Drivers start-of-season photograph, Albert Park, Melbourne, 2016

F1’s disillusioned drivers have found their voice

2016 F1 seasonPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

What is behind the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association’s extraordinary statement urging changes at the heart of F1 governance?

The letter published yesterday via their Twitter account did not specify exact grievances. In one sentence the drivers put everything on the table, criticising F1’s “rule changes – on both the sporting and technical side, and including some business directions”.

It’s tempting to interpret the statement very narrowly as a reaction against F1’s most recent blunder: the farce which was the first running of the new ‘elimination qualifying’ on the season’s opening day of competitive action last Saturday.

That this rule ever came to pass is a case study in F1’s leadership problems. It began with Bernie Ecclestone calling for some form of reverse grid system to be introduced. The teams successfully resisted that idea but agreed to a watered-down proposal which, conceived and introduced in haste, was never going to work and sure enough didn’t.

Several drivers voiced their objection to the plan before it was introduced. “I don’t think there’s a reason to change [qualifying]” said Sergio Perez during pre-season testing, foreshadowing the GPDA’s claim today that recent decisions “do not address the bigger issues our sport is facing”.

But GPDA president Alexander Wurz has indicated the announcement had been planned well before Saturday’s shambles. Dissatisfaction has been growing among the drivers for years. For some their grievances data back to the introduction of high-degradation tyres in 2011 and the slump in car performance it caused.

“As an F1 competitor, a purist and huge fan of the sport,” wrote Mark Webber in his autobiography after quitting F1 in 2013, “I wanted a category so far ahead of any other that the drivers are intimidated and respectful of driving cars on the limits.”

“We all felt the same, even Michael [Schumacher] on his comeback, but we couldn’t talk openly about not enjoying it as much. We would meet each other at the back of the trucks during pre-season testing and laugh about where the sport was going.”

At the beginning of year six of the ‘designed to degrade’ tyre era, have drivers finally had more than they can stand? Even Lewis Hamilton, who’s previously been wary of criticising F1, has spoken in recent days about his frustration with having to nurse his tyres among other objections.

Others are eyeing other racing series, as far possible within the confines of F1’s growing calendar. Nico Hulkenberg did two World Endurance Championship races last year and won the Le Mans 24 Hours. At least two other top drivers tried to find seats in the endurance classic contested by some of the fastest cars outside F1.

Why does the WEC now hold this appeal for some F1 racers? In their statement the drivers urged F1 to “remain a sport” and provide “a closely-fought competition between the best drivers in extraordinary machines on the coolest race tracks”. Which fits that brief better: nursing a set of soft tyres while jabbing a DRS button around Yas Marina, or pulling a triple-stint at night around the Circuit de la Sarthe?

It isn’t just tyre performance which the drivers are concerned about, but safety too. At Spa last year Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg suffered high-speed tyre failures without warning but afterwards were told to keep quiet about it.

There are other potential causes for the drivers’ dissatisfaction with F1. The rule-happy FIA has banned them from changing their helmets and FOM’s Neanderthal attitude to social media has barred them from sharing the sport with their fans.

But at heart they are drivers and what surely counts for most is that they are not enjoying driving and racing any more. Beloved tracks like Monza are under threat. Plans to overhaul the cars for next year are at an advanced stage, yet the people who will race them have not been consulted. A proposal to reduce lap times by increasing downforce was derided as “the worst idea” by Hamilton.

Wisely, the drivers topped and tailed their letter with declarations of their passion for Formula One. But this letter would never have been written if that passion wasn’t in jeopardy. The real danger that poses to their commitment is why they have taken this unprecedented step.

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70 comments on “F1’s disillusioned drivers have found their voice”

  1. Despite this qualifying may not change next race, it’s as if once the drivers spoke out the FIA cannot be seen to be being told what to do, so even if something is stupid they will continue with it rather than feel like they have been forced to do it. Reverse psychology needs to be implied everyone say everything is great and does not need changing and the FIA will then change it.

    1. sunny stivala
      24th March 2016, 14:04

      “what is behind the drivers?” Bernie with his divide to rule tactics, what else?

  2. One thing which raises a lot of alarm bells with me, is that plenty of drivers, be it ex-F1 or young drivers, are evaluating their options Stateside, when the state of IndyCar off the track is hardly healthy as it is. Whilst we have only seen a handful of drivers directly go from F1 to IndyCar in recent years, plenty from the GP3/GP2 ladder have ended up there or in the Mazda Road to Indy program. However sportscar racing is doing incredibly well at the moment, and it is simply a no-brainer when it comes to evaluating options in WEC, ELMS and IMSA right now. Did people see the amount of people at Sebring last weekend? It looked amazing, just as the racing was. I cannot wait to be by the track for the WEC at Silverstone in a couple of weeks.

