Poor teams dropping out, rich ones threatening to leave, paying drivers trying to sue their way in, core events cancelled - evidence that F1 wasn't racing in the US when all this happened there.
The 2015 Formula 1 season has just started but it already evoked more questions about the whole future of the sport than it answered of the year ahead. If all that drama sounds too familiar, you are not alone. Read Ed Hinton's monstrous article on the split and reunification of IndyCar to get an idea what might lie ahead of Formula 1, because it's a trainwreck heading the same direction.
Summing up the key points:
- IndyCar started losing its touch with its dirt sprint racing origin, hence the ladder system disappeared, also
- USAC didn't care too much of the events outside the Indy 500, therefore
- CART was created, which was meant to mimic Formula 1 that slowly concluded in
- costs spiraling off, more and more foreign drivers joining - winning on the increasing amount of road courses that made
- fans and drivers getting a break at the all-American NASCAR instead, to which
- Indianapolis track owner, Tony George replied with creating a NASCAR-ized version of IndyCar, the Indy Racing League
- IRL had Indianapolis, CART had the teams and the (sometimes paying) drivers, which also split the fans that resulted in
- NASCAR running away with the fame and fortune, leaving
- both CART and IRL undervalued with only the Indy 500 still being worth something, forcing
- CART teams jumping ship, leaving the series broke and slowly collapsing, only to be
- reunified at the beginning of 2008, starting off at the same spot it left off over a decade before: full of road courses, foreign drivers, everything Tony George fought against, except the new IndyCar turned out to be a spec-series and very much behind the success of NASCAR due to the ensuing war
Formula 1 was also driven to near-splits numerous times, but as long as they had money flowing in and had a dictator at the helm, things could be managed each time.
Max Mosley might be disgusting as a human being, but that doesn't mean he wasn't insightful while managing the sporting side of F1 while heading the FIA. When the financial crisis hit the world at the end of 2008 and he came up with plans of his own concerning the sustainability of Formula 1, everyone thought he was mad. However, as times are going by, more and more of his predictions are coming true.
No one will ever know how CVC manages all things F1-considered, but it is apparent it's a leech on the body of the sport: some people get stupendously rich while teams and venues are losing out, which isn't helped by the engine regulations that further skyrocketed costs.
All this results in teams trying to find paying drivers to keep themselves running, or they just simply drop out, while venues have an even harder time to cough up the cash for the privilege of hosting an F1 race.
F1 is primarily a European motor sport, no one is denying that. Even though it is ever-expanding, most of the races are still run on the Old Continent. We have just lost another one of those, a very specific one.
Historically speaking the core events of Formula 1 (or Grand Prix racing in general) have been the French, British, Italian, German, Monaco and Belgian Grands Prix. These have been the events that had the most heritage and drew the most attention. Out of these six events two are no more on the calendar. The Belgian Grand Prix was on and off the calendar a few years ago as the Belgian have better things to do than pumping money into a cash pit, the future venue of the Italian GP is uncertain as Monza might not be able to raise the funds, which would technically kill off the race for many, the British GP was under some threat a couple of years back as Donington wasn't ready to host the race that leaves the Monaco Grand Prix as the only permanent fixture out of the traditional races.
The only venue that doesn't have to pay a dollar to host the race.
The rest of the current European Grands Prix include the Spanish, the Austrian, the Hungarian and the Russian one with Azerbaijan jumping in to host the European GP in the future. Truth is, if Alonso quits F1, there might be a massive drop in interest at the Spanish GP, resulting in the same fate the German race did. Also, if Red Bull decides to leave the series, so will the Austrian GP do as the soft drink company owns the track, leaving two wannabe and one almost pitch perfect dictatorships next to the remaining core events. Instead, races are run in oil-rich countries for the privileged, missing the chance of any new fans coming in.
By now it must make some sense why Tony George's IRL idea wasn't totally bonkers. IndyCar traditionally came from the dirt, wooden and asphalt ovals, where American racing was born. CART decided to revamp the series into something it - perhaps - wasn't meant to be, breaking too much away from its roots, leaving its natural habitat behind, incorporating more and more foreign elements, driving away drivers and fans, competition level increasing, costs rising, starting relying on paying drivers in some instances.
Now replace CART with F1, ovals with European tracks, road courses with middle and far Eastern venues, but the rest is very much similar, all driven by money. And for the record: CART had to submit to IRL and cease its operation.
As a matter of fact, this is almost exactly what Max Mosley had in mind in 2009: a cost-effective F1 where teams can focus more on racing and less on hunting for money by hiring paying jockeys and obscure sponsors. A little less glamorous, a bit more clunky, but sustainable, but it doesn't mean it cannot be done and made entertaining.
IRL won its war, but had to pay the price: it lost out on over a decade's worth of attention, shot back to oblivion, didn't really gain anything, but on their part it was a necessary move, because CART didn't have a dictator F1 did.
To sum up: IndyCar's (or rather CART's) problems didn't start with the split, but by it losing touch with its roots in favour of trying to become big business, slowly cannibalizing itself. F1's problems didn't start with the financial crisis, but its managers being over-greedy, sucking money out of it, forcing the series to go to places and people who still have loads of cash on them, thus losing its respective touch with its roots.
As the state of affairs dictate, F1 - as we know it - will eventually go down the drain to reemerge in some different shape or form with its former managers sailing away on their yachts to places of no extradition.
Until then: respect the racers.
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