This article is about my thoughts on the 2017 Indianapolis 500 and Monaco Grand Prix.
Monaco Grand Prix
As predicted the Monaco Grand Prix was a dull affair even by the usual standards of Monaco. Throughout the race apart from the very end we never saw cars running close together. At Monaco you never expect overtaking moves to happen left right and centre, but this year even when quicker cars were following slower cars they could not get close enough to even give the hope of an overtaking manoeuvre.
The strategy played by Ferrari although understandable was disappointing this early in the season. Kimi who outshone Vettel in the qualifying should have received the first choice on strategy. Knowing that the over-cut was most prevalent, it was clear Ferrari tactically decided to sacrifice Kimi’s chances for Sebastien.
The most shocking incident was between Wehrlein and the returning Jenson Button. Thankfully, neither driver were seriously hurt in an incident that led to Pascal heading towards the barrier cockpit side first. Following the safety car we finally got some action with cars attempting manoeuvres and pressuring the competition. However, after over 3/4 of the race been a total snooze fest this last shot of action could not save the Grand Prix from been a dull affair.
This race unlike Monaco was a classic. With over 300,000 fans watching the stars of IndyCar and Alonso, put on a show that was worthy of such a historic race. The early part of the race we had consistent lead changes as drivers felt out their cars for the gruelling 500 mile race. Some cars with low downforce dropped back whilst the higher downforce cars began their march forward.
The crowd went wild as the Andretti team and eventually Fernando Alonso took the lead and along with teammate Alex Rossi began to pull away from the field. We then saw “the big one” A horrific crash involving Jay Howard and Scott Dixon who got airborne before landing on top of the retaining wall and striking the catch fence. The ferocity of the impact tore the car in two but again thankfully both drivers walked away.
This crash although horrifying is part of the racing at Indy. When something goes wrong for one driver due to the close racing at over 220mph the following driver can easily get involved. However, this anticipation of drivers been on the edge and knowing that the big one is just around the corner is part of the attraction of Motorsports. The danger and seeing drivers race knowing that you, yourself do not have the confidence or mental fortitude to take those risks is what makes this sport special.
As the race progressed Alonso began to slip down the order due to the more experienced oval racers taking advantage of his inexperience on restarts. However, much like his Formula 1 season, Fernando’s engine gave out.
This led to a dramatic shootout between the underdogs Max Chilton & Ed Jones vs the experienced Takuma Sato and the three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves.
In the end the Japanese driver became the first Japanese winner of the Indy 500 holding off a charging Helio denying him of his fourth 500 in a classic dash to the finish.
How the Indy 500 exposed all that is wrong with F1
I grew up watching F1. My first experience although I can’t remember it was when I was younger than 4 years old been taken to see my heroes tackle Silverstone. However, that magic has disappeared and Indy showed why F1 is in decline.
The Indy 500 was a spectacular race. There were 2 to 3 wide battles throughout the pack. Although this could never happen in Monaco what was truly awe-inspiring was to see the top teams having to battle with single car organisation with significantly less resource.
The fact that over the past 5 years in Formula 1, going into a race weekend you can predict very accurately which team will get on the podium is a real problem. Teams such as Williams, Force India and Torro Rosso cannot even get close to the Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. The change in rules this year has made this even worst. Ferrari and Mercedes over a second clear of the Red Bull at most tracks with other cars another half a second to a second slower.
At tracks not hosted at Monaco close racing is becoming a rarer and rarer thing with the turbulent air stopping cars attacking one another. Although Indy Car has a similar problem it is addressing this with its brand new car in 2018.
The new car moves away from the aerodynamic pieces on top of the car creating the downforce. Instead the underside of the car and ground effect will generate this downforce. The current generation of cars in IndyCar did what F1 is doing this year by adding downforce. But speak to most fans and at non Indy tracks the racing has got worse.
Indy has not accepted this and is going to a totally different philosophy of generating downforce to give the fans what they want. Fast cars but close racing. Formula 1 instead is reliant on cheap and embarrassing gimmicks such as DRS to give drivers just a chance of an overtake.
Watching the 101st Indianapolis 500 with over 300,000 fans in attendance one thing that stood out was its honouring of traditions. From the celebratory glass of milk to the pre-race ceremonies Indy has not forgotten and is in fact embracing its roots. Look to Formula 1 and over the past 20 years it has abandoned its heritage. From the troubles of the German Grand Prix the loss of the French Grand Prix and the loss of classic venues like Imola, F1 has truly forgotten it’s heritage. I truly hope the new owners are able to bring back F1’s linke with tradition and history by bringing back classic track rather than the Tilke tracks where there is no punishment for running wide.
Even little things such as using real flags to celebrate the top three on the podium has been lost to cheap and tacky looking tv screens.
The Indianapolis 500 is the crown jewel of Indy Car but despite this the tickets for everyday fans are attainable. Furthermore, they get far more entertainment for their money. For fans on the infield there are concerts and other events, pre track parades of classic cars and previous winners. They also put on massive signing events on the days leading up to the race giving the fans the opportunity to meet their heroes. When you go to a Formula 1 race now you are looking at spending a small fortune for decent tickets. Barring the Abu Dhabi and U.S grand prix there is also not much on for the fans during the weekdays before the race and during the race weekend.
Over the past 20-30 years the amount of racing and track action taking place over the course of the weekend has reduced significantly whilst the prices have sky rocketed. Compared to Indy where fans have events on all week and attract artists that fans who attend the event love. F1 is really shown up for its lack of appreciation for the fans. It is clear that certain tracks such as COTA and Abu Dhabi have the finances to attract mega-stars but most tracks leave fans with increasing prices, less racing and less off track entertainment.
The drivers are also unattainable for the fans. Even during the Indy 500 race following his retirement Alonso was able to shake hands with fans in the infield. At Formula 1 unless you are willing to spend a small fortune you will be lucky to see the drivers outside of the car. Even when you do see the drivers they are flanked by security which is understandable but again if you wish to get a photo or autograph it is near impossible. At Indy Car events the drivers are accessible and give young fans a chance to meet their heroes.
Another fantastic aspect of Indy Car was demonstrated by Helio Castroneves.
Following the race he went to the fans trackside to take selfies and sign autographs. Despite the disappointment of losing the biggest race of the year he still recognised and appreciated the fans support so gave something back. When was the last time following a race did a F1 driver after losing do this? Equally drivers such as Lewis Hamilton intend sulk and intentionally are rude to the media refusing to answer questions and acting like a diva.
Once again Indy Car and Indianapolis MotorSpeedway recognised that they would not be their without the fans so ensure the fans get a good show and opportunity to meet the stars.
Having been brought up watching and going to Formula 1 it pains me to see the state of the sport. It has truly forgotten its roots and its fans. When the racing is fantastic any sport can take these things for granted and get away with it. However, when the product is poor and the racing on track is reliant on cheap gimmicks you can no longer get away with not appreciating the fans. Indy Car and my experience of NASCAR during the peak of its popularity showed how sports need to give back to the fans. F1 really needs to learn from these sports. They put the fans first. Everything the sport does is looking at how can it improve the racing or the event for the fans. F1 has become a victim of its own success. It has forgotten and priced out loyal fans in search of making more money from its sponsors.
I hope that the new owners attend some NASCAR and Indy Car events to see how these organisations put the fans first and ensure that they get value for money. Otherwise the ever-changing rule package might paper over the cracks for a season or two but the decline of the sport will carry on which will ultimately lead to the demise of many teams that are already clinging to survival due to the absurd financial costs of Formula 1.