Formula One drivers call for end to ′obsolete and ill-structured′ governance | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 23.03.2016
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Formula One drivers call for end to 'obsolete and ill-structured' governance

The Grand Prix Drivers' Association penned an open letter on Wednesday, urging a drastic rethink in the sport, "based on a clear master plan." They hope to return the sport to its "core values."

Formula One's drivers have called upon the sport to abandon its "obsolete and ill-structured" decision-making processes, and to seek a more strategic and coordinated approach to governing the race series.

In a strongly-worded letter from the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, signed by top representatives Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and chairman Alex Wurz, the sport's key individuals called upon F1's various stakeholders to "consider restructuring its own gorvernance" and get back to reflecting what they called F1's "core values."

"We feel that some recent rule changes - on both the sporting and technical side, and including some business directions - are disruptive, do not address the bigger issues our sport is facing and in some cases could jeopardise its future success," they wrote.

Prefacing the letter by saying they "love F1 almost unconditionally" and therefore had its best interests at heart, the drivers went on to criticize recent efforts to spice up the series - which is battling dwindling TV viewing figures and struggling to commercialize online audiences.

"The drivers have come to the conclusion that the decision-making process in the sport is obsolete and ill-structured and prevents progress being made. Indeed, it can sometimes lead to just the opposite, a gridlock."

Elimination qualifying eliminated immediately

The announcement followed one attempted rule change seeking to create more excitement in qualifying - a measure that was a shock announcement at short-notice just before the start of the season, and appears to be dead in the water after just one Grand Prix.

A new "elimination qualifying" session was introduced, seeking to knock out the slowest driver at regular time intervals during qualifying, building up to a shootout between the fastest two for pole. In practice, however, it achieved rather a different result - incentivizing drivers to set their fast laps earlier in qualifying, and leading to an almost empty track at the conclusion of each session of qualifying.

So when Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg were supposed to go all out in the final 90 seconds of qualification, both decided not to head onto the track again. As one commentator put it, "Lewis could have waved his own checkered flag."

Universally condemned after Saturday's session in Melbourne, senior figures throughout the paddock sought to stress that the system would be dropped in time for the race in Bahrain. This has still not been definitively confirmed.

The drivers' complaints run much deeper, however. The open letter hinted at issues ranging from Mercedes' domination since new-era engines were introduced in 2015, an increasing reliance on pay-TV broadcasters around the world, leading to reduced viewing figures, and a migration away from classic race venues to whichever country is willing to pay top dollar to host a race. This year's new addition to the calendar is a street circuit around Azerbaijan's capital, Baku. Russia joined the series in 2014, at the high-point of Ukraine's eastern conflict. Bahrain is the next race on the calendar.

"We need to ensure that F1 remains a sport, a closely-fought competition between the best drivers in extraordinary machines on the coolest race tracks," the drivers said.

Various F1 stakeholders have a say in the running of a series that has something of a triple or even quadruple identity - a sport, an engineering competition, a business, and entertainment. The main actors, however, are the commercial rights holders - fronted by Bernie Ecclestone - world motorsport's governing body the FIA, and the team owners themselves.

sb/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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