Feeling uncomfortable in an expensive suit. This is what is happening to Max Verstappen, the three-time champion, who is not enthusiastic about the direction Formula 1 is taking. The Dutchman has repeatedly criticized key aspects of motorsport, such as the length of the calendar, the nature of new tracks, the need to manage rather than attack during races, and, last but not least, the “sprint format” that Liberty Media aims to establish as the series standard.
Less than two months before the start of the longest Formula One season ever, a logistical twist for Max, the three-time champion, has spoken again, producing a kind of cataclysm that will certainly not make those who own the toy happy. It is transforming it inexorably into something that places the entire show and business at the center, marginalizing the sporting and technical sphere.
It is the format of the Saturday sprint race, confirmed at six events, that has generated the intolerance this time, showing quite harsh traits. After the United States Grand Prix, an event occurred after which the chorus of the intolerant sang in unison, demanding concrete actions and immediate revisions. The reference is to what happened after the race regarding the disqualifications of Mercedes #44 and Ferrari #16.
F1: Drivers Call for Changes after the Events in Austin
The facts are well known: both cars were found not to comply with Article 3.5.9, paragraph E of the technical regulations. Disqualification, therefore, was automatic and unappealable. Both teams, after observations from Jo Bauer, the FIA technical delegate, had sent a representative to speak with the stewards, trying to explain that the high wear of the skid blocks was likely the result of a combination of factors, including a bumpy track and the sprint race program, which minimized the time to set up and check the car before the race.
Understandable justifications but ones that could not generate deviations not provided for by the rules. The stewards, having certified that the burden on the competitor is to ensure that the car is always compliant with the regulations, could do nothing else but exclude the two cars from the official results.
In other circumstances, no one would have raised complaints, but the fact that Austin coincided with a sprint weekend had, in fact, triggered reactions from both penalized and non-penalized teams. What was born in that situation is a heterogeneous and transversal movement that loudly calls for some changes in the Sprint Race system to prevent teams from encountering situations similar to those in Texas.
The lack of time was the real enemy of the possibility of fine-tuning the cars, a loophole that needs to be addressed once and for all. A single free practice session is not enough to configure complex cars like today’s Formula One machines optimally. Furthermore, the sampling control mechanism has also been put on trial. This year, Mercedes and Ferrari were often featured with five random tests each.
Nothing abnormal, except that the highly victorious Red Bull, until Austin, underwent only two post-race checks. The same goes for McLaren. Aston Martin was subject to Bauer’s analysis only once. Zero for AlphaTauri and Williams. It is evident that the system needs to be optimized to make it more precise and, above all, credible.
Many protagonists had subsequently hinted at a certain annoyance. Hamilton had argued that at the end of the race, not only his car but also Leclerc’s was out of compliance. Leclerc, an important factor, had emphasized that his SF-23, after checks following FP1, presented a plank perfectly within the parameters. If it had been possible to carry out another check at the end of the third free practice, as is the case in standard weekends, the problem would have emerged, and corrective action could have been taken.
F1: Max Verstappen’s Intolerance
Verstappen, not involved in the events, had explicitly defended the penalized teams, emphasizing the lack of time to define setups and correct mistakes. Yesterday, in an interview with AMuS, he doubled down, armed with a pickaxe. The driver used strong words, at times exaggerated, to describe the sport of which he is now the main protagonist. A “Circus” (his definition) that does not define clear rules, often mysterious even to the protagonists.
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“I hear talk of a qualifying format for the Sprint with only one lap available. I already don’t like the current format; you don’t know what to do. One fast lap? Or fast, slow, fast? It would be a very risky proposal,” thundered the Dutchman, who does not appreciate the entire sensationalized backdrop that takes away space from the track.
“I have always said that I understand the commercial side,” he added, “but I see it from the perspective of a pure driver. The Sprint Race takes away magic. In normal races, you don’t have all the internal information about tire degradation or similar things. You see a Red Bull, a Mercedes, and a Ferrari on the starting grid, and you wonder how it will end.”
“A Sprint, on the other hand, allows you to know what will happen more or less the next day, unless strange circumstances occur, like a weather change. Usually,” Max Verstappen argued, “you can judge the race pace after a Sprint, and I believe that this takes away tension.”
The sore point is related to Parc Fermé, a true conceptual distortion that comes into play during the Sprint Race: “If you make a mistake, you are trapped in that setup for the rest of the weekend. It’s awful. It happened to us last year in Brazil. This year we had a couple of good race weekends. However, I was not completely satisfied.” And then, as already happened after the American events, the defense of rivals Mercedes and Ferrari, confirming that his battle is not superficial.
“As for the ride height in Austin, Mercedes and Ferrari certainly didn’t lower their cars on purpose: once you enter the wrong path, you can’t get out of it. If you want to continue with Sprints, from my point of view, changes must be made. I would have a Parc Fermé for Saturday and another for Sunday.” A linear, clear, easily applicable proposal.
The F1 cannot remain indifferent to these and other complaints. And indeed, it seems that something is starting to move. Making a definitive decision on the setup in 60 minutes is not ideal. It is now clear even to those who write the rules that the sport usually reacts with the slowness of a sloth to objectively unmanageable situations.
In these days, other paths are being evaluated that lead to constant verification of skid block wear after each session to keep the phenomenon under control. The square has not yet been found, but the events at the Circuit of the Americas, combined with the chorus of ultra-critical voices, are convincing those in charge that it is time to change things. The ball is now in the F1 Commission’s court, the body responsible for rewriting the rules of the game.
Source: Diego Catalano for FUnoanalisitecnica