Musings Sport

What can Formula 1 and Formula E learn from each other?

Ever since its dawn in 1950, Formula One is the pinnacle motor racing series with petrolheads and casual observers alike.

Equally, I reckon since the 1990s and especially during Michael Schumacher’s well-deserved dominance between 2000 and 2004, it developed the stigma of "oh it’s just cars going around in circles".

Partly thanks to the sophisticated aerodynamics that make overtaking tricky, partly the expensive and complex hybrid engines, partly the budget inequality between the big three teams – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – and the other less funded teams such as Racing Point and Haas.

Formula E on the other hand is a new kid on-the-block. Aiming to bring motor racing, the potential of electrical automotive technology and a concern for the environment together.

It’s now a serious rival to F1 with many major car manufacturers ranging from Audi, BMW, Citroen via their DS Automobiles brand, Nissan and Jaguar taking part on street circuits in five continents including Saudi Arabia, Mexico City, New York and London.

Recently, Formula E’s chairman and CEO Alejandro Agag talked to the press before F1’s Austrian Grand Prix claiming that much of F1’s issues stem from the teams’ self-interest and little regard for the sport as a whole.

Watching Formula E in comparison to F1 is like watching a demo of a 16K connected holographic TV. So ahead of its time with cutting edge onscreen graphics, heavy emphasis on fan interaction both at the circuit and on social media.

Especially with fanboost where people can vote for their favourite driver and whoever gets the most votes can use the extra burst of electrical power lasting a few seconds to gain an advantage or overtake.

The close racing is another plus. The finish to the Mexico City ePrix in February was the most incredible finish I ever seen to a motor race and I’ve been following motorsport for more than 20 years.

Compare this to F1 and aside from branding changes, it looks like not much has changed in the last 10+ years. It’s the motor racing equivalent of an ageing uncle reluctant to accept the original iPod is no longer hip and trendy.

However in fairness, since Liberty Media took the reins in January 2018, the sport has been catching up with greater social media engagement, wider fan participation, richer multimedia content in terms of video and the Beyond The Grid podcast (a personal favourite of mine).

Plus, a major regulation overhaul is due for 2021 with the aim of shrinking the budget inequality via a budget cap of $175 million. Ferrari and Mercedes currently spend around $410 million and $400 million respectively contrasting with Racing Point who have a $120 million budget.

This also extends to introducing equality for F1 revenue and prize money distribution. Currently it’s heavily tilted towards the big three.

The cost of Formula E cars by comparison is near 1 million Euros. However it should be clearly stated Formula E is a single-make series unlike F1, since the teams use the same power unit produced by McLaren.

So perhaps not a fair like-for-like comparison in simplistic terms.

Another advantage Formula E has over F1 is recognising the remaining relevance of free-to-air coverage. In many territories F1 is now exclusively behind paywalls of subscription channels and in the UK it could become another one from 2020 if Channel 4 doesn’t renew their contract.

Formula E is shown on the BBC in the UK and worldwide via YouTube live. I believe free-to-air is still important to entice new followers and inspire those pondering a career in motorsport.

The jury is still out whether or not all of these changes will make a difference.

I would agree with Agag to an extent that the teams shouldn’t have an overarching say on the sport’s direction. Democracy within any business is a great thing providing it is balanced with strong leadership and a clear vision.

I love both of them personally as a lifelong motorsport fan but I can see challenges in both. F1 with its historical issues as well as deciding what it should be in the future; Formula E with it’s long-term sustainability concerns after shedding $140 million in losses over four years.

Who takes the chequered flag in the race to be the dominant motorsport? The race isn’t over yet.

Musings Sport

50 Years of Schumacher

Last month – and while we were away – Michael Schumacher turned 50.

The most successful F1 driver in history: 308 races, 91 wins, 65 pole positions, a career spanning over 20 years and 7 world championships.

He set a lasting impression back in late August 1991 at the Belgian Grand Prix. When the World Wide Web was barely born, Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do was in it’s second of four months domination of the UK single charts and I was a few weeks shy of being 4 months old.

He outclassed his more experienced teammate, Andrea De Cesaris, in qualifying but retired with clutch failure in the first 500 metres of the race. However he was destined for making motorsport history.

Beginning as a fierce rival to three time champion Ayrton Senna until his tragic death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Then began his journey to winning seven world titles: two with Benetton in 1994 and 1995; and five successive championships between 2000 and 2004 with Ferrari. Turning a team, at that point, from being a disappointment to a supreme competitive force.

After the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix he retired to take on motorbikes, nearly returned to replace then injured Felipe Massa in 2009 and finally made his return with Mercedes in 2010.

His "second career", while it showed flashes of the old Michael, was a disappointment, retired after the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix and replaced by Lewis Hamilton for 2013.

Tragically, the skiing accident in December 2013 brought everything to a sudden halt. I remember being in an Edinburgh pub when I saw the shocking newsflash.

I don’t have role models – I don’t generally believe in that concept since we all should aspire the best version of ourselves – but Michael was certainly a childhood hero of mine.

I’ve been watching F1 for much of my life – one of my earliest memories was watching practice for the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix on Eurosport.

As a young kid, watching Michael devastating his opposition for many races was awesome. Especially when wet weather was involved – he outclassed everyone. Reinenmeister was a perfect name for him. Just search "1996 Spanish Grand Prix" on YouTube to see what I mean.

Listening to the German and Italian national anthems during the podium ceremony in his Ferrari days became a regular highlight.

Of course there were things I didn’t agree with him on. Trying to drive into his rivals at the 1994 and 1997 championship deciders, deliberating stopping the car during the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix qualifying, and squeezing his former teammate towards the pitwall during the 2010 Hungarian Grand Prix.

For me it demonstrates that he’s like everyone else on this planet…flawed. His weakness was not knowing where the line was between fiercely competitive and unsporting behaviour.

This could also arguably be a weakness of Ayrton Senna but that’s another debate for another time.

On the flipside however, he was a childhood hero of mine because of his determined nature and commitment to achieving his goals. On a pure racing level, his ability to have the aggression and ruthlessness of Senna with the methodical intelligence of 4 time world champion Alain Prost was a killer combination.

Another reason, he is private and values the loved ones around him. Something that is becoming a rarer trait in this social media saturated world.

One important thing that Michael teaches us, especially after his skiing accident and I learnt this as I got older.

We are not invincible. We are not immortal. Just look at Senna and Jim Clark as prime examples.

We have to make the most of life. To create the moments, memories and experiences we can look back on our final days.

Michael also taught me that no matter what the situation throws at you. You can come back and triumph.

His many races starting from the back of the grid and scaling the ladder to victory were prime examples. As well as winning and scoring points in underperforming cars.

While I doubt he will fully recover from his skiing accident, his progress to date shows he does not give up without a fight.

Keep fighting Michael.