Did you feel a tinge of sadness and frustration as you tuned into the US GP last night and watched the fewest number of cars ready to do battle in a grand prix since Monaco back in 2005? Yeah, me too.
“An industry made up of an often-lethal mix of big cash, big ego and big desire is facing its sternest test right now”
Good job, then, that it was a great race, with the uber-dominant Mercedes racers of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg disappearing up the road to record the team’s 10th one-two of the season and all sorts of action throughout the (depleted) field. Oh, and Lewis’ 32nd career win moving him ahead of Nigel Mansell in the all-time winners’ list so that the 29-year-old becomes Britain’s most successful grand prix driver.
All good stuff, but let’s not get carried away: F1 is facing a fiscal crisis that’s generated the sort of negative press that even the other-worldly, shamelessly self-assured, do-what-it-wants top echelon of motorsport can’t ignore.
Just 18 cars turned up for the third race at Texas venue Austin and there’s a feeling that things could get worse as the ramifications of the demise last week of the Caterham and Marussia teams hang around like a bad smell.
It seems ironic that regulations introduced in 2014 to create a leaner and cleaner, more approachable and affordable F1, centred on efficient, 1.6-litre turbocharged engines (I simply can’t bring myself to call them ‘powerunits’), are now playing second fiddle to the problem described by F1 overlord Bernie Ecclestone as “too much money being distributed badly”.
I understand that the world’s fastest – and expensive – sport has always been a meritocracy. Yes, the best drivers in cars created by the best designers powered by the best engines will always win – and I have no problem with that. What is thoroughly unpalatable is this long-standing, inequitable division of wealth among the teams.
The big four – Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes – are engineering powerhouses with vast resources and talent to call upon and their success is rewarded, but they seem reluctant to help find a solution to stop this rich-getting-richer-and-poor-getting-poorer rot that’s eating away at the sport’s foundations. F1 needs its smaller teams – those seat-of-the-pants optimists that aim high yet spend low, picking up the scraps for a big pay day when circumstances allow. They are the training ground for drivers, engineers and mechanics, and they bang the drum for underdogs that all real sports fans enjoy hearing.
With He Who Shall Be Obeyed admitting in recent days that the problems are probably his fault, we can only hope that a radical shake-up of F1 is just around the corner. Some new blood calling the shots and pulling the strings would certainly help.
An industry made up of an often-lethal mix of big cash, big ego and big desire is facing its sternest test right now.