You don’t have to be the world’s best gambler to bet Formula One is looking for innovative solutions to its manifest problems but will they have noticed that one of their drivers has already hit the nail on the head and identified just why the Spanish Grand Prix was so much fun to watch and wager on.
The Ping Pong Poignancy
- Vettel touches a nerve
- Mercedes touches itself
- Max is touched by greatness
“What is this?” Demanded the dulcet accented German angrily over the team radio. “Racing or Ping Pong?” Sebastian Vettel, lead driver for Ferrari, was displeased with the rather aggressive style of Daniel Ricciardo who was putting him under pressure in the latter stages of the Spanish Grand Prix, but it was still a silly question. Perhaps inadvertently, however, I doubt he was gambling news of his question, asked at that time, in that place, would so obviously lay bare the beating heart of Formula One’s problems, but you can probably bet Formula One didn’t notice.
In the most interesting Grand Prix in decades the reigning world champion and his team mate the current world championship leader decided that rather than dominate this race as they have all others in the last few years, they would instead fling themselves into each other on the first lap and absolutely ensure neither one scored any points. The collision between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg took both out of the race, and allowed a real race to ensue, and one that produced a stunning result.
At just 18 years of age Max Verstappen had been brought over to Red Bull to replace Daniil Kvyat who was demoted back to the Toro Rosso team after a collision of his own. The young Dutchman then took full advantage of the Mercedes moment of madness to drive a fabulously skillful race and be the first of his countrymen to take a GP win, and also become the youngest driver to ever win a Grand Prix. It was a joy to watch, and therein lies the problem, because you can bet Formula One just got interesting precisely because it was Ping Pong.
More Aggressive Races Stifled By Money Motive
You can bet Formula One being big business first and foremost created the situation that has arisen whereby money equals performance equals finishing position had led to the Grand Prix season being remarkably dull. Lewis Hamilton may not win another title, but his team mate will, and at 200mph their cars look all but identical. In 2015 there was only one race where a non-Mercedes car got pole position, and only three races all season a Mercedes didn’t win. Their advantage is massive and if it is only ever to be about the racing, we already know who is going to win. So why watch?
Even worse; Why race? Sure, drivers always aim to come home in as high a position as they possibly can, but racing week in and week out knowing the best you can ever do, barring massive upset, is third place? The only two competitive drivers who can confidently expect to win races are Rosberg and Hamilton, and just look what the pressure is doing to them. Formula One has to recognize that their best race in years was only had because the only two guys REALLY racing when the lights went out made a dusty exit a few corners later.
Max Verstappen’s win was glorious for him, his team and the sport, but it was a blip, an anomaly, a window into a world where Mercedes didn’t dominate the sport like a BDSM dungeon master. Of course it won’t always be Mercedes. A few years down the line perhaps it’ll be Renault, Ferrari or McLaren, but you can bet Formula One will be dominated by one of them. One of them will outspend the others and just keep winning and if you’re in the UK gambling laws of averages means someone else has to win sometime, you’re wrong. They will. Unless, of course, what happens on track is more like Ping Pong than racing.
Don’t Bet Formula One Will See The Light Any Time Soon
Another set of new rule changes will come into effect next year with the express purpose of limiting the costs of F1 racing, it won’t work, of course, in precisely the same way their stupid new qualification process utterly failed, but you can bet Formula One will try it anyway. What they should be doing, however, is not tightening up the rules on expenditure but loosening the rules as to what constitutes fair racing. Formula One doesn’t need to stop teams spending, it needs to let drivers be as aggressive as they can get away with.
Fit the cars with bumpers that buzz or lights that flash when they get really close to each other, have sensors detect who really touched who, at what speed, for long long and, if collisions were part of the game rather than supposed abnormalities, manufacturers would have to start deciding between speed, maneuverability and armour, a rock-paper-scissors combination that is the mainstay of many popular gaming franchises……..you know…….the ones earning more money than sport ever did. What’s the bet Formula One would gain higher audience figures with that level of aggression actually sanctioned?
Sebastian Vettel might not have meant to ask such a poignant question in the heat of the moment but the sooner someone leans over and tells Bernie Ecclestone that it needs to be more like Ping Pong and less like racing, the better for everyone. The F1 circus moves on to Monaco next where you can bet Formula One wunderkind Max Verstappen will be trying to win his second GP. He has odds of 8/1 at Betfair, although Hamilton is at 6/4 and Rosberg at 7/4 demonstrating, alas, that after the Spanish anomaly it’ll be business as usual, and if you like to bet on sports in the UK, it’s probably better you try the cricket.