The 2019 Ferrari Formula One car isn’t that bad, it’s just not a Mercedes 2019 Formula One car. Mercedes have hit the sweet spot in a way that hardly ever happens in motor racing. They’ve built the best car, combined it with the best power unit and have got two drivers who are doing their jobs better than they’ve ever done. The team has the budget, the backing, the staff, management and ownership all in position and perfectly aligned. Mercedes in 2019 is just about as unstoppable as any F1 team has ever been.
Ferrari’s problem is that they are supposed to take the fight to Mercedes… and beat them. No other team carries that weight of expectation, not even Red Bull. In the turbo-hybrid era Mercedes, particularly in the hands of Lewis Hamilton, have been dominant. In the five-and-a-bit seasons of the current formula Hamilton has won 54 grands prix, his team-mates have combined for 25. Ferrari have 14 wins, Red Bull 12 and everyone else just pitches up. Formula One is about as competitive as the Scottish Premiership.
But in Formula One you can’t be relegated, you can just go bust. The danger is when people stop seeing the point any more. Drivers, teams and sponsors stop bothering when they see no return on their efforts and investment, just look at Fernando Alonso and Martini. At the other end of the scale, when winning serves no purpose either there is little point in going motor racing. Is Mercedes dominance of the sport doing the company any good? Is the spectator at trackside or in front of the television impressed any more?
Mercedes-Benz have a new CEO this month. Dieter Zetsche, who got them into F1 in 2010, has been succeeded by Ola Källenius. Word is that the latter is fully supportive of the F1 programme, but chief executives like to do things their own way and Källenius is a advocate of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. Formula E looks to be more his thing.
How much longer will Dietrich Mateschitz, the owner of Red Bull, want to fund two teams and a superstar driver whose best hope is finishing third? Ditto Honda. Is it worth Williams’ while to come last every other weekend? Should McLaren really be whooping and cheering when they finish eighth? The Renault board must be wondering why they’ve ploughed so much investment into F1 when they struggle to make the top 10, what’s in it for Haas and Alfa Romeo, both effectively Ferrari development teams?
Formula One looked bad at the Spanish Grand Prix because the result was inevitable and the race dull. There were a lot of empty seats in Barcelona and viewing figures have been in decline for quite a while. The sport no longer entertains and has reached its most critical moment. There is one chance left to save F1, and that is when the new rules come into force in 2021. If they don’t provide entertainment, everyone could walk away.