Lewis Hamilton is Formula 1 world champion. The symbiosis with Mercedes has dominated this sport for seven years – such dominance is a long time even for Formula 1. Before this is misunderstood at this point: accusations against Hamilton and his team are misplaced. They are just brilliantly exploiting the given regulations. And yet Mercedes is a threat to this sport.
Since 1950 the most important racing series in the world has been held. Formula 1 has always been surrounded by myths: The fastest cars. Charismatic drivers who became world stars, often entranced by the rich and beautiful. Spectacular duels on and off the race tracks. Unfortunately, there have also been fatal accidents.
Technology has always been important, also as a playground for the development of road cars. But in the booming years of Formula 1, drivers like Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher or James Hunt were the focus of attention. It took outstanding drivers to become world champions, and that has changed in recent years – even though Hamilton is one of the best drivers. Technology has become more and more important and pushes the importance of the drivers into the background. On the one hand, this affects the engines – since 2014, Formula 1 has been racing with a complicated and expensive hybrid technology. This favours the success of Mercedes, no other engine manufacturer can match the development of the Stuttgart company.
More buttons than in grandma’s sewing boxIt’s also about aerodynamics, which makes overtaking impossible in many places without technical aids. The balance of power on the accelerator pedals has shifted. Away from the driver, towards the engineers. Tyre temperatures, energy recovery, DRS, steering wheels with more buttons than in grandma’s sewing box. Drivers are becoming less and less important because they are constantly being told on the pit radio what they have to take care of, and then there was the corona crisis. Almost all sports are affected by restrictions – even Formula 1. In a phase without spectators, without atmosphere at the race tracks, it would be particularly important on Sunday afternoon not to know in advance who will win the race. Since 2014, the red lights have gone out 135 times in Formula 1. In the end, a Mercedes was the first car to cross the finish line 97 times. No need to switch it on.
The future of Formula 1 has been much discussed for years. The will for change is there. This is shown by the budget limit introduced for the coming season, which is intended to favour smaller teams in the fight for podium places. This is shown by the aerodynamic rule changes for the 2022 season, which should make overtaking easier again. It also shows the commitment to the use of synthetic fuels, which should help to make Formula 1 climate-neutral by 2030. This is intended to appeal above all to young spectators who are already turning to alternative racing series such as Formula E.
Reforms are not radical enoughBut is that enough to make Formula 1 sustainable? Doubts are in order. The budget limit will not change anything about Mercedes’ dominance, experts do not expect any noticeable shifts until the 2023 season at the earliest. The reforms are not radical enough, but the big teams like Mercedes and Ferrari are allowed too much say in the decisions.
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