Sebastian Vettel: F1 Might Not Exist In 10 Years Without Serious Change

Illustration for article titled Sebastian Vettel: F1 Might Not Exist In 10 Years Without Serious Change
Photo: Mark Thompson (Getty Images)

Formula One is in a bit of a rut. Barring disaster, fans are generally able to accurately predict the team that’s going to win every race. It’s easy to guess which teams will be mired in the back of the grid. And, honestly, those same hypotheses would likely hold true for the following year. Now, Sebastian Vettel has some strong words for The Powers That Be in the series regarding its longevity.

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“I think nobody would have thought, certainly not half a year ago, of the situation that the world is in now,” Vettel observed during a small media press conference ahead of the Italian Grand Prix. “It’s a question of what the world is going to be in 10 years? So I think it’s very difficult from that to look at Formula 1 only.”

He continued:

I think, from my point of view, Formula 1 has a huge mountain to climb in order to still exist and still, you know, attract the fans and share emotions and passion.

The world is changing, the world is changing very fast. And I think Formula 1 has to more than adapt.

I know that obviously there’s the regulation change coming [in 2022]. But I doubt that it will be enough.

I think on a bigger picture Formula 1, has to do more than just change the regulations. We all hope that the regulation change for the sport will bring the teams closer together and will make the competition on track closer.

But apart from that, I think the world, as I said, is moving fast and the world will face more and more big topics to fight. F1 cannot remain silent and close its eyes. So it will be actually I think very interesting to see where we are in 10 years and where Formula 1 is.

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Vettel makes a lot of great points. Instead of each season bringing new, exciting drivers and teams to the fore, F1 relies almost entirely on its regulation years for those changes. So, fans have to wait five or more years to hope that a new team will dominate, and teams channel all their hopes into a new set of regulations that may finally offer the edge they’ve been missing.

We should not be forced to hope for something exciting to happen two years from now. That’s no way to attract new fans, and that’s certainly no way to retain the old ones. Consider, after all, the fact that Formula 2 has seen 10 different winners so far in 2020. Now compare that to the fact that there have only been eight different winners in the entire hybrid era of F1. What’s the incentive to tune in?

Vettel also seems to be vaguely referencing the sociocultural state of the world when he says that F1 “cannot remain silent and close its eyes.” Sport has been generally deemed apolitical for centuries, with motorsport especially adopting that mindset. Drivers like Rudi Caracciola, after all, justified racing on teams directly subsidized by Adolf Hitler because it was just nice to have a leader interested in sport. Not even increasing tensions over antisemitic violence made him wary.

But that isn’t the way the world works anymore. More and more people are demanding the sporting world to recognize problems like racism and homophobia and to do something to combat them. It’s no longer enough to just wear a shirt that says “end racism.” There’s an expectation that you will kneel in solidarity with the BIPOC community. It’s no longer enough to just say you’re against bigotry. People want you to do something about it.

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And F1 hasn’t done much. Drivers had to actively petition for an allotted opportunity to kneel ahead of the national anthem after the display was cut short and then cut away from. A significant portion of drivers do not kneel. Some don’t even have much to add to the lip service anti-racism video aired before races; Kimi Raikkonen merely says, “I stand.”

People want to see more than that. Many people want to see unity. Many are looking for their favorite sports to take an active role in changing social standards rather than just passively responding to crises.

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Vettel is right. F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport in all possible ways, from technology to responses to sociocultural issues. If it’s not riding the crest of the wave of change, F1 could easily fall into triviality.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Freelancer. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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DISCUSSION

I have mixed feelings about this. As an American, of course I would like to see the drivers address our particular social issues. But why should a series based largely in Europe, with only one round in the US, base their actions on what I care about? If they do that, should they not at least pay lip service to the social issues of every other country they visit and/or represent? At what point do we hold the drivers responsible for global social change?

That said, F1 as an organization needs to reduce costs, both to make for better and more equal racing and so that they can stop kowtowing to despots in pursuit of money. The optics of racing at Sochi are much worse globally than their failure to kneel before a national anthem.

As for the racing, today proved that once Mercedes is reined in the competition is fierce. I mean, let’s just get it out of the way and admit that Lewis Hamilton is one of the greatest drivers ever and easily the best of this generation. You put him in a competitive car and he’ll still win championships. Alas, he’s not in a competitive car, he’s in a dominant car, and so the races are foregone conclusions barring mistakes like today’s or mechanical failures. That doesn’t change the fact that the midfield racing is better than its ever been. Unfortunately, the casual racing fan only cares that their guy wins, so F1 loses that fan.