Today Pirelli started work on its 2017 development programme, although the tyres are 2016-sized, although they contain “prototype elements” for the new tyres. The work is being carried out by Ferrari test driver Jean-Eric Vergne, using a 2014 Ferrari F14-T. It is only right that the tyre company is allowed to test its products so that they are right when they are used. This is safer and much more logical.
Safety remains something under discussion, particularly with regard to the cockpit protection that is being discussed at the moment. It is interesting to see that the older people in F1 believe, very strongly, that the sport must retain danger because this is one of the reasons that people watch racing. People like to watch people taking risks. It is ironic that Red Bull Racing is advocating the cockpit protection given that the Red Bull company deliberately uses risk-taking as a way to draw people into its universe. People don’t want to watch racing drivers being killed, but they do want to see spectacular action and big crashes. If you think I am being simplistic, you need to look at the TV viewing figures for F1 after the death of Senna or at the NASCAR viewing figures after the death of Dale Earnhardt, and you will see dramatic hikes in the viewing figures. Now, I am not advocating that we should make the sport more dangerous, but what I am saying is that there is a balance that needs to be kept because otherwise the sport loses its thrill. I understand that the FIA has to worry about insurance and that it is always risking being sued because if its engineers examine something that brings more safety and reject it, there is a question of liability. Drivers know what they are doing. When they sit in their cars they know that they could get hurt. They accept that risk. no-one forces them to race.
Over the weekend Fernando Alonso said something that I thought was very very wrong. H said that F1 doesn’t need heroes. I absolutely disagree with that. We need heroes more than ever. We need swashbuckling youngsters, we need cars and circuits where courage makes difference. We need the best possible safety as well, but there has to be a balance because otherwise people will not watch. We need characters who are happy to say what they think, but who are enjoying life. We don’t need monosyllabic nerds. It was good to see Sebastian Vettel getting upset in Sochi. It was good to see Daniil Kvyat arguing back, saying that he is not Superman and cannot react in the time available if someone in front of him slows unexpectedly.
We need more characters on the track than off it. At the moment there is sometimes more mileage in stories about the pitman folk than there are about the men themselves.
As an illustration of that, Force India boss Vijay Mallya is in the news more than his own drivers as a result of his misadventures with the Indian authorities. He is now reported to have resigned as a member of India’s upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha. This seems to have happened just before a committee recommended that he be expelled from the house. In his letter of resignation he said that accusations against him are false, but he has done nothing to return to India to face up to the charges. He has been in England for more than two months and has failed to return to India to answer various charges against him, relating to the $1.4 billion owed by his failed Kingfisher Airlines and to other business practices.
Mallya has not been seen in F1 since last year but remains not only team principal of Force India, but also chairman of the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI), and a member of the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council. One wonders whether it is appropriate for these roles to continue but as he has yet to be convicted of any offence, there is probably no-one willing to raise the question. Mind you, what happens in the unlikely event of him running away and never being convicted of anything? Does this make him the right kind of person to be making decisions about the sport?