Time for F1 bosses, FIA to bite the bullet

Chase Carey, Ross Brawn and the FIA need to really be aggressive and take a leap of faith with the 2021 rules to shake up the sport.

Lewis Hamilton (left) obviously stamped his authority on the French Grand Prix. Valtteri Bottas had absolutely no response to his teammate and that title challenge seems to be waning now.   -  AFP

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the French Grand Prix was one of the dullest races I’ve seen in a while. Apart from a bit of excitement on the final lap in the midfield, not a lot really happened. The fact that Lewis Hamilton set his fastest lap of the race on the final lap with 29-lap-old hard tyres and was only two-hundredths slower than Sebastian Vettel’s own fastest lap with a new set of soft tyres showed just how dominant Mercedes were over the weekend in France.

I actually stayed away from France to have a weekend at home with my family. I was hoping for a nice quiet time, but then my phone and Twitter feed went a bit crazy on the Friday before the race because Ferrari had apparently submitted my analysis of the Vettel-Hamilton incident from Montreal as part of their evidence to the FIA for their appeal.

I knew nothing about it, and I was in fact in the middle of a shoot for the new season of ‘5th Gear’ when my phone started buzzing non-stop. While I was of course flattered to hear that a team as big and great as Ferrari felt that my analysis was worth including in their appeal submission, it also seemed confusing to me that they chose to do so.

The FIA was right to disregard this bit of analysis in the appeal because there’s no way that a third party’s opinion, especially someone who’s working as a TV broadcaster, would count as factual evidence. Anyway, judging by the text messages I got, the whole thing proved to be the cause of much entertainment among my friends in the paddock over the weekend!

READ | Boring French Grand Prix should accelerate rule changes

Back to the French GP... It was interesting to hear Lewis’ comments after the race about not blaming the drivers and actually looking at the rule makers for the reasons the races are dull. He’s right of course and today’s grand prix showed just why Chase Carey, Ross Brawn and the FIA need to really be aggressive and take a leap of faith with the 2021 rules to shake up the sport.

The momentum Mercedes have built up is not their fault — in fact, full credit to them for their amazing achievements since 2014. Ferrari and Red Bull have underachieved for a variety of reasons in recent years, but that’s just one of several reasons why the racing isn’t as close as we would like. The gap in financial income between the top and bottom teams has created a real haves and have-nots situation.

The increase in dependence on aerodynamics for performance means that drivers cannot follow each other closely. The change to the thinner gauge tyre this year seems to have favoured Mercedes because there were occasions last year where they were overheating the tyres when compared to Ferrari and this isn’t an issue any more. But you already know all these things. While we all wait to see if indeed the F1 bosses and the FIA bite the bullet to make the sweeping changes we want to see for 2021, there are some simple things that they could perhaps do now to try and help things.

For example, make a small change to the regulations to say that every driver must use all three types of tyres during the grand prix. It’s a simple one-line regulation change that would at least push people to making a two-stop race and therefore create some variation in strategy. Pirelli carries the three compounds to races anyway, so it won’t be a major issue to change that.

While most circuits are fixed with their layouts, actually Paul Ricard is one where we could see some changes because of the 160 options available. For a start, I do think that if we got rid of the chicane on the back straight and also did the tight right-hander immediately after Signes, we would then see some more overtaking and also some mega slipstreaming, like we get in Baku. The long double apex Le Beausset corner is a great challenge for the driver, but is a nightmare for anyone following closely behind.

READ | ‘Don’t blame me for boring races,’ says Hamilton after another F1 procession

Lewis obviously stamped his authority on the race. Valtteri Bottas had absolutely no response to his teammate and that title challenge seems to be waning now. Vettel had a pretty miserable weekend and it was left to Charles Leclerc to rack up a podium, just a couple of hours away from his home in Monaco. Max Verstappen drove around for what was probably a dull 53 laps as if it was a test day to finish in between the red cars (I don’t know, because they never really showed him on TV!).

McLaren had a brilliant weekend by their recent standards. If you go back to the previous era of racing at Paul Ricard up to 1990, qualifying fifth and sixth for McLaren would have been seen as a failure of sorts. However, building up from their recent seasons, this was another clear step forward for a team that’s getting their act together. Both Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris are driving very well at the moment and delivering just what the team need — fast consistent pace, a good work ethic, but with a friendly atmosphere without the grumpy dramas of the Honda-Fernando Alonso years.

That healthy atmosphere is so vital for people to thrive and I think that it’s been one of the keys to the success at Mercedes. Kudos to Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda for creating a working environment where people don’t need to feel like they’re going to get sacked if they make an operational error or got the design of something wrong. For example, think back to James Vowles publicly apologising to Lewis on the radio in Austria last year — that would never happen if James didn’t believe that his boss was going to understand that to err is human and he wouldn’t sack him the following week.

We’re off to Austria next where we’ll get to see if someone can finally stop the Mercedes steamroller. Valtteri has been strong at the Red Bull Ring in the past and he could certainly pose a strong challenge to Lewis.