Formula One Shoots Itself In The Foot Once More

24 Mar 2016 16:50

Oh dear, oh dear. If awards were handed out for the sport which continues to shoot itself in the foot, then Formula One would win every time.

Only days after the season-opening Australian Grand Prix - arguably one of the best in recent times - do we find ourselves with a sport that is unclear over its regulations, has drivers publicly revolting and a terrestrial television contract in tatters. As I said, we have a clear winner.

So, let us start with qualifying. Farce. Disaster. Absurd. These are just some of the words which were used to describe the new elimination-style format in the moments after its debut in Melbourne.

Red-faced team bosses met the following day and it was decided to ditch it and revert back to last year's system for the next race in Bahrain. How many rules in a global sport have lasted only an hour?

Panned by fans across the world on social media, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted the fallout was "embarrassing", and said the failing had been rushing through a rule which was not yet ready. Quite.

There was nothing wrong with last year's format, so why the sport's powerbrokers felt the need to change it remains somewhat of a mystery. And most were in agreement that reverting back to 2015 mode was the best option.

Yet with the Bahrain Grand Prix only a week away, it has emerged that last year's qualifying may not be adopted after all. If we are to listen to Bernie Ecclestone, then we are set to see the one which had been consigned to the dustbin only days previously, rolled out in the desert.

No wonder the Grand Prix Drivers' Association described the governing of Formula One as "obsolete" and "ill-structured". Fed-up and frustrated with the rudderless actions of those who are suppose to be in charge, the GPDA published a 463-word letter taking aim at the direction in which the sport was taking and those in charge, too.

They insisted it was not a direct attack on Ecclestone, and the rest of the sport's hierarchy, but who were they kidding? They, like the rest of us, are wondering how a global sport can be in such a torrid mess.

Yet with the ink still drying on Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel's signature on the letter, news came of what many have described as the final nail in the sport's coffin - the end of Formula One on terrestrial television in the United Kingdom.

Sky Sports, who entered the sport in 2012, announced the exclusive broadcasting rights to a six-season deal which would cease Formula One trading on 'free-to-air' TV.

There can be no question that Sky are the masters of their field - their coverage, analysis and dedicated hours to Formula One are second to none - but it comes at a cost and herein is where the problem lies.

While Sky managed a peak audience of 400,000 for the season opener on Sunday, Channel 4, the new kids on the block who you fancy have been rather caught out by Sky's new deal, attracted nearly 3 million punters for their highlights show.

Yes, the results are skewed given Sky's live broadcast went out in the early hours, but subscription TV can not boast the audience figures which terrestrial can.

Less than one million viewers watched Lewis Hamilton win last year's championship in America. Given that the race took place at peak-viewing time, it is not ludicrous to say that number would have been nearer six or seven million had it been screened on free-to-air TV.

The new deal, which comes into effect in 2019, means the sport will lose some of its old audience - the casual observers who don't wish to part with their money - as well as any new ones. F1's audience is an ageing one, and Sky's new deal will do little to help in the long-run.

So, welcome to Formula One in 2016. For what it is worth, Nico Rosberg won from Lewis Hamilton in Australia while Fernando Alonso was fortunate not to be killed.

Yet as we head to Bahrain, you fancy the on-track action will be a back-seat passenger once more.