    I think it is very healthy that the GPDA has a voice and that it is now choosing to express that voice. What is not healthy however is the lack of response I expect from the powers that be.

    1. Mark in Florida
      24th March 2016, 16:16

      Sebring was incredible this year despite the red flag rain and lightning delay. Pipo Derani was a revelation. The way he was passing cars in the hairpin was incredible. I immediately thought why isn’t this young man in F1? He helped the team win the Rolex 24 and now Sebring. I saw this guy and thought that this is what a driver looks like, wide open and taking skillful chances turn after turn.

      1. Looking at his career results he never really shone in the junior categories. However it would appear that as soon as he stepped in a sportscar (3rd place at Paul Ricard on his ELMS debut), he was right at home. He really came of age last year, driving the second G-Drive LMP2 in the WEC. Thankfully, he’s in the same category this season with ESM.

  3. Well, speaking about obsolete governance, F1 mods for sim racing games are being removed from RaceDepartment. You may guess who are to blame for that. That’s just a whole new level of stupidity.

    1. @albedo, I’m not sure where you got that information, but as far as I am aware that particular website has not removed any of their mods of F1 cars recently. It is true that the FIA has targeted some modding websites over F1 mods, but they have been fairly lenient compared to what Porsche did to some modders who produced a mod of their Carrera Cup series.

      1. It has happened but just to certain mods in the Automobilista. If you look at the Automobilista section there is a thread with all the F1 2002, 2016 and 2001 that have been deleted. Strangely there are probably hundreds of F1 mods for other games on RaceDepartment that are not affected. The whole thing is very strange.

  4. Without a new concorde agreement in place, what is stopping the teams from simply not showing up for a weekend? I bet if they just agreed to stay away from Yas Marina for a full weekend, things would start moving.

  5. Looking at the picture with the drivers; 4 gray and 5 white teams; just a touch of red and yellow; we need more colors!

    1. still better than LMP1 lol

    2. Red Bull, Torro Rosso, Sauber = Blue
      McLaren = Black
      Renault = Yellow
      Haas, Mercedes, Force India – Grey
      Ferrari, Manor = Red
      Williams = White

      Where are the 5 white teams there is 1 white team? There are 3 grey teams, blue is just as popular?

      1. As @ianbond001 said in his post, look at the picture with the drivers… The teams’ primary colors on their uniforms are nearly all white or grey, except for Ferrari and Renault. I agree the uniforms’ colors are boring. The car liveries aren’t much better.

    3. Looking at this picture, does Kimi even show up for it, or do they just copy-paste him from an older one? :)

    4. jsw11984 (@jarred-walmsley)
      25th March 2016, 2:48

      There’s a reason why the suits are white, better insulating properties. Helps to keep the driver cooler.

      1. @jarred-walmsley: it’s not working; the coolest are the Ferrari and the Toro Rosso drivers.

  6. The saddest part about the GPDA statement is that no one in FOM has read it because it was released on Twitter.

    1. I laughed at that. Although I see Bernie has responded, agreeing with the drivers and asking them to go away and think about for their “solutions”. Sounds ominous to me. He also had a go at their grammar as well. Blimey!

      1. Sorry for my grammar. ;-)
        I meant “go away and think about what their “solutions” would be.” Doh!

      2. Yes – Bernie’s response is basically a high-falutin’ version of the “shut up and drive” response the NASCAR drivers got a few years ago.

      3. I worry the outcome.

      4. The drivers thought about and stated their solutions last year. Solutions were given by the other fan survey done at the same time. Bernie and the other powers-that-be didn’t care. That says to me that they don’t want solutions.

    2. Hahaha, comment of the day. :D

  7. Hahaha just reading Bernie’s reply.

  8. Please provide a link to Bernie’s reply

  9. David Hunter
    24th March 2016, 14:45

    It’s frustrating that even in this short article, you get to the heart of ALL the problems. Boring circuits, boring racing, strange decisions in terms of where the sport goes and what it’s about (managing tyres versus racing to the limit), FOM’s absolutely backwards view towards social media and the internet age in general. It’s a super clamped down “sport” that is more like a gimmick laden PR fest done for a handful of rich sponsors and middle eastern Royal regimes, rather than a sport made by and for the people to enjoy.

