Can we stop saying Formula 1 is boring?

Daniel Ricciardo (original image by emperornie)

There is a new game in town: Who can say they find Formula 1 the most boring? Complaining about the state of F1 now seems more popular than F1 itself.

The reaction following this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix is a case in point.

I was unable to watch the race live, but I successfully avoided all spoilers. So I watched Channel 4’s coverage, which I had recorded. I really enjoyed watching it. It wasn’t an all-time classic by any means. But I found it a largely interesting and tense race. At times I was on the edge of my seat, wondering just when Sebastian Vettel would pounce on the ailing Daniel Ricciardo.

So when I logged on to social media after I watched Ricciardo take the chequered flag, it was strange to see a much more negative reaction from the masses. Had everyone else really seen the same race that I had just watched?

We have come to expect overblown reactions to dominate discussions on Twitter. But I was surprised that one of the first tweets I saw was from a well-established broadcaster who decried the “rubbish race”.

I was truly curious, and delving deeper I found the same broadcaster inviting people to rate the race using negative numbers! This is someone whose job it is to go to Monaco and cover one of the most awesome spectacles on the planet.

By now I felt like I was stepping into a parallel universe. I didn’t even feel like it was a below-average race — and certainly not so bad that it was off the scale.

As I continued to watch the Channel 4 post-race coverage, Lewis Hamilton complained about how boring he found the race. Much has been made of similar comments made by Fernando Alonso.

I don’t recall either Hamilton or Alonso complaining whenever they benefited from a featureless lights-to-flag victory. And Daniel Ricciardo’s Monaco victory was anything but featureless.

On Channel 4’s post-race show, in response to Hamilton’s remarks, David Coulthard made an off-the-cuff joke about how Hamilton must have been listening to the Sky commentary. DC was joking, but it was perhaps a more astute remark than he intended.

I am not the first to note that Sky’s coverage of the sport they charge fans an eye-watering amount to watch is, from time to time, oddly negative. I can’t remark on exactly how Sky covered this race, because I didn’t have access to their coverage this time round. But let’s just say that by this stage I wouldn’t be surprised if the commentary was strangely inattentive, and the editorial stance mildly cynical.

Perhaps the general quality of the supposedly premium product is causing people to feel like average races are more dire than they actually are.

I have come to expect this from Sky’s coverage. But I’m particularly perplexed by the tone of the BBC Radio 5 Live coverage right now. It currently seems to be on a fortnightly mission to explain why this race was even more boring than the last one.

Come on folks. It’s your job to enlighten us about the sport. I’m not asking you to pretend that every race is a humdinger. But there is no place for actively doing down the sport when there is still a lot of great stuff to talk about.

I don’t intend here to simply take pot-shots at the broadcasters. But it feels like sometimes people are taking part in a contest to see who hates the sport the most. We are meant to be fans, and some others are even lucky enough to cover it for a living.

Regular readers will know that I understand F1 is far from perfect. I have many doubts about the way F1 is run and some of the rules that have been adopted in recent times in an effort to “spice up the show”.

There is an ideological issue at play here. Different people value different things from motorsport.

For me, it is misconceived to view the number of overtaking moves as the only valid measure of excitement. That attitude is what has given us the junk DRS, an artificial overtaking device that usually leaves me cold.

Some people clearly value the number of passes (or position changes) above all else, no matter how little skill is involved in the pass. These people can look at the starting grid and the race results and say, “Typical, the pole sitter won and there was no overtaking! Same old F1!”

But I love a good defensive drive, or a strategy masterstroke, just as much as a ballsy overtake. The results on paper can mask a hell of a lot of on-track tension. And that’s what we had in Monaco.

To be frank, it is absurd to complain about a lack of overtaking at Monaco. There has never been a great deal of passing at Monaco. That’s not the point of Monaco. The point is the spectacle of watching the world’s fastest racing cars threading their way through a laughably inappropriate, but deeply historic circuit.

