What can be said about today’s Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix? To be honest, I could barely get through the thing.
There’s been endless talk over “the show” that Formula 1 and the FIA are putting in front of fans on race day. At best, it’s a technical exercise where manufacturers can strut their stuff and fan favorite Lewis Hamilton can cruise his way to uncontested victories. At worst, it’s a case of mistaken identities and a fanbase who views the sport with rose-tinted glasses, only too quick to hark back to Hunt-Lauda or Prost-Senna as McLaren barely manage to finish races in 2015. The reality is Formula 1 lies somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, but if things carry on as they have, the circus will continue to lose its place of relevance on motorsport’s biggest stage. Today’s Chinese Grand Prix didn’t exactly help matters and as the cars rolled through the finish behind the safety car, the over-bloated, over-funded F1 machine was hoping you had not decided to change the channel already.
For American fans, NBCSN’s coverage offers absolutely nothing at this point. We’re well aware that Will Buxton and Steve Matchett have plenty to offer from their extensive databases of Formula 1 knowledge but the network’s decision to repress that knowledge has left us with cringeworthy impersonations of Sherlock Holmes from David Hobbs and Leigh Diffey flapping on about the weather and the divorce of Max Verstappen’s parents – honestly Leigh, who the hell cares? With NBC’s deep pockets, you would think they could employ the very best commentators Formula 1 has to offer in a bid to really sell it to an emerging American audience. Instead it’s SPEED’s coverage with a new coat of paint and Diffey turned up to 11.
Mercedes were back to form this weekend with Hamilton and Nico Rosberg leading qualifying and the German missing pole by just 0.4 seconds. From Rosberg’s point of view things have to be unbelievably frustrating as the team continue to favor Hamilton. For everyone else it’s clear that Rosberg just doesn’t have the same elite skills that Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso possess. Today was an easy win for Hamilton who lead Rosberg by 5 seconds for most of the race.
Ferrari looked strong on the back of a surprise Malaysian Grand Prix win 2 weeks ago. Kimi Raikkonen mucked up in qualifying again on Saturday but had the pace all race long. His transmissions about the woeful McLarens made for some of the few high points of Sunday’s race. Vettel meanwhile looked strong in qualifying and put the pressure on Rosberg. It will be very interesting to see how the Ferraris do at the slower, tighter European tracks.
Williams rounded out the top 6 with Felipe Massa still having the advantage over teammate Valtteri Bottas. Elsewhere on the field it was a mixed bag of reliability issues, driver errors and more Pastor Maldonado acting as a human chicane for Jenson Button in the McLaren.
It really is shocking that Honda have botched this Formula 1 return quite so badly. Has Ron Dennis completely given up on finding a title sponsor and showing us all that “new” livery? Where is all that 650S money going?
The true embarrassment of today however was the utter incompetence of the trackside marshals, attempting to return Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso to pit lane, after the car’s Renault engine blew. To the delight of perhaps Red Bull alone, the stranded car resulted in the safety car being deployed with 3 laps to go and one of the most chaotic and dimwitted displays the sold out crowd has likely seen, as the marshals managed to inflict as much damage to the Toro Rosso as possible while performing a 1000-point turn getting it into pit lane. Could this display support an argument about the much larger problem of flyaway races to countries with no motorsports pedigree? Absolutely. But all of these marshals should have been briefed and trained so there are really no excuses. If anyone wants to argue that point, I urge you to watch the Monaco Grand Prix and see how long it takes them to remove a car from track. With the safety car in a lap sooner, we could have been treated to one of the most exciting finishes in years.
Formula 1 feels like a bad remake right now. The set pieces are certainly more spectacular, but any semblance of a plot is difficult to find and the cast really isn’t that good. As long as it makes money at the box office, it’s done the job. The cynic in me says the show’s over and once we wrap up the Hamilton-Vettel era, Formula 1 will well and truly be done. The optimist in me says I’ll look back on all of this with fond memories as we all do with seasons gone by. Ultimately if Formula 1 has any chance of surviving this rut, it really needs to figure out what it is and what it ultimately wants to become because the rest of us are packing our bags.
Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.