    The thing needs to implode and something new needs to take it’s place, and all the teams and/or drivers need to leave and just do it. A couple of years of awkwardness and then a new, proper F1 can perhaps emerge. Seems unlikely FOM etc will never change until it’s too late.

    1. The thing needs to implode and something new needs to take it’s place, and all the teams and/or drivers need to leave and just do it.

      It seems to me there a big space opening up in the motorsports market:

      Free to air TV
      Modern media
      Follow-able aero
      1000 bhp
      F1-esque laptimes
      Low-profile Michelins
      No DRS
      Races where crowds want to watch
      Non-FIA governance

      Not sure about ownership. Could shares be owned only by tracks? Though it would need Merc+Ferrari+Renault+Honda to make it happen probably.

      1. @lockup The series you want with the stuff you have listed (and much more!) already exists. It’s called the World Endurance Championship. Okay, the FIA does have some sort of impact, but the ACO does most of the legwork.

        1. Yeah I know what you mean @craig-o, they need shorter races tho!

          1. @lockup ‘Endurance’ though…

          2. Exactly @xtwl, that’s why it needs a new series.

          3. @lockup But that’s not what LMP1s are built for. Every stint of each driver is a mini-sprint race. If you simply want sublime GT racing watch the Blanchpain or the IMSA series. There is little interest in a sprint race with LMP1 cars as that would just be F1…

          4. I’m not talking about what LMP1’s are built for @xtwl, that was @craig-o‘s thought in response to my list of market opportunities that FOM is leaving vacant in the 300km elite single-seater arena.

            The endurance aspect was just my glib response, but WEC is a different market.

          5. Yeah I do agree with that @lockup and it can be quite difficult to get into endurance racing because of the sheer vastness of the regulations and how different the rules are either side of the Atlantic. But as @xtwl mentions, Blancpain and IMSA both do an excellent job by hosting both sprint and endurance races in its programme. A LMP1 sprint series would be absolutely epic, especially if they got a BOP right for it. One can dream…

  10. I feel that Formula 1 is sort of teetering on the edge of a cliff. For all its ills, I believe there’s one big reason why we fans keep coming back, and that’s because it is still the pinnacle of motorsport. It’s where all the best drivers are, and it’s where all aspiring youngsters want to be.

    But the opinions of the drivers worry me. We’ve heard Ricciardo and Hamilton openly declare their desire to race in NASCAR, and we’ve heard Alonso (among others) endlessly reiterate his desire to do Le Mans. What happens when the best drivers no longer want to race in Formula 1? Seriously, what else has Formula 1 got to offer us other than the promise of the world’s best drivers doing battle? Formula 1 needs these top drivers more than absolutely anything. And I feel the only reason Fernando, Sebastian, and Lewis haven’t given up yet is the same reason as me; because we know how great Formula 1 can be, and we hope that fragile tyres, DRS, and Tilkedromes are just a phase. But with every passing day, it looks more and more likely that Formula 1 will never go back to being what it was. And once the drivers realise it, F1 is finished.

    1. I’ve actually read a rumor the Raikkonen might actually race in NASCAR next year driving for Haas.

      1. Well he did do a bit of NASCAR in 2011, so a rumour like that is not entirely out of left field.

    2. I find kind of the opposite. With every passing day it seems like a movement is growing for positive change, TV decision in the UK aside, and I am glad to hear the drivers speaking out. Change was already coming for 2017, so here’s hoping for the best. Easy to be cynical I know, but it feels like change is happening, or at least at a minimum F1 has a golden opportunity to take the input they are getting as things seem to be coming to a head, and tweak things for the better. As you say, let’s keep up the hope for now, now that the drivers have taken their recent action.

  11. There are mutterings that Alex Wurz may well be planning a run against Jean Todt at the next FIA presidential elections.

    1. Istr Todt said he’d only do one stint as pres. As it is, only the incumbent can win, the way FIA is structured. Alex would be good though.

    2. Oh dear god PLEASE say it is really so. And then we just need to get rid of Bernie.

    3. When I read this all I could think of is Wurz trying to steer his Benetton with two busted wheels out of the darkness of the Monaco tunnel in 98.
      What an analogy!

  12. The problem with F1 is that everybody runs it but nobody takes the blame.
    Drivers complain, teams complain, Bernie complains, fans complain but I wonder who is responsible for fixing this mess (or who got F1 in this mess in the first place). The F1 structure seems to be completely messed up with a lot of entities having a lot of power. If anything has to change, it is this structure. Having said that, nobody will agree to relinquishing power and control over F1 rule-making so I guess we are stuck with this for a while.

