Can Formula 1 Survive Another Year of Mercedes Domination?

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistJanuary 28, 2015

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 22:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP waves to the crowd next to Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP after claiming pole position during qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 22, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Another duel between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg for the Formula One world championship.

Whether or not we like the sound of that, it appears to be the most likely outcome of the season ahead. Mercedes will continue to dominate, and the title race will be another two-horse affair between the Silver Arrows.

Bernie Ecclestone is expecting it, The bookies are expecting it, and Rosberg himself is expecting it. In a recent interview, he told Sport Bild, per Motorsport.com, "I am very optimistic and believe it will again be a duel between Lewis and me."

This writer expects it to pan out that way, and you probably do too.

But can the sport afford another year with the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull reduced to the ranks of the also-rans?

A familiar twosome atop the podium in 2014.
A familiar twosome atop the podium in 2014.Dom Romney/Getty Images

Objectively, 2014 was a great season. It had most of the ingredients of a classicuncertainty over the new regulations, the emergence of Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas as genuine stars, bags of on-track action, some special overtaking, and a bitter, dramatic title race that went all the way down to the wire.

But not everyone enjoyed the year, largely because Mercedes were so far ahead.

It was Hamilton versus Rosberg from the first practice session to the final chequered flag. Fans who might have preferred more cars involved in the actionor who perhaps just wanted their favourite teams or drivers to do wellbranded the racing boring. Fans on Twitter were, as always, especially vocal.

Others weighing in with the same accusations included FoxSports.com's William Dale and Force India driver Sergio Perez. Even Sebastian Vettel had a light-hearted jab during the pre-race press conference for the final grand prix of the year.

It wasn't for everyone, and some fans will have ended up switching off their TVs. Perhaps those flighty few who stuck around through the single-driver dominance of 2013 found the to-the-wire, two-driver title fight of 2014 too much to bear.

In other words, not many people at all.

Even if Mercedes dominate again in 2015, the sport's fanbase will remain. It survived the Michael Schumacher era and the Vettel era, so there's no reason it wouldn't survive a third dose of German dominance.

At least now, unlike in Schumacher's day, one cannot simply fall asleep after two laps and wake up already knowing the result.

The ever-increasing cost of acquiring live coverage, as illustrated by this F1 Fanatic article, will drive away far more fans than a pair of silver cars duking it out for the race win.

No, the fans aren't the problem.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 08:  F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone speaks with Renault's Cyril Abiteboul, Infiniti Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner and team consultant Dr Helmut Marko during final practice for the Brazilian Formula One Grand Pr
Dan Istitene/Getty Images

All the teams on the grid want to come first. If they see an opportunity to give themselves an advantage at the expense of a rival, they'll take it. If a rule change will give them a leg up, they'll support it with great enthusiasm.

It's like that in all sports. Fortunately, most sports are controlled by governing bodies with something approaching a backbone that keep a firm grip on the reins of power. Competitors can throw their opinions into the ring, but in the end, they have the rules dictated to them.

Not so in Formula One. The primary decision-making body is not the FIA but the Strategy Groupset up, Ecclestone told Forbes' Christian Sylt, after the FIA "sold the rights" to making decisions in return for $40 million per year.

Vijay Mallya (Force India) finally has a bit of input on how the sport is run.
Vijay Mallya (Force India) finally has a bit of input on how the sport is run.Drew Gibson/Getty Images

It comprises the commercial rights holder (currently represented by Ecclestone), the FIA and six teamsFerrari, Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes, Williams and one "floating" seat given to the best-performing other team. Currently, that's Force India.

Ecclestone and the FIA have six votes each and the teams have a vote apiece.

The existence of this body allows the larger teams to essentially govern the sport. They can change the rules and block proposalsfor example, the planned budget cap that was supposed to come into force this year.

They could also wreak havoc with the engine regulations, and engines are the primary reason Mercedes are dominating at the moment. Their power unit was light years ahead of the rest in 2014, giving them a huge lap-time advantage.

The German manufacturer did the best job and earned the lead, but after just one season, they were facing calls to cave in to changes. They shouldn't feel even the slightest inclination to do sothey are ahead on merit, and it's not their problem their rivals dropped the ball.

