The high expectations for the 2017 season

With testing and a grand prix out of the way, the 2017 F1 season brings high expectations for fans. With cars that are nearly 3 seconds a lap faster than last year and close to eclipsing lap records set in early 2000’s era, the cars are obviously faster than in years previous. When teams unveiled the 2017 cars in late February the world was in awe at the aggressive designs and shapes: wider, longer, and more angular. The cars performed on track at testing, raising eyebrows through the high-speed corners of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Leaving testing, Ferrari was poised to be the fastest car on the grid, although last year they were in the same position after pre-season and had a dismal 2016 season. Melbourne would prove to show the true pace of the teams, as it always does.

On race day of the Australian Grand Prix just a few days ago I felt this sense of “this is the year,” thinking that this year would bring more inter-team battles and a real fight for the world championship. Since 2014 Red Bull, Ferrari, and McLaren have been talking about “catching up” to Mercedes and Williams and Force India have always been on the heels of the top teams, surprising them with an occasional podium. As it has turned out after the first race, this might be the year where Mercedes are really given a challenge. Although they ultimately lost on a strategy error, Ferrari was able to control the gap to the Mercedes’ of Hamilton and Bottas charging behind them. So Ferrari’s pace seems true, not faster than Mercedes but maybe just as fast as Mercedes. Or could this have been a one-off win for Ferrari like in 2015? That seems unlikely based off of the pace shown in Melbourne but never the less Mercedes could turn up the wick and run away with the championship. The first race is always too early to tell.

Sahara Force India's new pink car is an exciting addition to the grid in 2017.

Sahara Force India's new pink car is an exciting addition to the grid in 2017.

With the first weekend in the books there are a few things that are evident. The first being Lewis Hamilton’s form. The triple world champion looks ready to snag his fourth title. He’s focused, fast, and carries a confident aura. Bottas seems to have good pace but is still getting to grips with his Mercedes W08. Williams driver and sole rookie in the 2017 field Lance Stroll has continued to struggle adapting to Formula 1 and has been off the pace of his teammate consistently throughout testing and at the Australian Grand Prix. He has also continued to struggle driving the Formula 1 car, crashing in testing several times and then in Free Practice 3 in Melbourne. Force India had a good showing with a double points finish in their first race and hopefully they will continue their great form from last year and finish close to the front runners.

 

Seeing the new cars in action is exhilarating and exciting. Watching them go through the high-speed corners and storm down the straights really adds some excitement to the new season. However increased down force might make overtaking that much harder because the cars won’t be able to follow behind turbulent air, and F1 doesn’t need anymore quick DRS overtakes.  Overall there are a lot of reasons to be excited for this season of F1. Let’s hope it lives up to its expectations.

Nico Rosberg becomes 2016 Champion

Mercedes F1 driver Nico Rosberg has finally won his first F1 championship in his third year in contention. After a nearly flawless season, the German driver is well deserving of the title despite the number of technical failures to teammate and triple world champion Lewis Hamilton’s car. Rosberg did everything he needed to do in the end to clinch the championship in Abu Dhabi.

Nico celebrating with his team after winning the WDC.

Nico celebrating with his team after winning the WDC.

The final battle between the teammates came down to a witty race from Lewis Hamilton, who backed up the field while leading the race from start to finish. While some thought Hamilton’s tactics were unfair and unorthodox, his plan to make life harder for Rosberg by allowing the other cars to battle with him was his last resort to keep his title hopes alive. It was an exciting end to the season, with tensions running high and Hamilton receiving angry radio messages from Paddy Lowe and the Mercedes pit-wall.

Donuts for the champion.

Donuts for the champion.

Upon winning his one and only world driver’s championship, Rosberg retired in the weeks after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Shocking news to many considering his age (just 31 years old) and his success in previous years. Rosberg was definitely at his prime in his career, which is why it is odd for him to step away from the sport. So the drama continues at Mercedes with a new seat to fill, with Valtteri Bottas looking to be the favorite. But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s look back and honor Rosberg’s F1 career.