    1. Max Mosley got us into this mess by making the FIA more interventionalist and by deciding the answer to the EU investigation resulting in the Nice Agreement was to sell commercial rights to Bernie for a fraction of their true value for (initially) 100 years, but as he only talks about safety and privacy these days, he doesn’t get given the blame often, and as he wouldn’t be in a position to fix the mess even if he was willing, nobody is calling for him to return.

      Bernie could fix this if he wanted to. The FIA could fix this if they wanted to. The larger teams, acting in concert, could fix this if they wanted to. The trouble is that for different reasons, none of them wants to fix the actual problems, but has motive for doing things that (for different reasons) simply cause more.

    2. Also, the drivers can’t fix it but appear to be the only ones willing to make a serious effort to save F1, out of those who could plausibly be stated to have any power in the situation at all.

  13. Mr. Ecclestone’s reply to this letter says it all. He mistakes his own deep cynicism for humour. What a cad.

  14. Michael Brown
    24th March 2016, 16:32

    Why are fans choosing WEC over F1? Because WEC offers what F1 no longer does.

    1. Although WEC is very good their audience is tiny next to F1. You can go to Silverstone in a few weeks and walk freely without the fences being 6 deep. LMP1 has a reduced field at LeMans with 2 entries instead of 3 for the biggest teams and Nissan pulled out. WEC does many things right but it is a small series that is if anything smaller this year than last.

      1. FlyingLobster27
        24th March 2016, 16:55

        I don’t think the audience will get smaller. If anything, Le Mans is expected to be more exciting this year, or at least more open, precisely because no team in P1 is going with 3 cars. Each problem will certainly see another manufacturer benefit, unlike last year where Toyota had to count on three big breakdowns to have a shot at the podium. It’s a pity that the spec-locking system is more severe in P1 than in F1, because Toyota might as well have taken a sabbatical… I think they kind of did, because their 2016 power unit is very different to 2015’s (twin turbo V6 + batteries instead of n/a V8 + condensators). The cars have been unveiled for the Paul Ricard Prologue this weekend.
        The audience is smaller, yes, and the field per class is small. But if everyone’s got it right, each class should be highly competitive. I’m looking forward to the first few rounds, and am considering going to Le Mans.

      2. markp, it’s also worth remembering that the WEC LMP1 field has shrunk rather than grown over time, thanks to the fact that the ACO has killed off the privateers within that class. When the series was inaugurated in 2012, there were seven different entrants (five privateer entrants and two manufacturer entrants) – there are only five entrants for 2016 (three manufacturer and two privateers), with the likelihood that 2017 will see that fall to four entrants at best.

        It is true that the European Le Mans Series has seen an increase in entrants, but most of those new entrants are participants in the standard spec LMP3 category – so whilst you are seeing more entrants, you are not seeing much of an increase in diversity.

      3. The audience for WEC has been growing, though not as fast as in previous years. It would be nice if the FIA interfered less with the ACO…

    2. No gimicks, just going for it, pure racing.

    3. If WEC ran a series with 2 hour races and stuck it on free to air TV, I think it would take over F1.

  15. I notice that they have now decided to leave elimination qualifying unchanged for Bahrain.

    1. Unchanged ? how ?

      1. Sorry, missed the word “elimination”.

  16. It’s been a while since I’ve commented on here. But I’ve been following the saga so to speak. It’s such a shame that the sport is now in this condition. Looks like the qualifying won’t be changed even after such a poor show in Q3. Does Bernie want to take his chances and see if he gets a lucky ‘exciting’ session and then use that to justify his useless system? F1 has had a lot of lows in the past but I’m guessing we are heading for new level of low and the worst thing is that it’s not in the hands of the fans or the drivers who are, as the GPDA letter puts it, one of the most important facets of f1, to fix this mess.

  17. A previous comment from a Daniel was bang on. The team owners and principles need to have a locked doors meeting and say we re not putting any cars out on track for P1 of a weekend . Still no change leave em in the garage for P1 and P2. Still no change get boys to do 20 mph qualifying laps….I’m sure Bernie won’t have a smart ass comment for that.

  18. I really don’t know…. It’s just so easy to blame Bernie and the FIA, but it seems way more complex than that. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that (some of) the teams have them both over a barrel. If they try to loosen things up a bit to establish a more level playing field, Ferrari or Red Bull threaten to leave the sport. Because of this, there’s a massive gridlock caused by corporate selfishness. The drivers are frustrated, so they want to point a finger at someone, and it ends up being ‘F1 leadership’, because they’d probably be in serious hot water if they went against the people who let them drive their cars. What a huge mess. But if we keep oversimplifying but just saying ‘ah, it’s entirely Bernie’s fault’ all the time, then what? A new leader who won’t be able to stand up to the teams at all? I don’t know of any other sport where the teams are allowed to push their weight around to set the rules and regulations. Sorry for the essay, lol!

