By Bob Constanduros
Last Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix was noteworthy for everything but the race itself. That was won and lost in the first 20 seconds or so; in it, Lewis Hamilton’s championship lead was trimmed to just two points after a perfect drive from Nico Rosberg and a not-quite-so-perfect drive from Lewis Hamilton. As is becoming too frequent, he was fighting from a disadvantaged position having dominated Rosberg by a remarkable margin throughout qualifying. There are officially eleven corners at Monza of which five are pretty tight, so to pull out the kind of advantages Lewis had was pretty remarkable.
Ferrari were on the rostrum which at least pleased the Italian fans. Williams looked slightly better and re-took fourth in the championship from Force India. And that was pretty much it. I sometimes look at race results when someone has started 13th, spent nearly two hours flogging their guts out, racing as hard as they can and finishing 13th, and wonder how little satisfaction they must get from that. Particularly when they’ve flown halfway round the world to do it. This year’s Italian Grand Prix was one of those races.
But maybe we should have expected it, and should expect more of the same. Actually we’ve had some pretty good races this year, this was the first bad one. But a former Grand Prix driver who had better remain nameless said that he went out on the circuit to watch and he said ‘absolutely nothing happened. You’ve got the best racing cars in the world, driven by the best drivers on a billiard-smooth surface, and even though they’re running low downforce here, they are still rock solid.
‘And we’d better get used to it. Next year, thanks to the change of regulations, they are going to be even more stable with the wider tyres, overtaking will be even more difficult as they will have even more downforce. The new regulations won’t make things any better, they’ll make things worse.’
This, then, is what F1’s new majority owners are buying into when the deal is done. Those of us in F1 will welcome them, they will be a breath of fresh air, seeking to make F1 popular with a younger audience, particularly in the USA, with a modern media-led marketing approach which will appeal commercially to the public and therefore to sponsors.
It won’t be the awful commercial cash-cow that CVC have milked since they came in in 2005. They are massively unpopular for that approach, taking all the money out of the sport that they can and making billions. But they know they’re unpopular. I have some friends who know a man from CVC; it has been suggested that we meet, but the suggestion has never been reciprocated. I’m quite glad, really.
But I do worry about these new regulations, devised, I seem to remember, by the strategy group. Everyone’s been having doubts about them, but it’s too late to go back now. And I think rumours of Bernie’s departure have been greatly exaggerated. It would be a complete waste not to tap into his knowledge and background. He is still the mayor of Planet F1, he has all the contacts and a remarkable knack for knowing the right moves at the right time.
Take last weekend; much was made of a new deal for Monza, admittedly only for three years. New deal signed; well, not actually, because there’s a pending law suit from Imola who presumably think they’ve been promised something, so nothing could actually be signed. It should be settled in October but in the meantime that’s temporarily on hold.
But Formula One is changing anyway. It’s long overdue that some of the old guard moved on, although I’m not pointing the finger at any individuals. It’s always a brave move to decide that enough is enough, so I congratulated Felipe Massa on making his retirement decision, and I hope he was buoyed by the genuine outflow of respect and affection that came his way on his decision. Jenson Button’s plans are interesting. I often think that he must have rued the day that he listened to the fans who told him to stay at McLaren. He’s had a pretty rotten time since then, although that must be countered by his bank balance going the other way. Now he gets the time off that he’s been missing in order to consider his future; Ron Dennis has neatly made sure that no other team gets him and benefits from his experience, however.
So we lose two of the old guard, at least for a year, and in come the youngsters to join the others. Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon, Carlos Sainz, Stoffel Vandoorne even Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer (if they survive any Renault purge) plus Pierre Gasly and maybe Charles Leclerc and Lance Stroll are the future that the F1’s new owners are buying into.
They may, too, be encouraged that the World Champion is so busy marketing himself in the USA. After a day at the factory, trying to get his starts right again, he’s flying to the States for New York fashion week which no doubt will get him on the front pages and again increase F1’s profile in the USA, already on the up thanks to the Haas F1 team.
This is a game-changing era, one that we have waited for for many years. We’re hoping that it’s an encouraging move forward, that Formula One can move forward and that promotion and marketing can make it a success again. It’s the right way to go and it will be interesting to see what effect it has on the governing body as well. In the meantime, seven races to go and a duel between two very different drivers with differing talents racing for the same team. Bring it on.