This weekend saw the running of the Formula 1 Aramco Großer Preis der Eifel 2020 (Eifel Grand Prix) at the Nürburgring in Nürburg, Germany. The Formula 1 Championship Eifel Grand Prix was the 11th race of the very unique 2020 Championship. The race was quite the eventful one, with two important events happening by the end of the race. The first was Lewis Hamilton tying Micheal Schumaker’s record for most Grand Prix wins by a driver with 91 wins, and the second being Daniel Ricciardo taking third place and earning Renault’s first podium finish since Nick Heidfeld took third place at the Malaysia Grand Prix in 2011. The GP also saw five drivers being knocked out of the race, including pole position winner Valtteri Botas of Mercedes, who held a position in the top three for the majority of the race.
All three of these big happenings are what I take issue with when it comes to Formula 1. The sport has gotten to a point where it is dominated by the teams that are able to throw the most money at the sport and beat out their competition. Throughout this entire season, it has been a genuine shock to fans when a car that isn’t a Mercedes or a Red Bull takes a podium finish. Hamilton is obviously a world class driver, and one of the best to take to the sport, but a not insignificant part of his success these past few seasons can be attributed to the fact that he drives a Mercedes. Mercedes has had objectively the best car on the grid for several years and it is making the sport uninteresting to watch, unless a Mercedes breaks. Ricciardo is one of the most talented drivers in the world of motorsports right now, and he only had a chance to break into the top three because Botas and Alex Albon of Red Bull suffered failures that required them to exit the race.
The engineering team at Mercedes-AMG has the largest budget to work with in F1 and it shows. The big three teams in Formula 1, Scuderia Ferrari, Mercedes AMG and Red Bull are all reported to have had budgets of more than $440 million for the 2019 season. The next highest team was Renault with a budget of $272 million, a long ways away from the top teams. At a certain point it stops being competitive when teams like Renault and McLaren have to rely on drivers like Ricciardo or Carlos Sainz Jr. to overcome the teams’ engineering deficits with pure skill.
Formula 1 2019 reported team budgets:
Mercedes – $484 million
Ferrari – $463 million
Red Bull – $445 million
Renault – $272 million
McLaren – $269 million
Racing Point – $188 million
Haas – $173 million
Alfa Romeo – $141 million
Toro Rosso/Alpha Tauri – $138 million
Williams – $132 million
Now this is where Super Formula comes in. For some context, Super Formula is the highest level of single-seat, open-wheel racing in Japan which competes at a level slightly higher than Formula 2. The grid mostly features Japanese drivers who develop locally, but you can also see some European drivers pop up when a Formula 1 team wants to develop them or they get pushed out of F1 but still want to compete.
The biggest thing that you will notice when watching Formula Super for the first time is that the cars are identical. Every car on the Formula Super grid uses the same carbon and aluminum chassis made by Italian constructor Dallara Automobili S.p.A. This eliminates one of the big factors that goes into the competitive development of F1 chassis, aerodynamic profiles. Aerodynamics are one of the biggest points of season to season development for teams, so standardization bars a team from dropping $100 million more than the rest of the field on chassis development. Super Formula cars also only have two options for engine, choosing between the Honda HR-417E or the Toyota Biz-01F 2.0L. Both engines are turbocharged double overhead camshaft inline four engines that produce a regulated 543 horsepower. Honda and Toyota are both teams that are very active in motorsport competition and development, so this encourages solid competition and development of equivalently good engines.
As a result of the very strict technical requirements for the championship, individual driver skill is by far and away the most important factor on the Super Formula grid. Even when teams have repeated Driver’s Championship wins, it is never the same driver back to back aside from Matsuda Tsugio winning twice in 2007 and 2008. Compare this to Formula 1 where Hamilton has won five out of the last six Driver’s Championships and you can see the difference. The best driver wins Super Formula seasons as opposed to the best car, and that makes for much more compelling motorsport viewings.
Just these past two races during the 2020 season, there have been big shakeups between the results of race one and race two. Ishiura Hiroaki took P8 at Motegi but P2 at Okayama. Hirokawa Ryo who won Motegi was only able to finish fourth at Okayama. Every single race is exciting to watch because every single driver is there to show they have a chance and the results aren’t predetermined by what team they drive for. A lot of Formula 1 fans that I know have stopped watching the races live because they know it is all but a given that Hamilton will come in first place, and it’s just not interesting anymore.
With the start of the 2021, Formula 1 will be placing budget caps on all teams which should help some of these problems and it is a good start. As Super Formula shows, standardization across the grid creates a more competitive environment as drivers don’t have to rely on their team to supply them with a car that can compete with Hamilton’s Mercedes. I hope that Formula 1 can become a more competitive sport outside of the teams that dominate the top, with the next five seasons having increasingly lowered budgets caps and stricter engineering requirements, we just might see that happen. In the meantime I encourage you to explore and watch Super Formula, it is good pure motorsport that provides genuine entertainment.