 

Coming into the sport as the son of a previous F1 world champion in his father Keke, Rosberg had big shoes to fill. He showed promise from a young age, taking karting championships in Europe and progressing through the junior categories. But when he got to F1 he impressed right from his first start. At the 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix Rosberg scored points for Williams and achieved the fastest lap of the race, no slouch if you ask me. Rosberg was quick and witty, often times far too aggressive for the liking of Fernando Alonso (Bahrain 2012) and Lewis Hamilton (Spain 2016 and Austria 2016). But these instances showed Rosberg was a real racer, defensive minded and testing the limits. As Rosberg changed gears moving to Mercedes he stuck out the hard times and was rewarded in 2013 and 2014 with a competitive car, finally. But unfortunately Rosberg was left in the shadows of superstar Lewis Hamilton. Lewis was quicker, had less reliability issues, and remained the driver that was found in tabloids and gossip magazines. Lewis remained relevant, Nico did not. But when Mercedes began their domination in 2014, the odd’s were against Nico, and quite frankly, the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a completely unfair ending to a season that deserved to be a straight fight to the end. Nico’s car was plagued with issues and Lewis ran away with the title.

Nico on his debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2006.

Nico on his debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2006.

On came 2015 and it was dominated by Hamilton, who went into every race with the confidence that he could win. Rosberg was weaker mentally and the mistakes showed at the United States Grand Prix when he threw away the title via an unforced error. But 2016 was a whole new season for Rosberg and clear change in mental attitude was shown by the German. He wanted to win and he took each race separately, not focusing on the larger title at hand. Rosberg did exactly what he needed to do he won races, finished on the podium the times he didn’t, and defended hard all the way until the end. Granted, Lewis suffered from technical issues and even won more races, but Rosberg showed level headedness that hadn’t been seen before. Rosberg had a championship mentality.

Lewis backing up Nico in the final laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Lewis backing up Nico in the final laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Nico’s retirement from the sport is saddening because the rivalry between he and Lewis is now over. The battle warranted a lot of drama and one of the best races in history (Bahrain 2014). Nico will be missed in F1 and after 10 years in the sport he has surely made his mark. Congratulation Nico Rosberg on a fantastic career and becoming 2016 World Champion. 

Austrian Grand Prix filled with drama and controversy

The chances were good for Lewis Hamilton at the Red Bull Ring on Sunday. His team mate was starting down in P6 due to a grid penalty and starting nearest to Hamilton was Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Jenson Button, an odd starting grid considering the pace of the Force India and McLaren in recent years. However, with this huge advantage, the race proved to be an uphill battle for Hamilton against his team mate.

The frantic start to the Austrian Grand Prix

The frantic start to the Austrian Grand Prix

With a great launch Hamilton pulled away at the start with Hulkenberg being the biggest loser falling down the field since the moment the lights went out. Amazingly, Jenson Button held position in P2 for nearly 7 laps until Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen dove down the inside of the McLaren at turn 3. Hamilton extended the lead while team mate Nico Rosberg climbed up the field into P2 by the first pit window. However, in the stops Rosberg took the lead from Hamilton as Mercedes kept Lewis on the Pirelli Ultra Soft tires for too long, slowing his pace on track, and then gave him a slow stop. 

The Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel stopped at turn 1 after his right rear blowout.

The Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel stopped at turn 1 after his right rear blowout.

Even more drama came on Lap 27 when Sebastian Vettel suffered from an exploding tire on the front straight, causing the German to crash out of the grand prix in dramatic fashion. The safety car was then deployed in order for the marshals to clear the car that was blocking most of turn 1. Vettel was on a very long super-soft stint and tire wear could be the reason for the explosion, however, Pirelli says the possibility of running over debris is more likely the cause. 

 

When the restart came the two Mercedes led the two Red Bulls until Raikkonen overtook Ricciardo for P4 on lap 58. Then came the final lap drama. Hamilton caught right up to the gearbox of Rosberg after an incredible exit from Turn 1 and with slip stream on the run up to turn 2 pulled to the outside of his team mate as they went full speed up the hill. Into the braking zone, everyone held their breath remembering the last battle for the lead between the two in Barcelona. On the brakes Rosberg moved over on Hamilton and failed to turn into the corner colliding with his team mate! Free of damage Hamilton went wide off the track to avoid further contact. Rosberg pulled away but with his front wing dangling off the front of the car. Hamilton soon caught up to the damaged Rosberg and overtook him at turn 3. With Perez off in the gravel at Turn 3, yellow flags were waved as mayhem occurred in turns 2 and 3. Streaking off in the distance, Hamilton took the win from Max Verstappen and Raikkonen as Rosberg fell to P4 in the end. Because of Perez’s DNF, rookie Pascal Wehrlein brought home a point for Manor, a huge accomplishment for him and the team. Pascal has shown his skill thus far in F1 and scoring a point solidifies his place in the sport. What a final lap!

Rosberg limping around the final lap in Austria to secure P4.

