Think Indy 2005, Prost v Senna, Spygate and Nelson Piquet JR being asked to deliberately crash into a wall to aid his mercurial teammate (who’s middle name might as well be ‘politics’) Fernando Alonso.
Sport is full of politics and Formula One is indeed no stranger, with the pinnacle of motorsport getting in the headlines for the wrong reasons far too many times to recall.
Formula One has never easily admitted defeat and is often seen as stubborn at face value. Fast forward to 2020, and with F1 in its forth year under Liberty Media’s wing, the days of Bernie Ecclestone rule seemed long in the past. With F1 due to lift the curtain on its 70th year in Melbourne, the cracks of old started to re-emerge.
Before this debacle, the biggest strike against F1’s reputation was the 2005 United States Grand Prix. Teams running Michelin Tyres that weekend suffered multiple failures around the banked part of the circuit. Teams running the Bridgestone tyres failed to agree to the suggestions that adding in a mobile chicane would alleviate the problems. The race was run with just Bridgestone runners leaving 100,000 fans booing as the rest of the field filed into their garages,
Fast forward 20 years and the world is engulfed in the coronavirus pandemic. Many sporting events worldwide were either being axed or reconsidered whilst F1 remained blasé to the whole situation, reiterating at every turn that the race would go ahead as planned.
F1 was already facing critics for going forward with the event and even up to a week before, six-time champion Lewis Hamilton branded the decision of the circus travelling to Australia as “shocking”.
The situation became critical when several members of the paddock started to report Covid-19 symptoms and one of the McLaren team member’s test result came back positive. Former drivers, pundits and personnel alike called for the race to be axed but were greeted with silence.
Fans, without any communication all headed to Albert Park with just hours to spare before the season began in earnest, with the first official practice session. It took a full 12 hours between the McLaren announcement and the official cancellation to be confirmed with most of the fans now positioned at the gates of Albert Park wondering why they were being barred from entering.
But why the delay? Does F1 care that little about its fanbase who pay, way over the odds for its product? Its relationship with its fans may be improving but it is clear to see where their priorities lie. As Hamilton himself put it “cash is king” and it has been for quite some time.
The governing body suggested there were legal complications behind the delay, with it being agreed unilaterally that a field of fewer than 12 cars would have to see the event declared null and void.
Thus, began a game of ‘who blinks first’ with both the organiser and F1 well rehearsed in the knowledge that whoever decides to cancel it, pays for it. The lack of organisation was summed up by F1 chief Chase Carey not even being in the country to make a decision.
All the while team officials were still hard at work in the garages, dusting down the cars after a gruelling winter of testing, still not sure whether their masterpieces would be taking to the track or not.
Matters were not aided by a plethora of conflicting news reports, at times even within the same organisation. Nor, for that matter, was the situation helped by radio silence on the part of F1, the circuit promoter and the teams themselves leaving fans, media and journalists in a state of limbo.
F1 did redeem themselves slightly as they were quick to postpone the following races up until the middle of June in response to the ever growing concern that COVID-19 brings, but it’s safe to say that the relationship between AGP and F1 will not be so rosy in years to come.
F1 announced on Monday morning the cancellation of the French Grand Prix but have earmarked July 5 as a potential starting point in Austria. In hindsight it has been discussed that F1 could have safely held the event but the 11th hour communication is what hurt fans the most.
Unlike the Prost v Senna rivalry which defined a generation, bringing many to the sport. This example of controversy will only do the opposite and till damage the relationship between F1 and the fans.