EDITORIAL: Is the FIA ‘out to get’ Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes?

© Paul Ripke for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.

by Adrian Mann

Lewis Hamilton received two five-second penalties for two separate pre-race practice start infringements, one for completing the practice starts in the wrong place and the other for not driving at constant speed in the reconnaissance laps.

I will not go into detail over whether Hamilton should have been punished or if the punishment itself ‘fit the crime’, but will actually focus on the question Lewis asked after the race: “They’re trying to stop me, aren’t they?” He later further explained that he thought Mercedes is being purposely slowed down by the FIA.

“I don’t necessarily think that it’s for me,” Hamilton explained.

“Whenever a team is at the front obviously they are under a lot of scrutiny. Everything we have on our car is being checked and double checked and triple checked.

“They are changing rules, such as the engine regs, lots and lots of things to get in the way to keep the racing exciting, I assume.”

And this is what interests me, the thing everybody talks about: “How to make racing more exciting?”

xcitement Creates Ca$h

Well, to be clear, in terms of this piece, I’m not concerned with the actual ways of making racing in Formula 1 more exciting, but the apparent obsession the FIA and Liberty have with making F1 more appealing for the viewers.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s understandable where they are coming from. The sport could not go on if enough eyes weren’t peeled to their television sets every other Sunday, and if one team becomes too dominant, people tend to gradually tune out. It happened in the 2000s with Ferrari and again in early 2010s with Red Bull. At the time the FIA started implementing rule changes that seemed to be aimed at slowing down these two dominant teams. Now it is being done again with Mercedes.

There is no doubt that the FIA is hoping that their big 2022 rule changes will reshuffle the deck and provide more teams with a fighting chance at the top. There is also no doubt that decisions are being made right now with the sole aim of making races more ‘exciting’. Not even taking into account last weekend’s dubious (at best) penalty, the FIA’s recent ban on multiple engine modes was undoubtedly aimed at preventing Mercedes from using their famous ‘party mode’ in qualifying and subsequently slowing the team down.

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The question now is are there certain sporting decisions being made in the heat of the moment with mainly ‘excitement’ in mind? If recent races (where we saw an unprecedented number of red flags and standing ‘restarts’) are anything to go by, one could be forgiven for thinking that the integrity of the sport is not the FIA’s main concern when making certain in-race decisions. Could Lewis Hamilton’s penalty at the Russian Grand Prix also fall under ‘those decisions’?

The Good of the Sport

To be completely blunt, artificial ‘slowing down’ of top teams and drivers is in no way, shape or form beneficial for the integrity of the sport. The goal of motorsport, especially as it pertains to Formula 1, is to build the best car, assemble the best crew and sign the best driver. From a driver’s perspective it is to drive as fast as you can for the best team possible. If we are going by results alone, Mercedes has undoubtedly been doing the best job for the past six years, going on seven, and Lewis Hamilton is doing an unprecedented job as a driver. Should this kind of top performance, in a sport where the goal is to deliver top performances, be celebrated or penalized?

I’m not saying the FIA and Liberty Media are making up offenses just to prevent Mercedes from being dominant, but there could definitely be an element of “what would be exciting for viewers?” type of thinking when choosing how to administer punishment. And it seems (non-Mercedes) F1 fans are loving it when that happens. But is artificial slowing down of a team or driver who is doing the best job, in a competition where the goal is to do the best job, good for the sport? To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode 2: “I don’t think so”.

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