The remains of a bygone era are more than evident around the historical Monza circuit. With this weeks ruling in the FIA World Motor Sport Council, there were signs that Formula 1’s efforts to enter a world of sporting modernity could possibly come to a halt come end of season re-consideration on the ethereal grey area that is team orders.
Ferrari, a team usually a law unto themselves, went some way to redefining one of the principal rules that they themselves were responsible for initiating back in 2002. The punitive $100,000 punishment for their indiscretions at Hockenheim amount to little more than a slap on the wrist while being seemingly left again to their own devices.
The purpose of convening an FIA hearing to address the matter is for the FIA alone to know. Given the chances of the situation reaching an impasse being as low as Mark Webbers bookie odds, it’s reasonable to assume that both Ferrari and the FIA’s legal team clearly fancying a day out in Paris.
Karun Chandok – while of the opinion that team orders will always have a place in Formula 1 – would do well to assess his own place amongst a field of more single-minded competitors. Team orders have been there since the Fifties, but the Fifties were just that: fifty years ago. The requirements of the fans have changed, as have the pre-requisites of a top-line driver. Given his now customary position in the race commentary box rather than a race seat, it can be said that such gentlemanly conduct reaches little in the way of rewards.
These issues juxtapose quite awkwardly with the level of technically visionary thinking required to play any part in the future. Man builds the machine and it is essential that he stops thinking like one. As I’ve mentioned before, allowing for teams to create a level of driver hierarchy is one thing, asking drivers who have made sacrifices to get to F1 only to play second fiddle is another.
Filipe Massa may not be the best example for the latter. Mark Webber on the other hand is. Had he simply bowed to the seemingly common belief that his position as a Number 2 was written in stone, he would not be sitting in a position to potentially win his first world title. He is symptomatic of a new breed of driver that has come too far to settle for even numbers.
McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh made an interesting point in the week regarding Formula 1’s current inability to market itself to new audiences. He noted that while the F1 has much to offer, it really does need to get its act together in more ways than one, and that includes addressing an identity crisis that threatens to sully its credibility as a genuine sporting contest.
Any successful marketer will tell you that to maximise the potential of a product you have to clearly define it. A clear definition of what Formula 1 is or trying to be, seems absent from the CVC business plan.
It’s telling that the most thorough surveys to gage the feelings of the fan base have come from the likes of banks and mobile phone manufacturers. As valid as those surveys are from a data perspective, there has to be desire on the behalf of F1 as a whole to not only ask questions but to listen to answers. Better still, to put some of that feedback to good use.
Successful marketing works on the basic premise of a ‘brand’ knowing its own strengths and weaknesses, not to mention the motivations and desires of their customers. Formula 1 as a brand continues to fail at achieving both. Bernie Ecclestone’s often-wavering position continues to depend on which way the financial breeze blows. With Eccelstone at the helm, there seems a questionable intent on growing the brand while keeping eyes firmly on the ground.
With Ferrari’s encouragement, Fernando Alonso’s all out desire to win finds him more than willing to place his head in the sand. A year from the last visit to Monza finds Alonso once again embroiled in race tampering of which he apparently knew nothing. As an enigma Alonso surely ranks second to none – as highlighted in today’s superb qualifying performance. His will to win uneasily juxtaposes a perceived right to entitlement. Perhaps such an intriguing combination is emblematic of a sport not always known historically for its meritocratic leanings.
Despite these criticisms, Alonso retains a very marketable appeal as a love-hate figure. Human characters are one thing; the consistently competitive character of Formula 1 racing is another. That alone is what will continue to not only draw people in, but also keep them on the edge of their seats. Swapping seats half way through a race just doesn’t seem like so much fun.