When a competitive F1 season isn’t competitive

On paper, the 2018 F1 season is shaping up to be the most competitive of the turbo-hybrid era. Despite grumblings about the ‘dull’ races in Monaco and Canada, the statistics back up the belief that this year will be one to remember.

Sadly the reality is that this year’s ‘competitive’ F1 season is just as uncompetitive as any in the past 4 years.

7 F1 races, 3 different winners, 1 point in the championship

After 7 races the F1 title battle is finely balanced. Just a single point separates the primary title protagonists, Sebastien Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. As they vie for a 5th World Championship, Daniel Ricciardo and Valterri Bottas have the potential to get in on the act too. Three drivers from three teams have won this year and there is good reason to expect Bottas and Max Verstappen to join that list.

Across the sum of the championship to date, competition for race wins and the championship appears fierce. Unlike 2014-2016 Mercedes are not utterly dominant and compared to 2017, Red Bull appear better equipped to challenge the Mercedes/Ferrari duopoly consistently.

Take each race in isolation however and it becomes clear that the competitiveness is far from genuine and more importantly, is not what F1’s fans are seeking.

Who has the best car this week…

With the exception of Bahrain and the rollercoaster that was Baku, every race winner this season has done so at a canter. The margin of victory has ranged from five seconds to over twenty (Hamilton in Spain). Why? Because performance is dictated primarily by the characteristics of each car.

2018 has been a continuation of what we witnessed in 2017. One week the circuit layout, temperatures, tyre compounds, wheelbase length and various other factors have resulted in the Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull car having the upper hand. Considering the two most recent races: a Red Bull was the car to have in Monaco and a Ferrari in Montreal.

Ultimately, this is not what F1 fans want to watch.

Having multiple race winners from multiple teams in a single season means little if each race win has been a dominant affair. We could have six different race winners by the end of 2018 but if each race has been won because their chassis/engine combination best suited that circuit, that is not the competitive racing that will draw old fans back and new ones in.

I have always said that the mind-numbing dominance of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari would not have been so hard to watch if they had had to work for it. Not even that they had to overtake the whole field to win but had needed to fight to the very last corner for the win, instead of cruising over the line with time to spare.

Competition is needed between teams at every race

Expecting every F1 race to be a thriller is unrealistic and unreasonable. It is not however unreasonable to want each race to be competitive amongst multiple teams and drivers.

The cause célèbre of choice for some time has been overtaking. A lack of overtaking in F1 is a symptom of a wider issue – the lack of competitiveness between teams on a race-by-race basis.
Instead of the current obsession with artificially creating more overtaking, F1 should focus on improving competitiveness across the field.

By bringing the grid itself closer together and minimising variables there is a better chance of watching more than one team vying for the win each weekend.

How much does Liberty Media want a ‘more competitive F1’?

Of course minimising variables like tyre compounds, front and rear wing designs or diffusers will be a tough sell to teams intent on winning at any cost. Which in part is a good reason for Liberty Media to make teams greater stakeholders in the championship.

At the moment none of the leading teams would be keen to see any sort of homogenisation of regulations because it limits their scope to find that winning edge. Teams do not care how they win, only that they do and ergo the manner of victory is of little concern. Teams will not vote for much closer racing until they have a vested interested in the health of the championship overall as opposed to simply their own performance.

That is why we should probably not hold our collective breath for a truly competitive F1 season coming anytime soon.

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