday), ready to follow the exploits of pilots who suddenly become familiar. In this huge spotlight, the Verstappen-Hamilton rivalry is laid bare like never before, leading to the building of strong fan bases ready to rock for either the Dutch or the Brit.
This growing passion was therefore at its height this weekend for the final decisive lap, which would decide the next world champion. And in view of this crazy finish, in which Max Verstappen passed Lewis Hamilton on the last lap of the race after a crazy scenario and the intervention of a safety car, she is not ready to go down. But it also poses, for some observers, the limits of this globalized media exposure.
“It’s a new way of running the sport where the race director can make those ad hoc decisions.”
Crowned in the drivers’ standings in 1996, Britain’s Damon Hill explained his feelings on Twitter shortly after the end of this season: “A lot of people not very happy. And a lot of people very happy. It’s a new way of managing the sport.” where the race director can make those ad hoc decisions. It was a bit too ‘guess what I’m going to do now’, I think.” A reference, in particular, to the Grand Prix stewards’ procrastination following the safety car intervention on lap 53. After first banning the five stragglers (Norris, Alonso, Ocon, Leclerc and Vettel) sandwiched between Hamilton and Verstappen’s overtaking, the FIA turned around a lap from the end, fully reigniting hostilities between the season’s top two drivers.
From there to consider for some that the delivery of the world champion title was decided in the offices, there is only one step left… that the most conspirators (and often followers of Hamilton) do not hesitate not to cross paths on the networks. “This season built like a Netflix drama, F1’s reputation is tarnished… Shame!” we can read in particular in the multitude of exaggerated comments. Even so, these comments open the reflection of transparency -not always obvious- regarding the decisions of the race director and more legible and understandable regulations. The complaints filed by Mercedes, beyond the mere disappointment that the title was taken from them right under their noses, also attest to this lack of clarity.
“What the race management did is ridiculous, ridiculous,” Olivier Panis in particular raged at RMC on Sunday. “Either it ends up under the safety car, or all the cars can overtake the safety car. It’s still a roll of the dice like in the previous race. This is a fair.”
So what do I do now? How to reduce the processing time of a race event by the stewards so as not to maintain vagueness? Perhaps by simplifying procedures, thinking of every possible event during a Grand Prix and associating one or more appropriate responses to mobilize when the time comes. That’s probably easier said than done. But without this, F1’s mid-term credibility is likely to come into question. With the possibility of seeing a new hard-won crowd flee, which would be a shame and ultimately a lack of respect for the teams and drivers who defend their discipline every weekend.