There is a certain magnetism when Fernando Alonso.
A legend of F1 and a seasoned veteran, albeit one with immaculately tousled hair, when he speaks, it is impossible not to listen. Over his career, he has imparted enough wisdom to last a lifetime.
However, on this occasion, this writer must disagree with him. His frustration at the state of the sport led him to describe it as ‘predictable’ and ‘too boring’. Harsh words indeed, and there will be many race fans who are inclined to hold the same view.
First of all, it would be a good idea to look back over the last couple of years. Alonso stepped back into his car in 2021 with Alpine after a two-season hiatus. When he did return, a fresh slate of exciting regulations was set to be introduced in a shake-up.
Fernando Alonso has criticised F1 for being too ‘predictable’, and said that it is ‘too boring’
Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc are often at the front of the grid, competing for victories
That, of course, was delayed as a result of the pandemic. Alongside the budget cap, the regulations were designed to help make the sport more competitive, from the front of the grid down to the back. This year, we are starting to see those changes.
But Alonso is clearly not impressed. Asked by NOS if the new cars have been successful, he replied: ‘It’s so-so. Unfortunately, Formula 1 is still very predictable.’
He then pointed to the title battle, adding: ‘It’s all about Red Bull and Ferrari. Only Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez can win.
‘I don’t know of any other sport where it goes like this.
Red Bull star Verstappen (left) and Ferrari ace Leclerc (right) went wheel-to-wheel in Austria
‘The GPs have become more fun and with these cars you can fight better.
‘Still, I think it’s too boring, but it’s also part of F1. There will always be teams that are faster than others.’
The fundamentals of his argument are hard to swat away. The drivers’ championship will go to either Max Verstappen or Charles Leclerc, while it is only Red Bull and Ferrari who are primed to fight for the constructors’ trophy with Mercedes short-handed this season.
But, zooming out to see the bigger picture, this is not just a two-horse race. This is the best of the best jostling and tussling around every corner and straight to triumph. This is a long slog of a season, where one mistake can lead to heartbreak.
Leclerc took the chequered flag first on that occasion, but the sport is not a two-horse race
Yes, the end result may be predictable – but the journey getting there really is not.
Let’s start this counter-argument with the fizzing excitement of seeing cars go wheel to wheel at outrageously high speeds. The new regulations were brought in to aid these types of battles, and overtakes are notably more frequent so far this campaign.
Previous years have been marred by drivers being stuck behind slower cars for lap after lap, with a pass seemingly impossible due to dirty air hurting their own performance. This is still an issue, but races are closer and predictions are harder to make.
Admittedly, drivers can take these jousts too far. Look no further than Sebastian Vettel for proof of this, after he questioned ‘what is wrong with these people?’ following his collision with Pierre Gasly, which sent him spinning out in Austria.
Sebastian Vettel was sent spinning off the track after dangerous driving from Pierre Gasly
His frustration was understandable, but the passion, skill and hot-headed desire to come out on top is still evident in many of the drivers, and can perhaps be traced all the way back to their karting days. This constant edge helps to draw in spectators.
Next, we will move on to sprint races. They are here to stay, and certainly help to provide more pulsating drama on a race weekend. While not always as entertaining as fans may want, they also hand drivers another chance to get racy out on track.
There are three sprint races scheduled for 2022 and another six next year. More world championship points are also now on offer, with eight available for the winner.
They are short bursts of action, roughly a third of a normal grand prix length, and are held on a Saturday to set the grid for the main showpiece the following day. Qualifying is therefore held on a Friday to piece together the order for the sprint.
Sprint races are also here to stay, with three held this year and another six set for next year
Teams have less time to prepare with the number of practice sessions reduced, and drivers are left with a headache over how much of a risk they take in the sprint. They will want to earn as many points as possible, but avoid a devastating smash-up.
Fernando Alonso dragged himself from 11th to fifth last year, while Lewis Hamilton memorably recovered from last to also finish fifth in one sprint. Both of these examples show the sprint race offers drivers a second chance at success, provided they can up the ante.
We will briefly touch on the new regulations now.
When the FIA set about rewriting the rule book, they wanted to increase the amount of overtakes and help create more high-speed, wheel-to-wheel drama. They will believe they have achieved that – or are starting to.
There is also an element of unpredictability. Red Bull and Ferrari are the clear frontrunners, but they have also suffered from reliability issues. Sainz’s engine blew up recently, and Leclerc has also endured his fair share of scrapes.
Engineering issues have plagued drivers this year, with Carlos Sainz narrowly escaping a fire
Verstappen may top the standings, meanwhile, but he has also been forced to deal with mechanical problems. That has kept the drivers’ championship in the balance, although there is no denying Red Bull hold the advantage in the reliability stakes.
Down the rest of the grid, Mercedes look to be resurgent after their nightmare start, with Lewis Hamilton and the impressive George Russell working in tandem to secure a number of impressive podium finishes. Still believe F1 is boring, Fernando?
McLaren and Alpine are locked on the same points tally, 81, in the midfield scrap, while Alfa Romeo and Haas have also raised plenty of eyebrows this season, with Mick Schumacher recently stunning the field to get his first points in F1.
After that, AlphaTauri, Aston Martin and Williams have plenty of work to do to improve.
So, the new regulations appear to have shaken up the pecking order at either end of the standings, and the manner in which teams have looked to overhaul their cars to meet these requirements has also thrown up plenty of talking points just months in.
Lewis Hamilton has battled back from a difficult start this year to clinch several podium spots
Surely this also dispels the notion that the sport is too predictable?
Finally, we will cast our eye over the jaw-dropping chaos of last year.
It was almost as if it had been written with hit Netflix series Drive to Survive in mind. All of the angles of that dramatic finale were recorded in crystal clear HD, and beamed into your living rooms.
Toto Wolff’s anguish was splashed across every pixel, while Verstappen’s wild celebrations and the delirium inside the Red Bull garage provided the perfect contrast.
For some, it was a joyful watch. For others, they will never watch it again.
That is the duality of sport, and F1 is chock-full of it. In the space of just one race, we veered violently from Hamilton continuing his lengthy spell of dominance to ushering in a new era; one which may see two fresh-faced racers going toe-to-toe for years to come.
Verstappen’s controversial drivers’ championship triumph was caught on every angle last year
Yes, the circumstances around Verstappen’s triumph were just plain wrong and should never happened. There is no denying that Hamilton was clearly robbed.
But taking a longer-term view, with new race directors and a heap of groundbreaking introductions thrown into the fray, there has never been a more exciting time to watch the sport.
Alonso has every right to be frustrated, but there is plenty to enjoy.
Not even Netflix’s most blue-sky thinking writers could have come up with better.
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