The cure for Formula 1's doom-mongers

Formula 1 continues to face pressure to raise its game amid talk of crisis. But the sport is not in the huge trouble many suggest, argues Jonathan Noble.

You would have thought that the fresh mountain air around the Red Bull Ring would have acted as a bit of a reviver for Formula 1 paddock folk as the grand prix circus returned to Europe.

But it proved to be anything but, as conversations up and down the pitlane in the Austrian Grand Prix turned out to have fairly depressing undertones.

"What a mess..." was a common assessment of the situation F1 found itself in.

Time and again, talk was of how a perfect storm of fuel saving, conservative tyres, boring racing, one-team domination, too much pit wall influence, out of control costs, an engine freeze and restrictive rules and left the sport staring into the abyss.

Worse than that was that there seemed to be no answer for a cure to the ills. F1's inept Strategy Group, Bernie Ecclestone's focus on money and Jean Todt's unwillingness to stand up and take the teams on has left the sport in a holding pattern with no way out.

By the time Red Bull's in-house promotional magazine the Red Bulletin – once a power-house in lifting spirits through its love of everything in the paddock – asked 'What's wrong with F1?' in its heavily agenda-driver issue on Friday, I'd had enough.

So as F1 folk kept talking themselves into ever more depressing circles, I headed out of the paddock gates for the in-field road that runs up to the back of the Red Bull Ring.

There, it goes through a tunnel to drop underneath the straight to the penultimate corner, where you can head trackside at one of the calendar's more stunning sections of asphalt.

There, perched high on a grass bank with only a few marshals and photographers in view, I was delivered the perfect antidote to all the negativity that was bubbling away a few hundred metres away in the motorhomes down in the paddock.

For Turn 8 is a truly stunning place to watch F1 cars. As they blast in to view after the preceding high speed flick, they are pretty maxed out as they face a near roller-coaster ride to pick the best braking point and entry line to hit the apex - made much trickier as the circuit falls away in preparation for the final turn.

Although there were clear differences between the cars – with Mercedes looking so mighty as they could get back on the power much earlier than everyone else – every driver seemed to face a journey into the unknown whenever they went through there.

For however precise the turn in to the apex was, when the circuit fell away and the front tyres began to bite, it all became a bit loose at the rear – forcing a pretty tough balancing act for the men behind the wheel.

It was stunning to watch.

As Nico Rosberg told me later: "This track in general is very, very challenging. You need to attack to be quick, and the car gets very nervous on the rear at those final two corners. The rear wants to step it when the track drops away, which is tough."

Getting so close to a corner like that put a lie to the argument that F1's drivers are not being challenged any more – as you could see clear differences between those men who were nailing it and those who were having a less successful time.

Max Verstappen was 100 per cent committed and you could sense his confidence in the upgraded Toro Rosso as he turned in sharply, gunned the kerb on the apex and then powered his way out down the hill.

Pastor Maldonado every time through would desperately try to overcome the understeer on the way in, hoping beyond hope that the front tyres would deliver the grip needed for a quick lap time.

And then there were the times when things did not hook up. Kimi Raikkonen had a moment when the rear began to step out just past the apex, and that momentary hesitation in commitment, with the tiniest of corrections, was enough to wash him out wide and then mess up the final turn too.

Every time through the cars would behave slightly differently, putting the onus fully on the driver to sort it out and not face their lap being ruined at the last hurdle.

The cars sounded great too, as the louder, throatier engines this year made an impact, and even meant that the ear plugs that have been firmly left in pockets so far may need to come out soon.

No disaster zone

Watching trackside served as a reminder that F1 is not in the huge trouble that some are suggesting. Yes there are wider issues that need sorting – and some more exciting Sunday action definitely would not go amiss – but grand prix racing is not in a disaster zone.

Perhaps the real issue is that there seems to be a disconnect between what is going on out on track and what the perception of the sport is for the many fans who watch at home.

It is difficult to appreciate just how great the F1 cars look up close and at speed from camera angles that are deliberately wide-angled for maximum trackside sponsor exposure.

It is hard for fans to understand how on-the-edge the cars are when all they hear are radio messages telling drivers to 'lift and coast' and save the brakes.

How too can anyone not lucky enough to be trackside appreciate the positives when all the messages coming out of the paddock are the negative ones being spun up by Dietrich Mateschitz and Bernie Ecclestone?

F1 as a product is definitely not broken. It just needs a bit of polish and a few more people willing to stand up for it.

And finding such positive recruits would be made easier if more people headed out of the paddock and got their senses assaulted by the current F1 cars.

Becketts at Silverstone anyone?

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Event Austrian GP
Track Red Bull Ring
Article type Analysis