Complaining about a lack of overtaking in Monaco is like going on holiday to the Lake District and complaining about the lack of nightlife. It is collosally missing the point.

Channel 4’s commentary of the race was insightful and engaging at every turn. Ben Edwards and David Coulthard described vividly, and in an accessible manner, exactly what challenge Daniel Ricciardo was facing.

They explained how Ricciardo was having to adapt his driving style, and the prospect that he had to use his tyres more in the corners to make up for the speed he was losing on the straights. They wasted no opportunity to emphasise just how good a job Ricciardo was doing with a severely wounded car.

As a result, I was genuinely on the edge of my seat for much of the race. With other drivers complaining about their tyres as it was, and Ricciardo seemingly needing to use his tyres more, I felt like Sebastian Vettel could begin challenging for the lead at any moment.

In the event, of course, that didn’t happen. But that didn’t matter. I was sucked into the narrative. Channel 4 turned an OK race into a scintillating drama.

Meanwhile, Radio 5 Live’s Chequered Flag podcast made it sound like Ricciardo had won dullest race of his life.

Now we know that Ricciardo lost his MGU-K, which was apparently worth 200 horsepower. Christian Horner claims it was worth 2.5 seconds a lap. Ricciardo’s race engineer Simon Rennie said he didn’t know how Ricciardo did it.

It was probably over-the-top for Christian Horner to compare it to Michael Schumacher’s 1994 Spanish Grand Prix, where he finished 2nd despite being stuck in 5th gear for most of the race. But I think we can safely say that Daniel Ricciardo just made one of the most impressive drives in a wounded car that we have seen for at least 20 years.

How can you call that boring?

Let’s not forget that Ricciardo also put in what was probably one of the all-time-great qualifying laps around Monaco. At Formula 1’s most prestigious venue, we have seen someone spend their weekend giving a driving masterclass in the face of adversity.

There was no shortage of other talking points either.

Williams had another disaster — from Sergey Sirotkin’s wheels not not being attached on time, to Lance Stroll’s entitled bitching on team radio.

Carlos Sainz also did a great job of letting Nico Hulkenberg past, without letting Verstappen slip by as well. That led to an entertaining battle between Sainz and Verstappen over the next few laps.

Tyres aren’t my favourite topic. But given that they are so important, we should be analysing why Ferrari and particularly Mercedes struggled so much with the ultrasofts.

There was Fernando Alonso’s first retirement of the season, while Pierre Gasly put in another strong performance.

There was even something to say about Haas, who had an unusually disastrous weekend.

Most impressive of all was Charles Leclerc’s “clever crashing”, where some lightning-quick reactions minimised the consequences.

Channel 4’s commentary around the Leclerc incident was particularly enlightening, with David Coulthard immediately noting the skill Leclerc demonstrated, and Mark Webber elaborating further post-race.

Broadcasters and journalists have an editorial role. It is their job to paint these pictures and tell the stories. Some outlets are choosing to do that. Others are disappearing up their backsides in the rush to be negative.

Murray Walker said there is no such thing as a dull grand prix, even if it was a procession. And while I would agree that F1 does occasionally offer a terribly unentertaining race, that remains the exception rather than the rule.

I know it sometimes comes across as a bit naff to take the glass-half-full attitude. But some media outlets are taking far too simplistic a view — that if an F1 race has no overtaking, it must have been dull.

I would much rather take the Channel 4 narrative. They weren’t pretending we saw the greatest race ever. But they did find the stories in the race, and they exposed it to the viewers in an engaging manner.

I really hope there will be an outlet for the talented team behind Channel 4’s coverage after this year. The sport needs it. Because if we are forced to rely on the turgid Sky offering or the under-resourced BBC coverage, we will all suffer with a poorer appreciation of the world’s most fascinating sport.