Rosberg limping around the final lap in Austria to secure P4.

With even more controversy coming Mercedes’s way this season they certainly have had their hands full on and off the track. Now with two collisions already, Mercedes have already begun talking about implementing team orders. Although the fans would not like to see this, Mercedes may think it is necessary for their title hopes. Analyzing the crash, I believe Rosberg is the one clearly at fault. He didn't even try to turn into the corner and instead went straight on. Lewis had no where to go and gave Nico ample amounts of space. Although there is excitement from contact being made at the corner I think if we could actually see the two rivals race for the championship cleanly, it would be much more of a spectacle for the fans. 

Watch an analysis of the crash: https://www.formula1.com/en/video.html

The collision between Rosberg and Hamilton on Lap 71.

The collision between Rosberg and Hamilton on Lap 71.

A more humorous take on the crash....

A more humorous take on the crash....

The Struggling Economics of Modern Formula One

   Formula 1, it is the pinnacle of all motorsports around the world. Only 11 teams and 22 drivers have the opportunity to race in the “World’s Most Glamorous Sport.” However, a sport that annually profits in excess of $1 billion, is struggling financially. Within one season alone, the sport went from 11 teams to just nine, leaving just 18 cars on the starting grid for the final three races of the season. Teams are struggling to survive in a sport that is beginning to focus on making a profit rather than actually participating in a sporting manner. How are these problems occurring? Because there have been many bad decisions made without long-term effects in mind. This is my favorite sport in the world and I have been following F1 racing for a year and a half. My passion for this sport goes further than just a simple viewer, I feel that I might be able to make a difference in the sport one day. These bad decisions make me upset with the Formula 1 Group. When one team has $425 million to spend and another only has $60 million to spend over the course of one season, how can there be level and fair competition? If Formula 1 wants to survive as a sport as well as a business, regulations on money distribution need to be put into place.

   There are several big teams in Formula 1. The teams that are considered “big” are Infiniti Red Bull Racing, Mercedes AMG Petronas, Scuderia Ferrari, and Mclaren F1. These teams all have several things in common. First of all, they all produce consumer cars for the public: Red Bull is sponsored by Infiniti, Mercedes AMG Petronas by Mercedes-Benz, Scuderia Ferrari by Ferrari S.p.A., and Mclaren by Mclaren Automotive. This means that these huge car manufactures are willing to invest millions of dollars into the Formula 1 team that they sponsor. Additionally, Ferrari and Mercedes produce their own engines and sell their engines to other teams to make more profit. Smaller teams like Williams-Martini Racing (using a Mercedes powered engine) do not have such support at the international corporate level. Instead, private investors and small sponsors fund the team. The privately owned teams in F1 are: Williams-Martini Racing, Sauber, Marussia, Caterham, Sahara Force India, and to some extent Lotus F1 Team. This data shows that more than half of the teams in Formula 1 are small and privately owned teams. I believe that it is good to have a balance of big teams and small teams because it brings economic diversity to the sport. Also, it creates a healthy gap in performance; it is natural for a big team to outperform a smaller team. The teams with big name sponsors have more money to spend than smaller teams because of the large sums of money that are coming in from their sponsors.

Head of the Formula 1 Group, Bernie Ecclestone chats with Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, Toto Wolff.

Head of the Formula 1 Group, Bernie Ecclestone chats with Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, Toto Wolff.

   The next way that teams acquire money is through prize money. This is determined by how the cars finish in the constructor’s championship, the best team gets the most money; the worst gets the least amount of money. From 2011-2013, Red Bull received the most prize money from the FIA because they won the Constructors Championship. The Formula One Group has a budget of $800 million in prize money reserved to distribute to all teams. According to Autoweek Magazine, “Red Bull Racing's prize money payment increased from an estimated $86.5 million in 2011 to $94.2 million last year” (Sylt). Combining the prize money and the two large corporations sponsorship money, Red Bull have the highest budget cap in the 2014 season.

