Modern Formula 1 cars are very technically advanced. They are wheeled computers with an exhaust pipe. In the old days you had three pedals, a gear knob, a steering wheel, and no guarantees.
It was all about how the driver dealt with mechanical components. You could feel the track through the steering, you would know if the gearbox was broken because the knob would come off in your hand, and you would be able to identify an overheated engine because it would be engulfed in flames.
Alas no more – these problems no longer exist for all to see. Today, a cars’ problems are usually electronic. When someone breaks down today, it’s more likely they need their cache flushed, rather than their carburettor.
This is fine because F1 is all about technology, and we replaced John Logie Baird’s mechanical TV with Marconi’s cathode ray system because it was much better.
However, in order to identify what bit of electricity isn’t working on a modern F1 car you need a mind of such genius that even head-hunting at Cape Canaveral wouldn’t offer much return.
But that’s part of the new challenge, is it not?
When Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso all screamed at their pit walls over the radios during the European Grand Prix on Sunday, only to be told that FIA rules prevented the team from helping, we all smirked and thought “that’s how it should be.”
F1 has been trashed over the last 20 years by people claiming that it is boring. It isn’t. Sometimes we have boring races, just as sometimes there are boring football matches and boring cricket tests. But there are good races, be it over entire Grands Prix or personal battles lasting only a few laps.
However, what is constant is the accusation that the drivers have it easy compared to previous generations – and there is a degree of merit in that statement. Yes, it’s true that it is not easy to attract sponsors, and when you do you need to perform, so ensuring that your drivers have every reasonable means to perform to the maximum is only good business sense.
But the majority of us are ignorant to that – we don’t care where the money comes from or how hard it is to secure, we just want to see some racing. And having the pit wall literally tell the drivers what to do takes all the fun out of that.
If a driver isn’t taking a corner as fast as he could be, we don’t want him to be told, we want him to find that out for himself. If his ERS has packed up, let him drive the race of a hero against the odds.
Hamilton, Raikkonen and Alonso were all upset with the rules, with Hamilton even calling it ‘dangerous’ on account of his attention being focused on the steering wheel rather than the track. But that’s not fair, because it’s the same for everyone and the teams are allowed to warn drivers about issues that could compromise their safety.
The banning of pit-aid is welcome, and I don’t know about you, but I quite liked watching Hamilton scrabble around trying to press Ctrl+Alt+Delete and Raikkonen effing and blinding in frustration.
When Ayrton Senna was stuck in fifth gear in Brazil in 1991 did he shout over the radio asking for something to be done? No, he dealt with it (granted, there’s nothing that could have been done by the pit team at the time anyway, but you get the point).
These three world champions need not be so precious. To be a true great, work with what you’ve got. Instead of saying “it’s not fair” say “wow, I can’t believe I finished fifth in a donkey.”
That, folks, is what makes a hero.