Ferrari's Focus Wrong as Formula 1 Analyses Falling Audience Numbers

Matthew WalthertFeatured ColumnistJune 29, 2014

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 09:  Ferrari Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo looks on in the pit lane during practice ahead of the Spanish F1 Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 9, 2014 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

As his team continues to struggle, Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo has kept up his campaign to change Formula One.

Of course, with the introduction of hybrid power units in 2014, the sport has just undergone its biggest change in recent memory. And that change has already delivered several exciting races, shaken up the running order of the last few years and produced a fascinating battle for the Drivers' Championship (albeit amongst the drivers of one team). 

Luca di Montezemolo
Luca di MontezemoloPaul Gilham/Getty Images

But Montezemolo is sure that F1 can do better. Two weeks ago, according to the Ferrari website, the 66-year-old Italian made a formal proposal to bring together the key stakeholders in the sport to improve the spectacle of F1.

We all want exciting racing, but we also understand that not every race can have six cars, all from different teams, finish within a few seconds of the winner. That has never been the case in F1 and it never will be.

Recently, fans have had to deal with several misguided attempts to improve the quality of the on-track product, all of them at least implicitly approved by Montezemolo and Ferrari—remember, the Italian team holds a veto on rule changes. From DRS to double points to standing restarts, it seems there is a bottomless reserve of silly ideas which are supposed to make people more interested in watching a grand prix.

It does not seem to be working, though, as television audiences continue to decline—although that probably has more to do with the decision to move to subscription-only broadcasters in many countries.

Meanwhile, the Ferrari chairman has demonstrated that he cannot or will not think in the best interests of the future of the sport. Montezemolo has pushed back against fuel efficiency regulations, saying that fans are not smart enough to understand them, despite the benefits for the sport: F1 is now more relevant to road car technology and Honda has returned as an engine manufacturer.

Montezemolo also opposes a cost cap, but this is one of the key changes F1 should make to improve the sport.

Spending is out of control right now and the smaller teams cannot compete. A restriction in the amount the larger teams can spend would close the performance gap between teams, which would naturally lead to better racing.

In the same vein, F1 should distribute its prize money more equitably. The best teams should still be rewarded, but right now the distribution is tilted so heavily in favour of the top teams (and then tilted even further toward Ferrari, specifically) that it is very difficult for the smaller, usually less successful teams to break into that upper tier.

Despite enjoying considerable benefits, Ferrari has struggled in recent years.
Despite enjoying considerable benefits, Ferrari has struggled in recent years.Mathias Kniepeiss/Getty Images

None of this would favour Ferrari, though, who operate on one of the largest budgets in the sport. So even if it would make for a better show, Montezemolo is not in favour of any redistribution of wealth.

If the Ferrari chairman is serious about improving the racing, he should also be pushing to get rid of all the gimmicks F1 has introduced. No one is impressed by watching a driver press a button to gain an advantage that the car in front of him does not have and then cruise past.

Similarly, no one will be impressed if a driver loses out on a championship because the final race of the season is now arbitrarily worth twice as many points as any other grand prix.

Jean Todt, president of the FIA, has been pushing for a cost cap.
Jean Todt, president of the FIA, has been pushing for a cost cap.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Montezemolo is correct that the fans want a good show, but he—and the rest of the powers that be in F1—are going about it the wrong way. Rather than inventing ideas to create more passing, they should just close the financial gap between the teams and then let them race. 

But that would involve giving up Ferrari's advantages, and that is not what the company's chairman has in mind when he says the sport needs to improve. We would not be hearing a peep from Maranello if Ferrari had won seven of eight races this season.

And that is why there is no cost cap. Despite public statements to the contrary, none of the teams are looking out for the best interests of the sport. They are looking out for themselves.

Unfortunately, the FIA has abrogated its power and responsibility to regulate F1, handing it to the very teams that cannot see beyond their own noses. But that is a topic for another day.


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