A One Horse, Two Horse, Three Horse Race??? Most Definitely Not Four …

I was hoping for a different title for my first post back to AmerF1can.com in 2017. Something more along the lines of: “2017 Clash of the (Many) Titans”, or “Hamilton vs. Vettel and Surprise vs. Alonso”, or “Extra, Extra, Read All About It, McLaren Surprises – Back on Top”, or “Newey At It Again – Red Bull Dominates Winter Testing and Takes First Win”. How about, “Title Race Wide Open as No One Is Dominant” … I could go on.

Instead here is where we stand. Mercedes looks great and Ferrari looks great. Everyone else, they don’t look that great and I am not just a bit disappointed, I’m seriously considering taking a long walk on a short pier. Sure, it will be nice to see Mercedes challenged for race wins on actual pace vs. strategy errors, crashes or reliability, by what looks to be a very fast Ferrari. However, I was really hoping for a better showing from all of the top (four) teams in F1.

I don’t quite share the enthusiasm that has been rampant all over the web just because we ended up with a result different from the last three years in the season opener in Melbourne. Sorry to be a downer but I demand a bit more from my Formula 1.

Imagine what a season we could have had if instead of four cars (and that number is usually reduced to two), we had eight cars, well, let’s just agree that it would have been more like six cars fighting for race wins all season long, or for the better part of the season at the very least if Red Bull/Renault and McLaren/HONDA had done their homework. No one driver running away with the championship or at least not until the last quarter of the season.

The idea of Lewis Hamilton at the wheel of a Mercedes winning eighty percent of the time this year is not that appealing I must say. While it actually appears like this duo will be challenged for poles and race wins, I was hoping for a bit more this year with the regulation changes. Oh how naive I am after all these years of F1. I guess it will always be the big teams and usually only two or three that vie for the victory come Sunday…

I can see it now: Vettel takes the first win only to have Hamilton fight back in China at which point Max gets the win over his teammate in Bahrain while both Daniel and Kimi displace their more illustrious teammates for the other two steps on the podium. Then out of the blue Alonso and McLaren open their account in Sochi and Williams makes the podium to ensure the there is only one other top spot that Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas and both drivers from Red Bull have to fight over or in the end settle for something less.

And so it goes throughout the season each team and their drivers all taking turns at wins and the other two steps on the podium, if not, then musical chairs to see who can savage the most points per race. Extrapolate this out folks and with so many iterations on who comes first, second and third not to mention fourth, fifth and sixth, the excitement is endless and for once we have what I remember as a kid watching F1 – the chance for multiple teams and drivers to win on any Sunday, or at least that is how I remember it…

There is also another knock-on/off effect to this type of multiple-winners season and that is, each and every point becomes much more valuable. Here is the reasoning. If it is only a championship between team mates such as we saw between Hamilton and Rosberg the past three years, then a second or third or a fifth or even a DNF is not as punitive in the larger scope of the championship.

How many bad starts did Lewis have? And how many reliability issues did Lewis have? Yet he still almost won the title. Now think about this, if not only does a Hamilton or a Vettel have to think about their teammate but also six other drivers, well you can bet any given driver will think twice about the crazy move on the first corner of the first lap or taking that chance that could result in a cut down tire, or going for that gap that Mr. Senna talks so lovingly about and a quote which every driver is so quick to throw out when ever there is a microphone shoved in their face while explaining the contact with another car usually at the expense of their own race. Racing in this form becomes a chess match, not just a contest of who can go fastest and who will make a kamikaze move down the inside. Catch my drift?

2016 was a year to forget. No race wins, inter-team strife, crashes and a boss that was way too vocal about how Ferrari was going to take the championship. Not to mention a bad car and development drop-off. The faithful explained it away due to the curse of too much white on the air box. Superstition aside, it just was not Ferrari’s year. Now no one is saying a thing except the car and it is saying, “Im fast, REALLY FAST…”

Note from me: Yes of course we want F1 drivers to go for the gap, yes we want F1 drivers to attack whenever possible, but all too often I also hear from F1 commentators this line, “I think that move was a bit ambitious if you ask me…” Enough said.

Furthermore, a DNF or a mistake that costs you several places in the queue when it is teammate vs. teammate is not that big of a deal for the championship but a DNF or a mistake that costs you several places in the queue if you are fighting four, five, or six guys for the championship – wow, now this could really hurt your chances at season’s end.

But all this reasoning is a bit negative, lets focus on the positive for a moment, shall we? Simply put, when there are more drivers competing for race wins the racing is just better, not to mention there is a more obvious by-product which is, there is just much more excitement for the fans although I’m sure there is a fair amount of excitement for those drivers that are fighting for wins as well in this format. Let’s call that the “trickle up” effect. And by the way you can say you first heard that term here. 😉

The positives do not stop there. With many drivers in the mix each and every driver needs to find that extra tenth sometimes many extra tenths, make that extra great pass, push that extra mile (kilometer if you’re speaking F1 jargon), hone and develop their race craft on the fly lap by lap, track by track and we the fans benefit from getting to see this all race by race and and throughout the season.

