When it’s a sprint race on Saturday. F1’s owners are in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg as teams face races on a weekly schedule writes Peter Coster.
Max Verstappen is a “pure racer” and a “racing purist” who spoke his mind after the latest attempt to manipulate the world’s most expensive sport.
Money talks in all sport and particularly in Formula One where those who know less about racing but everything about boosting their bottom line are in charge.
The latest attempt to bring even greater numbers to F1 circuits and on television through devices that strap you into the cockpit with the drivers is the Saturday sprint race.
At first, crews and drivers were discouraged from calling it a “race.”
It was more a “demo” or a “teaser” for the main. Event, but now they don’t seem to care.
The Formula One Group of companies, under parent company Liberty Media, promotes the FIA Formula One World Championship and exercises complete control over its commercial interests.
The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile is the governing body of motor racing since its inception in 1904 and now just follows the money.
The FIA has at its president one Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who was at Baku in Azerbaijan on Sunday for the Grand Prix.Embed from Getty Images
Known as MBS, he cuts a different figure in a dark suit from the flowing white robes he wears at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix each year as Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
There is a strong element of what is called “sports washing” in all of this.
MBS is also Greg Norman’s financial backer with more than 70,000 golf fans turning up in Adelaide to watch the breakaway LIV tournament.
The Great White Shark was there to promote the rival to the established golf tour on behalf of the future Saudi king who has had himself appointed president of the FIA.
That has caused some misapprehension in the F1 paddock, particularly among drivers such as Lewis Hamilton.
There was some nervousness at last year’s Saudi Grand Prix when smoke could be seen drifting across the desert from an attack by “terrorists.”
Some 84 of the insurgents were executed shortly before the Grand Prix.
But who wants to talk about that in Formula One and, like the Saturday sprint race, few do.
Bu not Max Verstappen who wants it scrapped because it has nothing to do with the Grand Prix on Sunday.
Under the new format, the grid for the next day’s GP has already been set by qualifying on Friday and while there are extra world championship points awarded for the first eight finishers in the sprint race, there is always the risk of crashing and not being able to line up for the Sunday race. There is even less incentive for the back half of the grid, which has little chance of picking up a point.
Verstappen finished second on Sunday behind Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez after he went into the pits while leading the race.
Only to be overtaken by Perez who benefitted from a stop under a safety car.
Verstappen had no complaint about that, but he vented his anger over the way F1 is being manipulated.
As a self-described F1 “purist,” the current world champion says further fiddling to create what he calls “arterial excitement” could force him to leave F1 after his current contract expires at the end of 2028.
Formula One’s owners have been fooling around with the sprint concept since 2021 leading Verstappen to comment, “Just scrap the whole thing.
“I think it’s important to go back to what we have and make sure that everyone team can fight for a win.
“That’s what we have to try and aim for and not try to implement all this kind of artificial excitement.”
The double world champion has described the changes as “hectic” and “just not proper racing.”
“It’s more like gambling. I think I would have more success in Vegas if I go to the casino.”
That might just happen. Las Vegas is on what has become the most crowded F1 schedule since the start of the world championship in 1950.
There are 23 races this year, with the United States Grand Prix in Miami to follow within a week of the Baku race, followed by Italy and Monaco within a week of each other.
There is yet another race in Italy, followed by another US Grand Prix and then a third in Las Vegas in November before the season finishes in Abu Dhabi in late November.
Meanwhile, the driver market is hotting up with seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton still to sign for Mercedes as his contact winds down to the end of this year.
Mercedes boss and part owner, Toto Wolff, admits he has his eye on Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in the “long term.”
Former McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo finds himself drifting further from a Formula One seat after deciding to sit out the year as a reserve driver for Red Bull, where he won seven of his eight Grand Prix victories.
But he did manage to stay in the public eye, turning up in a designer tuxedo and chatting to Hollywood star Anne Hathaway at the Met fashion gala in New York.
Oscar Piastri, Ricciardo’s replacement at McLaren finished out of the points at Baku behind teammate Lando Norris but the Melbourne driver did well to even reach the starting grid, losing more than three kilos through food poisoning.