Dominating any sport is an admirable achievement, but rarely thrilling to watch for the neutral. Crushing brilliance can seem, in the moment, dull, so it’s no surprise the arguments for rules being tweaked to create more of a fight at the front are starting to surface among the Formula 1 chatterati.
Almost everybody wants to see a ferocious fight at the front between at least two teams, ideally many more than that. From that perspective, Ferrari and Mercedes – the outfits that should have the resources and wherewithal to be up there with Red Bull – have let F1 down badly. But it’s not for want of trying. So why not find a way to give them a leg up to make the fight more interesting?
It would be naive to claim that rulemakers haven’t wielded such power in this way historically, just as it would be wrong to claim that regulations haven’t been used as a political weapon. If it makes for a more exciting hour-and-a-half of racing, what’s the harm?
Setting aside the law of unintended consequences that can mean such interventions either fail or have the opposite effect to the one intended, there’s another problem. And it’s a philosophical one.
If you want a sport to work as a genuine competition, you must be prepared for an entity to dominate. Any sport is simply a regulatory framework designed to measure some set of performance parameters and in this case that means getting to the end of a 300km race ahead of the rest, so for that to work you have to be willing to let a team do that better than the rest. Otherwise, it’s not a sport.
With that comes the risk that a team might do that for an extended period of time. In the 21st century, Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull have all had extended periods of supremacy, the latter now seemingly in its second. That reflects wider problems, ones that are being tackled through long-term measures such as the cost cap, but endlessly adjusting regulations to create disruption shouldn’t be used as a shortcut.
Other motorsport categories have embraced this as part of the regulations in the form of performance balancing. But while this has its place in some categories, it’s not right for F1. In its worst manifestation, it shares around the success in a way that sometimes seems arbitrary. Worse still, it robs championships of a strong narrative.
The story of F1 right now is of Red Bull reigning supreme and its rivals finding a way to get on level terms. That’s always been the tale of grand prix racing and always should be.
Domination may be ‘bad for the sport’, as it’s always put. But if it were made impossible, it would be no sport at all.