I’m still not done. If Fernando and Sebastian and Kimi and Lewis and Daniel and Max and now Valtteri all have a reasonable chance of winning on Sunday, you better believe someone is going to bring their A game, no, that will actually will not be good enough, their AA++ game to the show because nothing else will do. Then won’t you and I and the entire F1 community be the better for it? Answer: Oh Hell Yeah…

You only have to look at who is driving this RB 13 to understand how this team’s season has gone so far. Still down on power, the Red Bull’s strong point always was its chassis. Apparently not this year, at least not in the opening few races. RB have an entire new chassis up-grade for Spain, but they are just too far behind…

This game-upping is not reserved for the drivers alone, the team also will be under the gun to bring out the best in all they do, team work, pit work, communication, strategy etc. When the margins are so small and there are several teams fighting for wins the smallest of details become of paramount concern. Sometimes championships are won or lost by the very decisions the teams take in the split of a second. This adds yet another layer to the sport that we all have come to appreciate just as much as great driving.

This kind of competition, when F1 has many possible winners, creates several other positives for the sport, which manifest across the board. Development kicks into high gear, the Newey’s, Lowe’s and Allison’s really start to shine in a way that allows even the average F1 fan to see their absolute pure genius and how important the engineering of an F1 race car is.

Getting back to the drivers, although the battle between Alonso and Vettel a few years back was fantastic and certainly Hamilton vs. Rosberg was action packed, think what a three-way or four-way fight would look like and tell me these are not the conditions where stars are born or existing champions further burnish their mark on the sport??? It is in these moments that F1 delivers on the promise that we all take for granted when the racing is great – high stakes, high pressure, unbelievable racing, incredible outcomes, and then complain about constantly when a team like Mercedes dominates for multiple seasons and everyone else are also-rans…

F1, for the last several years has asked itself why the decline in viewership in one form or another, or at the very least the inconsistent interest in F1. In places like Germany, F1 seems to be in a death spiral (just my view from sunny Los Angeles) and that’s occurring while there is a four-time champion in F1’s most fabled team form the country in question. Maybe the real reason F1 has been losing viewers year after year is simple: who wants to see just two cars with a chance to win or worse, the same two cars with the only chance to win?

In this scenario there tends to be no real story, no real competition and while I wrote many times for this site about the compelling human drama which was unfolding between the two Mercedes drivers (and for most of us there was plenty), it is just that much more compelling when Max is beating Hamilton and Valtteri or Raikkonen takes two wins off Vettel or Ricciardo can renew his rivalry with Alonso by a great pass on older-by-ten-laps tires for the win. This in turn creates real interest in the sport for all F1 fans but primarily helps to reach out to what is vital for F1’s survival – that all elusive YOUNG fan (just my opinion here).

Ever heard the expression saving the best for last? Well I saved the worst for last. The new McLaren-Honda is not just a huge disappointment, this car has actually managed to take several steps backward engine-wise. Not only have Honda managed to produce an engine with 2015 power levels or less, we are also back to the 2015 reliability issue. Fernando Alonso must be fit to be tied. Ron Dennis too…..

Of course all of us hardcore fans will watch regardless but to create interest for new fans that have grown up in a world quite different from my generation and the few right after which have a very different relationship with sport in general and social media, well you do the math, it is just not good enough for Hamilton to be wining against his teammate despite what #TeamHamilton would have us believe. And even though everyone seems to be over the carbon fiber moon that Ferrari was the victor and looks to be on par with Mercedes just a few weeks ago, this still is not good enough for #TeamF1.

There is a saying in F1 that quite frankly I am sick and tired of hearing and that is this: When Ferrari does well, F1 does well, or some version of this. Well maybe there is some truth to that, trust me I get all the mystique of Enzo and Ferrari and I love the brand and of course I loved them when Alonso was driving for them, but to say F1 lives and dies with the success or failure of one team is a bit overstating the facts. (I’m pretty sure I’m about to get some death threats here so fine, I have thick skin, bring it). But I think if we were to take that statement and tweak it a little bit to mean when Ferrari and McLaren, and Mercedes and lets not stop there, and Red Bull and sure, lets throw in Williams do well and are winning, then F1 really and truly wins.

China is this weekend and Ferrari typically goes well there. Mercedes will be wanting to get right back on top and I’m sure Toto does not want a repeat of Australia: bad timing on their pit stop and even worse timing to get stuck behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. And then a GIF of him slamming his fist down (TWICE) which made its way into my FB F1 feed about a gazillion times.

Let’s see if we have a race without the extra variables and see who is genuinely faster and who still has a bit of work to do. It looks like it will again be a race between the silver arrows and the red cars from Maranello with everyone else quite a ways back.

I can only hope that Red Bull pulls out all the stops in the first half of the season to make this a three-horse race come Canada or shortly thereafter, via the aero-master Adrian Newey and the resources they can bring to bare. As for McLaren? That fourth horse I was so counting on to really make this season one to remember, well … at least my new grey flat billed team cap with the #14 that arrived just in time for the season opener is an improvement over the bland white and black one of last year…

-j (and if either Ham or Seb wins the title this year, I’ll be fit to be tied ;-)) p-

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