   Another asset that is given to the top teams is an extra bonus in cash just for showing up to the race. According to Red Bull’s Strategic Review of 2013, they stated, “Red Bull is committed to participating in Formula One for the foreseeable future having agreed terms with the commercial rights holder to sign up to a Concorde Agreement to 2020.” From this contract with the commercial rights holder, not only are they insured a position in F1 for 6 more years, but they are also receive a $160 million bonus each year. The money comes from the “CCB Fund,” a budget that is dedicated to paying Scuderia Ferrari, Mclaren F1, and Red Bull Racing an additional amount of money each year that they participate in the sport. The CCB Fund is valued in excess of $500 million a year. According to Christian Sylt and Caroline Reid (two renowned journalists that solely cover economics in F1) of Espn.co.uk, the money is distributed to the three teams by the following procedure, “The Team ranked first receiving 37% of the CCB Fund (with a minimum payment of US$37 million), the second Team receiving 33% of the CCB Fund (minimum US$33 million) and the third Team receiving 30% of the CCB Fund (minimum US$30 million)" (Sylt and Reid). The smaller teams get $0 for showing up. Is this right? These top teams get a huge advantage every single year over the smaller teams. I don’t believe this is right because it doesn’t make the competition fair. When one team has a higher budget they will have a better car, thus scoring more points and earning more money in the long run. Having a $160 million advantage is a huge difference, especially when the smallest team (Marussia F1) in F1 caps its budget at just $60 million. But the difference is even greater. Red Bull’s budget totals to $425 million, Marussia’s just $60 million. This budget difference equals to $365 million. A difference like this means the difference between first and last place. In 2013 Red Bull scored 596 points and Marussia scored 0, leaving Marussia dead last and Red Bull first.

Inside the Marussia factory in England.

Inside the Marussia factory in England.

   Red Bull used their advantage “wisely”, however. They spent upwards of $100 million dollars in engine and chassis research in 2013, more than Marussia even has to spend on every single part of their F1 racing budget. Additionally, Red Bull spent $13 million on hospitality all over the world for their big name sponsors, something Marussia could not afford to spend money on. Spending more in hospitality will give teams higher paying sponsors. Not only does Red Bull have enough money to do extensive research and treat their major sponsors, but they also have over two times the amount of employees as Marussia. According to a graph on infogram.com, Red bull has 710 employees and Marussia with a mere 200. With more workers, they can be more efficient, get a higher number of researchers, and higher quality engineers to work on the cars research and development.

   The current state of Formula 1 is not a great state. Smaller teams cannot compete with larger teams that monopolize the business and economy of F1. Thus, teams fall out of the sport leaving many people without jobs, drives, and fans find themselves lost, with no sense of direction in terms of who to support. When a team falls out of contention it is quite depressing to everybody involved with the sport. Money and budget caps must be more equal amongst all teams in the paddock. In an interview I conducted with Caroline Reid of Formula Money, F1’s economic monitor, she told me that the two teams that have become obsolete this year (Caterham and Marussia) were “told by the Formula One Group when they entered the sport in 2010 that all teams would have a budget cap of $60 million a year. This never happened. Instead, they have had to spend 2.5 times that to compete” (Caroline Reid). It was only a matter that they would eventually fall out of the sport with these conditions; it was inevitable to some extents.

   While Formula 1 is an immensely complicated sport, its economics run like a regular business. Set up like the capitalistic lifestyle in the US, F1 is set up with an upper class, middle class, and lower class of teams. The upper class of teams has higher budgets than the lower class teams, a simple principle that many of us can understand. An interesting interpretation about my research is how Bernie Ecclestone has made some very bad decisions in his tenure as Chief Executive of the Formula One Group. The way that he has distributed large sums of money in an unfair way has greatly contributed to the current economic problems today (especially since the recession of 2008-2009). These findings have confirmed my initial thoughts on Ecclestone’s decisions to fund teams. Ecclestone came out in a recent interview with BBC Sport and admitted, “There is too much money being distributed badly- probably my fault” stated Ecclestone. “I know what’s wrong, but don’t know how to fix it.”

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel celebrating his fourth championship with the team.

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel celebrating his fourth championship with the team.

   There is no definitive answer to the problem. There have been some plausible solutions brought to the forefront by various F1 experts, however, some of those ideas are unlikely to become true. One reform, however, must happen though. There must be new regulations and updates to the way CCB money is distributed. Also, the money that is given to teams in long-term contracts with Formula One Management must be significantly cut down, at least by half.

   Although I have researched extensively there are still many unanswered questions. While Ecclestone is the Chief Executive of the Formula One Group, how much power does he really have? Is he the only one that can make big decisions? Additionally, since F1 is for the fans, how much say do fans get when it comes to their sport?

   Formula 1 has always been about time. Who can go the fastest? But now, unfortunately, F1 is all about money. Who has the most money? This problem needs to be solved within the next several seasons if the sport wants to still be around in the coming years. The “World’s Most Glamorous Sport” may soon be unglamorous and non-existent.