Brown calls for changes to Formula 1 ‘pantomime’

Jamie Woodhouse
McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown points. Qatar, November 2021.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown points while wearing his McLaren mask. Qatar, November 2021.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown said Formula 1 felt like a “pantomime audition” rather than a global sport at times in 2021.

While Formula 1 delivered one of, if not its greatest season yet in 2021, throughout there was a lingering frustration over inconsistent decision making, especially when it came to policing wheel-to-wheel racing.

The biggest controversy then came at the season-finale in Abu Dhabi, with race director Michael Masi going against the written rule in the sporting regulations relating to the Safety Car, by allowing only selected lapped cars to overtake the SC, rather than all of them.

This led to criticism from many who felt that the final outcome no longer felt pureMax Verstappen was P2 after pitting for fresher tyres, and with only the lapped runners between he and Lewis Hamilton cleared before the track went green, Verstappen made the last-lap overtake, thus clinching the title.

During the process of his decisions though, Masi had both Red Bull boss Christian Horner and Mercedes on the radio trying to influence the race restart.

This in particular frustrated Brown, who felt like Formula 1 became a pantomime in those moments.

That being said, he felt that Abu Dhabi was a “symptom” of wider issues in F1 relating to rule making, and the enforcement of said rules.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen embrace. Yas Marina December 2021.
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen embrace after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Yas Marina December 2021.

“It is obvious to focus on the events of Abu Dhabi at the end of last season, which are the subject of an FIA investigation, but this was a symptom rather than cause in my view,” Brown wrote in his 2022 preview piece for the McLaren website.

“There have been systemic issues around alignment and clarity on who makes the rules – the FIA or the teams – that have manifested themselves in the past couple of years, at times in a high-profile way.

“It is clear that some of the rules and their governance are not acceptable as things stand.

“No one is happy with the inconsistency in the policing of the regulations, but which has been habitually exploited by teams for competitive advantage.

“I have said before that the teams have too much power and it needs to be reduced. We have a significant role in the drafting of the regulations and governance of Formula 1 and that influence is not always driven by what is best overall for the sport.

“Yes, teams should be consulted, and their informed perspectives considered, particularly on long-term strategic issues. But at times it has seemed the sport is governed by certain teams. Let us not forget that we, the teams, have contributed to the inconsistencies in the policing of the regulations as much as anyone.

“It is the teams who applied the pressure to avoid finishing races under a Safety Car at all costs. It is the teams who voted for many of the regulations they have complained about. It is the teams who have been using the broadcasting of radio messages to the race director to try to influence penalties and race outcomes, to the point where an over-excited team principal plays to the gallery and pressurises race officials.

“This has not been edifying for F1. At times it’s felt like a pantomime audition rather than the pinnacle of a global sport.”

 

There is a new president now at the helm of the FIA though, with Mohammed Ben Sulayem selected to succeed Jean Todt, who stepped down from the role having served the maximum term of 12 years.

And so, Brown believes that this will be the chance to create positive reform for Formula 1.

“The election of Mohammed Ben Sulayem last December as the new president of the FIA provides the opportunity for collective reform of the way Formula 1 operates,” Brown claimed.

“Greater clarity on the roles of the FIA and F1 and the need for increased leadership of the sport will undoubtedly be on the agenda for Mohammed Ben Sulayem and Stefano Domenicali [F1 president] and their respective teams.

“Previous administrations pursued a mainly autocratic style of governance, so to point the sport in the right direction it was necessary to take a more consultative approach with teams and stakeholders. But now the sport has been successfully reset, moving forward there is a need to shift back to stronger, more directive leadership and governance at the top of the sport.

“I am confident that we will see increased leadership from the FIA and F1, and that collectively as custodians of the sport we will focus on evolving the sport and not shirk responsibility when it comes to tough decision-making.”

 

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