I always remember the old saying, “You can’t win a race on the first lap but you can lose it.” It’s great fundamental advice to all racing drivers but if you’re an F1 driver, you might as well take it with a grain of salt. It’s because nowadays in Formula One, everything happens on the first lap.
It was quite easy to predict Lewis Hamilton as the winner after emerging in the lead after the first corner; his rival Nico Rosberg dropping to fourth after starting from pole. Rosberg’s poor start allowed the two Red Bulls to immediately split the Mercedes with Max Verstappen emerging ahead of Daniel Ricciardo after an impressive move around the outside of Turn One.
Midway through the race, there was an interesting incident between Verstappen and Rosberg at the Turn Six hairpin where Rosberg was deemed to have forced Verstappen off the track while overtaking. The German, in his home race, was rather harshly dealt a five-second time penalty that he served in his next pit stop, which turned into eight seconds due to a stopwatch blunder on Mercedes’ part. That penalty may have been the hottest topic coming out of the race: Some say Rosberg got what he deserved while others say that it was Verstappen’s fault since he actually half-blocked Rosberg in the braking zone. Obviously, I was one of those who thought the penalty was unnecessary since it was clear that Rosberg had to react to Verstappen’s late move under braking, causing the Mercedes driver to brake even later and take a tighter line.
Anyway, Hamilton maintained the lead, Ricciardo managed to edge up to second place ahead of Verstappen, and Rosberg failed to recover, settling for fourth. Sebastian Vettel finished fifth after revealing that he may or may not have trust issues with his team in the middle of the race. Jenson Button finished a stellar eighth for McLaren. That, folks, was the 2016 German Grand Prix, which I could only manage a half-baked race review of because I only gave it half of my attention at the time.
That’s because after two or so laps of the F1 race, I transferred my attention back to the Spa 24 Hours, which I had been streaming on my laptop while occasionally keeping an eye on the television for the German Grand Prix. Nothing special was going on at the Hockenheimring while at Spa, the leaders continued to weave through lapped traffic with two and a half hours remaining with an imminent threat of rain. It was a tense conclusion to the premier race of the Blancpain GT Series season and it made it difficult for me to give full attention to F1.
Here is my rant:
I’m saying this as an avid spectator: Throughout the German Grand Prix weekend, F1 was comprehensively outdone by its support series in terms of entertainment value. Sergey Sirotkin won the GP2 Feature Race on a two-stop strategy and stormed to a second place finish in the Sprint Race the following day. Pierre Gasly and Raffaele Marciello were separated by only 0.03 seconds at the line (Gasly was later disqualified through no fault of his own after his in-car fire extinguisher went off during the race). There was also lots of wheel-to-wheel battles in both GP3 races. All that action proved that with closely matched cars, the Hockenheimring can provide some fiery on-track skirmishes.
That’s exactly why it was easy for me to be disappointed in last weekend’s F1 race. As a spectator who has not missed a race in several years, of course I know that expecting a great F1 race is futile these days. But after seeing the awesome GP2 and GP3 races on a track highly conducive for overtaking, I had a small hope that there would at least be some decent action in the F1 race—maybe the battle between the Mercedes, the Red Bulls, and the Ferraris would be tighter this time. Maybe Ricciardo or Vettel wins. Maybe even a Force India steals a podium spot again. While I hoped for them, I doubted any of those would happen and obviously, none of them did.
Yet my disappointment in the German Grand Prix was still strong, probably because a week prior was another boring race in Hungary. I couldn’t hold back my frustrations after two consecutive weekends of colorless F1 action and now I’m ranting just to get it out of my chest. Formula One has had relatively insipid racing over the past few years but despite that, I’ve been a fervent supporter of the sport. I have been patient with F1 for years but last weekend’s race tested me.
I always tend to have nice things to say about F1 unlike an increasing number of the sport’s followers ever since the ‘hybrid-turbo era’ started in 2014. Lots of fans have lost patience with the sport to the point of losing interest altogether and not watching races anymore. Despite the new engine sound, despite the painfully predictable races due to the performance differences between cars and engines, and despite the utter domination of one team, I stuck around and continued to anticipate every race. I couldn’t bear to miss a grand prix on television and watched until the end of each race, hoping that maybe something new will happen, waiting if anyone could topple the Silver Arrows stronghold at the front of the field, even though I should say that I’m a Mercedes fan.
F1 is ‘high stakes’ racing but boring to watch. Sure, there are thrilling races from time to time but generally, they are few and far in between. Meanwhile, GP2 is relatively ‘low stakes’ but highly entertaining to watch because of the abundance of overtaking. I always look forward to a race weekend with a GP2 slate. Notice the difference in how I see the two?
I get excited to watch F1 because of its high stakes but that excitement tends to drop down after the opening lap shuffling because from then on, it’s always likely to be a straightforward race, generally ending with a Mercedes one-two, followed by either a Red Bull or a Ferrari. Every race is just another episode of the Nico Rosberg vs. Lewis Hamilton soap opera. Same old, same old, but I continue watching.
In my eyes, F1 is still the most prestigious motor racing championship in the world, which is why I continue to watch it. But in the eyes of others, does it lose prestige if the sport becomes excruciatingly predictable? Is it still the greatest racing show on the planet even if one team wins 42 out of 49 races over a two-and-a-half-year span?
At least the championship battle between Rosberg and Hamilton is still close and should still be difficult to predict in the long run. Here’s to hoping that F1 comes back strong in three weeks at Spa. My expectations for entertainment are still realistically low but it wouldn’t hurt to hope for a great race, would it?