Or rather, it shouldn't be their problem. As things stand, they could end up unwittingly being the architects of their own downfall.

SAKHIR, BAHRAIN - APRIL 06:  Nico Rosberg (L) of Germany and Mercedes GP and team mate  Lewis Hamilton (R) of Great Britain and Mercedes GP battle for the lead during Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 6, 2014 in
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

It has been widely known for several years that Ecclestone dislikes the current V6 turbo hybrids. With little interest in the reasons they were introducedgreater efficiency and road relevancehe'd be happy to return to the prehistoric V10 era as long as it was nice and loud.

Ferrari too have made it abundantly clear they're not fans of the V6sprobably because they didn't do a very good job of making theirs.

Auto Motor und Sport, per GrandPrix247.com, reports the Scuderia favour switching to a 2.2-litre twin-turbo V8 with a standard energy-recovery system.

Red Bull don't seem enamoured either, with team principal Christian Horner suggesting multiple alternatives. At the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix press conference, he floated the idea of keeping the current engines but adding an extra turbo and, like Ferrari, standardising the ERS.

Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press

Earlier in November, Autosport reported he said a return to V8s would be the "rational" thing to do. Of course, he may have considered it totally irrational had Renault matched Mercedes.

This trioEcclestone, Ferrari and Red Bullspent much of last season lobbying for changes to the engine regulations, from an alteration to the token system to a wholesale change to the lump itself. ESPN.co.uk reports such a change was to be proposed at a meeting of the Strategy Group in December.

The precise details of what was put forward are unknown, but the lack of celebratory noises emanating from Maranello and Milton Keynes tells us the trio failed to get it approved. This is likely because they have only eight of the 18 Strategy Group votes between them.

The other 10 votes must have gone the other way.

But if Mercedes dominate again in 2015, the balance could tip in the favour of change.

WOKING, ENGLAND- DECEMBER 10: In this handout photo provided by McLaren-Honda, Formula One drivers Fernando Alonso (2nd R) and Jenson Button (2nd L) pose as McLaren-Honda announces its new driver line-up for 2015 with Kevin Magnussen (C) who will remain a
Handout/Getty Images

McLaren have a new engine partner for 2015, Honda. A large part of the reason Honda chose to return is because the new, fuel-efficient engine formula offers significant opportunities for technology transfer to its road car division.

At the moment, having not even tested their engine properly, McLaren don't want anything to change.

But if they discover the Honda is no more competitive than the Ferrari and the Renaultand therefore a long way behind the dominant Mercedeswill they still feel the same way?

Adding McLaren's vote to the Ecclestone-Ferrari-Red Bull faction gives them nine of the 18 votes. Up against the nine presumed opposing votes of the FIA, Mercedes, and their engine customers Williams and Force India, it's a tie.

But per Dieter Rencken of Autosport, Ecclestone is believed to have the casting vote.

So it would be goodbye to the efficient, road-relevant V6 turbos and hello to whatever that collective decides on.

It would also be a possible goodbye to the sport trying to move forward into the 21st century and a definite hello to F1 slapping itself in the face with an Atlantic bluefin tuna and whacking yet another dirty great nail into its own coffin.

A rare interesting moment in a race which truly was boring.
A rare interesting moment in a race which truly was boring.Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press

Should the engine regulations be switched in this way, we would effectively be seeing a coalition of losers changing the rules because they feel they have a divine right to winand the people in charge helping them to do it.

What possible credibility could the F1 retain if that were to happen? The self-proclaimed pinnacle of motorsport would be reduced to hacking and slashing at its own regulations so favoured teams could succeed.

Mercedes could end up leaving the sport altogether—on principle if not because of the change of engines. Any chance of the Volkswagen Group entering after their "feasibility study" would be overno manufacturer would commit to entering a series with chaotic rules in which success is punished and failure rewarded.

F1 would survive this happening in the way it survived scandals such as Spygate, Crashgate and the FISA-FOCA dispute of the 1980s. It wouldn't be the end of the world, and grands prix would continue to be held all over the globe.

But it would be yet another glaring signal that something inside F1 is truly rotten. The damage to the sport's reputation would take a long, long time to fix.

And all because Mercedes built a decent engine.

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