Dr. Gary Hartstein personal views on current state of Formula One:
It’s not you, it’s me . . .
It’s over. We’re officially on a break. It’s gotten to the point where there’s less pain separating than staying together. I never, ever, thought it’d get to this. But what’s going on just makes no sense, seems perfectly conceived to drive us all away, and is shameful and embarrassing. Maybe we’ll get back. But it’s not possible to think of that now. Good bye. Good luck.
No need to rehash the past, but let me just put some of the why’s on “paper” – it’ll make me feel better about this, help ME to put my thoughts in order. Maybe to convince myself that I’m doing the right thing by walking away. It might be a bit disjointed, a bit rambling. Sorry for that. I’m pretty emotional about this.
It started for me in 2008, with my demotion and replacement by someone who not only had never cared for an accident victim of any sort, but had only ever attended two or three races . . . as a spectator. At the time, I was told by the president of the FIA Medical Commission, “We still need your knowledge and experience, though. You’re our life insurance policy.” Can’t be clearer than that, eh? We need to wait a few years for the consequences to play out, but they do, and the price is awful. A grievously injured driver, barely clinging to life, spends three quarters of an hour on soggy roads in a creaking ambulance, before receiving proper care. It still sickens me.
Here’s a scoop: there will soon be published, in an international peer-reviewed journal, a scientific paper demolishing the current system of extrication that has not been changed in over 20 years, despite dramatic advances in this field. The lack of knowledge and experience at the medical lead is so blatant that several Chief Medical Officers of the F1 season are worried that by following existent FIA protocol they are making themselves vulnerable to medico-legal consequences by failing to follow current standards of care. Read that again. This from a sport that purports to be at the leading edge of everything.
I’ve ranted about this before, and stayed faithful to the sport. But there’s more.
The qualifying debacle currently playing out to the shame of all concerned is the proximate cause. Think back – the problem years ago was an empty circuit when meteorologic conditions were such that running wasn’t advantageous. True to F1 form, complication was chosen over simplicity. Rather than a simple rule constraining teams to get their cars out there or be penalised, all manner of contrivances were instituted. Only to wind up with . . . an empty circuit at the end of quals, arguably what should be the most exciting moments of all. I can’t say who gains by this, but I sure know who loses.
What about safety car procedures? I’ve never understood the delta times, never understood keeping the car out there for two or three extra laps so that “lapped cars may unlap themselves” All I know is that under conditions that by definition are some of the most dangerous, when the entire circuit is covered by yellow flags (need I quote again the regulation concerning driving under yellows?) we have guys driving flat out. Remember Fernando’s accident at Brazil? He used the first of his thankfully many lives there . . . under the safety car. And it’s only gotten worse. Once again, why do simple when we can do complicated. And the public (who want racing once the accident has been cleared, not cars unlapping themselves) be damned.
What about grid penalties? These were treated with humour last season, but seriously? Hundreds of places of grid penalties with a grid you can count on two hands and two feet? Who is kidding whom here? Who is mocking whom? I’m sick of being mocked.
What about engine tokens? With a brilliant and potentially transferable technological formula for energy recovery, we institute a byzantine system in a half-assed attempt to control costs. Complicated, when simple would do.
We’re not complicated, we the fans. We just want good racing. We want to see the skill and cleverness and bravery of drivers battling for position. We’ve all known for years that sophisticated aerodynamics makes for incredible cornering speeds, but makes overtaking more and more difficult. Everyone smart and savvy has been clamouring for years for less aero and more mechanical grip. Huge slicks and small wings – and let the drivers do the rest. What do we get? More aero in the next version of the tech regs, and a promised 4 to 5 second fall in lap times. Do any of us care about fast processional laps? That’s what I thought. The sport is not only not listening to us, but like a petulant child it’s thumbing its nose at us. How long must we endure that?
Should I mention tires? And the absurdly complicated allotment system, the engineered degradation “to make the racing more interesting”?
In a way, these are details, but they are telling. More importantly, MUCH more importantly, is what is going on with the circuits. The circuits are where it all plays out. Where we are reminded, season after season, of the glorious history of the sport. Where, depending on the stroke of the architect’s pen, we are either treated to almost two hours of thrills, or relegated to 305 kilometres of boredom. What about the circuits?
They are being strangled. They are being charged money, much too much money, for the privilege of hosting this soon-to-be farcical spectacle. They are signing contracts that guarantee multi-million dollar losses, and this despite often fantastic attendance. They are forced each year to beg, cap in hand, for a pittance to keep functioning, to continue to host a sport where BILLIONS are earned and distributed. And finally, one after another of the temples of this sport are throwing in the towel. Now Monza is under dire threat and may not be on the calendar in 2017. The only places who can meet the current levels of parasitic pricing are those with governments that are either flush with petrodollars (not sustainable anyway in the current market) or flush with corruption.Or both. Bernie and todt getting touchy-feely with Putin was and is an abidingly nauseating spectacle. Who are they kidding? And who is losing out here? Yep – we the fans. I’m sick of it.
todt has proven that, since becoming FIA president, he either has no idea how to make sure his flagship championship flourishes, or just doesn’t care. Either way, his term has been a shameful example of (almost laughably ineffective) self-promotion. Of blatant abdication of his roles and responsibilities. Of cowardly acquiescense to others.
Bernie, a man I love(d) and respect(ed), has apparently lost the plot. Or lost the ability to influence the plot. The man who created the modern sport of F1 can find nothing better to do than to slag off on it publicly. Can anyone remember the last constructive idea he has had, the last time we actually said “Thank God he’s around”? I sure can’t.
His business model, with floats and bonds and all manner of other financial manoeuvring too complicated for someone like me to understand, has created a monster. A monster whose driving force is profit . . . to the detriment of the fans. I’m not one to bemoan the role of money in global sport. Tennis, golf, football, etc are all multibillion dollar enterprises. BUT THEY CONSISTENTLY ACT IN THE INTEREST OF THEIR FANS BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT KEEPS THE DOLLARS COMING IN. Not F1. Soooo not F1. And I for one am sick of yacht-owning, Gulfstream-flying, Maybach-riding preadolescents bickering and yapping while the sport that made them rich burns. And while the fans who made them rich cry.
There you go. I’m out. Maybe if enough of us do the same they’ll realise where the true power is. But I have no intention of trying to start a movement. I just can’t keep investing emotionally in a sport that has no concern, demonstrably none at all, for us.
I’ll continue to follow all my F1 related twitter feeds. I’ll continue to love Lewis and Jenson and Fernando and Max and all of them. Continue to respect and admire their skill and courage. Continue to pray for them to be safe. But I won’t watch. I can’t. Not unless things change.
About Dr. Gary Hartstein:
Involved in motorsports medicine since 1990. Sid Watkin’s assistant from 1997-2004. Formula 1 Medical Delegate from 2005 to 2007, then Medical Rescue Coordinator for the Championship from 2008 until 2012. Anesthesiologist and Emergency Physician at the University Hospital of Liège, Belgium. Blogger since 2013, opinions strictly personal.
BY COURTESY OF GARY HARTSTEIN