It is the perfection of formula one that is turning off the fans, according to the well-known motor racing figure Gil de Ferran. The Brazilian, now 47, is best known for his success in American open wheeler racing, including titles and the Indy 500 win, but a decade ago he was sporting director of the F1 team BAR-Honda.
Ten years on, with F1 in a period of intense introspection amid a declining audience, de Ferran thinks the pinnacle of motor sport is a "victim of its own success". "Formula one will always be the top of motor racing," he told Germany's Auto Motor und Sport. "But it's too perfect. It lacks the human factor."
"Over the past two decades, huge investments were made in formula one and everything has got better to the point almost of perfection. The aim has been to eliminate mistakes and mishaps. Now I wonder: is there anything left that is bad? When I look at the cars at the far end of the field, I have to say that even they look damn good."
De Ferran says that perfection is in contrast to the 80s and 90s, which he thinks was F1's best era as drivers struggled to tame the imperfect monsters. "Any step back in that direction would be a good one," he insisted. "Even in my day, we all dreamed of the perfect race," de Ferran continued. "Start from pole, do a good start, drive with no mistakes, take care of the tyres, lap the field and win the race."
"Unfortunately, the people don't really want to see that," he added. "But if you have everything you need in your hands to plan this perfect race, things get dangerous. This is the curse of the money that is in formula one. I do believe that today's F1 drivers are still working hard for that perfect race, it's just so hard to see from the outside. Maybe I can see it, because I raced for 30 years. But it's difficult for the ordinary spectator."
However, de Ferran thinks formula one should not despair too deeply, as it is still among the most popular sports in the world. "When we are talking about the problems, everything is relative," he said. "I drove into Silverstone on Friday morning and was stuck in a traffic jam -- so the problems cannot be too great."
So he thinks it would not be wise for F1 to start making sweeping changes, especially if they are based fundamentally on what the fans are saying in a recent spate of global surveys.
"Henry Ford once said that if he had asked the people what they want, they would have said 'faster horses'. And if Steve Jobs had asked people what they want, no one would have told him the smartphone. What I mean is that although it is important to know how the fans tick, what you actually deliver to the people must be decided by those who run the business," said de Ferran. (GMM)
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing
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