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Opinion: F1's fans are not being put first

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The sight of Formula 1 cars flat at Spa-Francorchamps famous Eau Rouge corner has become a regularity in recent years.

With the increased downforce of modern day Formula 1 cars, the former test of man and machine has been lowered to a mere flick of the steering wheel. A corner that is merely a reflection of its former glory.

Yes, this has been the case since the turn of the century, but in 2017 this had added significance.

Further down the road, the long-left hander at Pouhon had, until this year, offered a similar challenge. It was a corner that separated the boys from the men, with lots to be gained for bravery, and much to be lost if the limits were not obeyed.

With downforce levels further increased in 2017, Spa has now lost all of its original character.

Nearly every driver on the grid in this year’s Belgian Grand Prix remained flat through both ‘challenging’ corners. With the extra-downforce prompting a decrease in overtaking in races in 2017, it was like looking at a processional display of 20 Scalextric cars.

Fans were promised an introduction of faster cars for 2017, and that has been delivered, with the fastest lap during this year’s race at Spa around five seconds faster than in 2016. Although, has this led to the detriment of what is at the heart of motor sport? The racing.

Even though Sebastian Vettel spent the majority of The Belgian Grand Prix in the slipstream of his title-rival Lewis Hamilton, the only real overtaking opportunity came straight after the restart.

Hamilton’s pole position 24 hours earlier on Saturday afternoon had effectively settled the race as both drivers cancelled each other out on Sunday.

Trailing in the so-called ‘dirty-air’ of the Mercedes in front ensured that Vettel couldn’t get into the one-second window needed to obtain Drag Reduction System (DRS) assistance down the long Kemmel Straight.

It was an infuriating encounter for spectators who were denied an up-close battle between the two title protagonists due to the deficiencies of the latest rules package brought out by the FIA and Formula 1’s Strategy Group.

While we are on rules changes, the introduction of the halo cockpit protection system from 2018 is another which is in unfavourable amongst fans.

Recent surveys have shown that up to 88% of fans were opposed to its introduction, compared to only 7% who were in favour of its addition.

Tests conducted by the FIA have shown that the halo will increase the chances of survival in a crash by 17%, although, with Formula 1 now at its safest level in its 67-year existence as a World Championship, how much more change is really needed.

Only Frenchman Jules Bianchi has been killed in a freak accident since a wave of safety changes were introduced in 1994 (after the deaths of two drivers, Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, during the San Marino Grand Prix weekend).

“We are trying hard with faster cars and getting closer to attract new fans to the sport” says Mercedes non-executive chairman and three-time champion, Niki Lauda. “But this is destroyed by an over-reaction.”

“The halo destroys the DNA of an F1 car. The FIA has made F1 as safe as it gets.”

Fans agree with this on a wide-spread scale. With several having threatened to turn off their screens and lose interest in the sport if the new model is adopted for next season.

I can’t help but agree. Formula 1 should be dangerous, it should be man and machine driven to the limit. Would the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Ayrton Senna have wanted a halo on their cars, probably not. It’s not F1.

This isn’t about fans wanting the sport to be unnecessarily dangerous, we don’t want to see drivers getting killed on a race-by-race basis, and the current generation of vehicles are a lot better than the coffins on wheels driven by the champions of the past.

Add into this an exclusive pay-tv deal for Formula 1 in the UK from 2019, increasing ticket prices to attend events, and limited amount of paddock access for spectators, and it’s no surprise that die-hard fans are beginning to turn their nose up at the ‘pinnacle of motor sport’.

All F1 fans want is good, competitive racing, with open cockpit single seater machines as per the sports DNA, available to view at a cheap price. Something we are not getting under the current regulations, and it looks like it’s about to get a lot worse. 

Image Credit - Wikipedia Commons. Pixabay, Angelo_Giordano

Image above shows Eau Rouge corner at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. 

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