  19. The governance of F1 can only be changed by the governance of F1.
    The drivers want it to change.
    The fans want it to change.
    Many who work in F1 want it to change.
    Many who report on F1 want it to change.
    Many of the track owners and promoters would like it to change.
    Many of the F1 broadcasters would like it to change.
    Who does not want the governance of F1 to change?
    The governance of F1 can only be changed by the governance of F1.
    They obviously do not want it to change.

    Sad that Bernie’s response dealt more with semantics rather than content and intent. He says he agrees with the drivers, then warns them essentially to be careful what they wish for. It is clear Bernie’s ideas for change are not what the drivers or anyone else is calling for.

    Now we are headed for the farcical comedy of qualifying Chapter 2. You can’t make this stuff up. As a wise man said long ago, truth is stranger than fiction.

  20. Well writen Keith.

    Drivers are organising a formal complaint after 6 years of unformal protests.

    Changes nothing really. F1 will need a small revolution for any worthwhile change.

    WEC did that few years ago, look at them now.

  21. In short: Old Man Godfather Bernie and his gang of Gangsters/bussinesman are killing Formula 1. Fact.
    Good fot the driver´s letter.

  22. What is so sad about F1 is that the people who are directly involved in the sport do not understand not just F1- but motor racing of any kind, and most people who follow F1 do understand it better than anyone else. The entity who is absolutely the core of all of F1’s problems is CVC.

    CVC is run by a bunch of business people/accountants who only care about the financial results at the end of the day- and that is the one thing that matters above all else. Unfortunately, F1 is not an entity that can be run that way. You can run certain businesses that way- particuarly ones that involves selling actual products for affordable prices (like any cheap item at your local store) – but not F1. CVC does not care about F1- and the quicker they sell the sport to a group of people who either care about the sport or selling it back to a bank or something- F1 will never get better. It is as simple as that. Also- the moment Bernie Ecclestone is no longer able to run the sport and someone else does- hopefully someone who has been involved in F1 and/or is a fan of F1 should run the sport.

    In my opinion, the only way for F1 to actually get any better is drastic action- to attempt something that nearly happened in the early 80’s- for the specialist teams (any team that isn’t Ferrari, Mercedes or Renault) to contract a specific manufacturer such as Cosworth to make an engine for all of them to buy, break off from F1 and the FIA and form their own series with their own regulations- and plan all of this over a 5 year period. Believe me- if I ran F1, I would do that.

    1. And McLaren and Williams could sell the teams gearboxes as well.

    2. Also- do you know what would really improve F1? Here are some examples:

      A tire war: Allow tire makers like Bridgestone, Michelin, Goodyear/Dunlop and Hankook to also enter F1, not just Pirelli.
      Different types of engines in this current 1.6L hybrid formula: not just 90 degree V6’s, but 4, 5, 6 and 8 cylinder engines in any configuration, or a 3-rotor engine.
      Car regs: Lower cars, fatter tires and aerodynamic regulations that only allow up to half of the car’s cornering performance to come from downforce.
      Calendar: Bahrain would immediately be removed from the calendar, as would Malaysia, China, and Russia, and races in Argentina, South Africa (if possible), Finland, New York City/New Jersey and France (held at Ricard) (alternating with Austria) would be included. A South American double-header would start the season with Australia holding the final round.
      Circuit design: Abu Dhabi would be entirely redesigned to make it a 150 mph+ average speed circuit, and Singapore would be redesigned as well.

      Cheap fixes like reverse grids will only cause calamity, obviously. Enough with the cheap fixes already…

  23. Apart from qualifying, last week’s race showed that F1 in terms of racing was in pretty good shape for 2016.

    I think what the drivers are doing is trying to get a head of the game a little and have the rule makers focus on getting a coherent and sensible set of rules together for 2017.

    So far the 2017 rule to me see like “more of the same” but with more aero which means we’re just going to see a procession of cars going a bit faster than this year. That is what the drivers are focussed on – so many good ideas and opportunities seemingly thrown aside in this great rush to get the 2017 rules out together.

    If we could get rid of all of the vested interest compromises and have a single body bring down something sensible and workable things might improve but I’m not holding my breath and doubt the drivers are either.

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