6 comments

  1. Totally agree with you Duncan. I also had a media blackout on the Sunday to avoid seeing the result. Watched a recording of the C4 coverage and was hooked from the get go. Could there have been a chance of rain? Umbrellas up at the start was a good sign, especially at Monaco, but alas no. Max starting from the back. Seb and Lewis in the 1st two rows.

    Yes the race was a bit of a procession, despite Daniel’s technical issues. But a street circuit with top speeds reaching 200mph where a wheel too far to the left or right could lead to retirement, safety car or spectacular wreak. My finger never once hit the fast forward button. I’d much rather have close race rather than see the nearest rival lap a second a lap more and disappear off into the distance with no chance of being caught and passed. I find those races tedious because there isn’t enough focus on the rest of the field.

    I went to the Spanish GP the fortnight before and felt this was more of a procession because there aren’t the same hazards that could result in lead swaps. Yes, there were a few VSC thrown, but it didn’t really impact in the overall result. Lewis lead from start to finish and didn’t complain once.

    Still a fan. Always a fan. Just disappointing that it will be Sky in 2019 so I’ll no longer get Coulthard’s expert opinion.

    Excellent article.

  2. Thanks David, glad you enjoyed the article. I agree that the Spanish Grand Prix was duller all round. But this happens, especially at the circuits we have come to expect it at. Thanks for the comment!

  3. At my house there was quite a contrast. I thought the race was moderately interesting, with the reason for a lack of direct action being an unusually high level of skill by Riccardo and Vettel.

    Dad, on the other hand, thought it was the second-dullest race of the season (we both agree Australia was the worst) and that the things that happened were too predictable.

    We watched the race separately (which is unusual for us), but saw the same (Channel 4) broadcast, and usually agree on which races are exciting and which not. (And my favourites – Force India and Charles Leclerc – didn’t have unusually great days for the difference to come from partisan support…)

  4. The other point is that I gather Sky’s take on it focused on Hamilton and Verstappen. While they are usually good places to focus on if looking for action, this wasn’t really the case in the second half of Monaco, so I think the commentators on that part of the broadcast may have “run out of things to talk about”. For that matter, Sky is rarely good at calling races where nothing happens in an interesting way (which would be a fair way to characterise how Monaco was won), because they often just see that nothing happens.

  5. Interesting and worthwhile take. I too found the race absorbing on one level because Ricciardo’s issues meant anything could have kicked off at any moment. However, ultimately, my issue was that no-one tried anything at any stage and that therefore the race petered out into being a fairly underwhelming one.

    You can understand the teams at the top prioritising track position but what about the midfield teams having a bit more of a go? There was no repeat of the case when Verstappen hit Grosjean (trying to overtake him into Ste Devote), eg, and unwittingly turned the outcome of the 2015 Monaco race. I suppose teams are not paid to be entertaining but sometimes it’s worth doing something different if you’ve got very little to lose (e.g. the Saubers attacking Hartley). Easier said than done though I suppose.

    Credit to Ricciardo, who worked hard for his win and dominated the weekend. However, the conditions of the circuit definitely helped. Both Webber (2012) and Rosberg (2013) also won this race at the slowest possible pace in the recent past. An impressive skill on one level but, ultimately, I’m not sure it was that engaging for the viewer (at least in 2013 Rosberg had to navigate a few accidents and even a red flag). You’re right that it wasn’t a complete bore-fest though, and that broadcasters have a role to play in explaining the story unfolding.

  6. Thanks for the comments.

    Alianora — Interesting that you and your dad disagreed this time round. Monaco certainly seems to have divided people between those who found it intriguing (if not necessarily exciting), and those who found it totally worthless.

    Rishi — Good point about the lack of overtaking battles in the midfield. Verstappen did give us a bit of a show with his climb through the field, and his battle with Carlos Sainz was particularly entertaining. However, given the number of crashes he has had this season, I think he was avoiding a repeat of 2015’s incident with Grosjean. 😀

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