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REVVING UP THE DEBATE: FINDING THE RIGHT BALANCE FOR FORMULA 1 RACE WEEKENDS AND DRIVER RIGHTS

*Written by Prof. Nishant Sheokand (*) and Mr Anirban Aly Mandal(**).






"Formula One is the ultimate test of a driver's abilities and the machinery is as close to perfection as humanly possible. It's the pinnacle of motorsport and nothing compares to it in terms of the level of competition, technology and the excitement it generates."

~Mario Andretti


Introduction


Formula 1 is a highly popular sport that attracts millions of fans worldwide. The format of the race weekends has been a subject of debate for many years, with some arguing that it needs to be changed to make the sport more exciting for viewers. Additionally, there are discussions about the rights of drivers in the sport. In this article, we will explore both of these issues, including the opinion of Max Verstappen, one of the top drivers in Formula 1.


The Debate Over Formula 1's Weekend Format


In recent years, there have been debates about the format of Formula 1 race weekends. Currently, the format consists of three practice sessions on Friday and Saturday, followed by a qualifying session on Saturday and the race on Sunday. It is divided into a certain number of laps depending on the circuit, with the winner being the first driver to cross the finish line after completing all the laps. The points system is based on the finishing order, with the winner receiving 25 points and decreasing points for subsequent positions. There are typically 20 drivers on the grid, each representing a different team, and races can last anywhere from one to two hours. However, some people argue that this format is too predictable and does not provide enough excitement for fans.


In response to these criticisms, Formula 1 has experimented with different weekend formats. One such format is the Sprint Qualifying format, which was first introduced in 2021. This format consists of a shorter race on Saturday, which determines the starting positions for the main race on Sunday. While this format has been received positively by some fans, others argue that it takes away from the prestige of the main race and reduces the importance of qualifying.


Stefano Domenicali, CEO of Formula 1, has also weighed in on the debate over changing the race weekend format. In an interview, he stated that he believes there is a need to experiment with new race formats in order to keep the sport exciting for fans. However, he acknowledged that any changes would need to be made with the agreement of all teams and stakeholders, and that it would be a difficult process to find a format that is widely accepted. He also emphasized the importance of maintaining the traditional elements of the sport, such as the iconic circuits and the sense of history that comes with Formula 1.


Max Verstappen has been vocal about his thoughts on the Sprint Qualifying format. In an interview with Autosport, he said, "I don't think it's the right way forward. I don't think it's the way to make it more exciting. I think it's better to focus on the bigger picture, rather than just having a quick fix." He also expressed concerns that the format could lead to more accidents and damage to cars.


What Rights Do Drivers Have in Formula 1?


In addition to debates about the weekend format, there are discussions about the rights of drivers in Formula 1. Drivers have a variety of rights, including the right to fair treatment and the right to express their opinions. However, there have been instances where these rights have been violated.


For example, in 2020, the Racing Point team was found to have copied parts of the 2019 Mercedes car. This resulted in a penalty for the team, which caused controversy among drivers and fans. Some argued that the penalty was too lenient, while others felt that it was too harsh.


Another issue is the use of team orders, which are instructions given to drivers to prioritize the success of the team over their own interests. While team orders are allowed in Formula 1, they can be controversial, as they can lead to drivers being forced to give up their chances of winning a race or championship.


Lastly, an issue dealing directly with the debate of free speech among drivers was initiated by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the governing body of the sport when they amended Article 12.2 of the International Sporting Code. The amendment bans the, “The general making and display of political, religious and personal statements or comments notably in violation of the general principle of neutrality promoted by the FIA under its Statutes, unless previously approved in writing by the FIA for International Competitions, or by the relevant ASN for National Competitions within their jurisdiction,” per Article 12.2.1.n.


Naturally, drivers like 7-time champion, Lewis Hamilton have spoken harshly against this clampdown on a driver’s right to use the platform they’ve been given to raise and discuss issues close to them. Hamilton lashed out when RACER.com quoted him as saying, “Nothing will stop me from speaking on the things that I’m passionate about, and on issues that there are. The sport does have a responsibility still to speak out, to create awareness on important topics, particularly as we travel to all these different places. So nothing changes for me.”


Max Verstappen has also shared his thoughts on the rights of drivers in Formula 1. In an interview with Motorsport.com, he said, "As a driver, you always want to have the best chance to win. But at the same time, you have to understand that the team has to make decisions that are in the best interest of the team. It's not always easy, but that's part of the sport."


In conclusion, the format of Formula 1 race weekends and the rights of drivers are two important issues that continue to be discussed within the sport. While changes to the format may be necessary to keep the sport exciting for fans, it is equally important to ensure that the rights of drivers are respected and protected. As Sebastian Vettel, four-time Formula 1 world champion, once said, "It's not always that we need to do more, but rather that we need to focus on less." It is essential for Formula 1 to find the right balance between making changes to the sport and prioritizing the well-being and rights of the drivers. By doing so, the sport can continue to grow and thrive for years to come.











*The authors are (*) an Associate Professor of Law, Vinayaka Mission’s Law School, VMRF-DU, Chennai, & (**) a law scholar from Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad, India.













(The image used here is for representative purposes only)


































References:



  1. Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) official website: https://www.fia.com/

  2. International Sporting Code (2018 version) on FIA website: https://www.fia.com/regulation/category/110

  3. Article 12.2 of the International Sporting Code (2018 version): https://www.fia.com/regulation/detail/110/2018-07-09-sporting-code-article-122

  4. Racing Point F1 Team's brake ducts controversy on the Motorsport.com website: https://www.motorsport.com/f1/news/racing-point-protest-brake-ducts/4846679/

  5. Legal analysis of the Racing Point brake ducts controversy on the Motorsport Law website: https://www.motorsport-law.com/single-post/2020/08/12/The-Racing-Point-Brake-Ducts-Controversy-Legal-Analysis

  6. "Max Verstappen: Sprint races 'not the way forward' for F1" by Jonathan Noble, Autosport (March 19, 2021) Link: https://www.autosport.com/f1/news/max-verstappen-sprint-races-not-the-way-forward-for-f1/6196198/

  7. "Max Verstappen says sprint races are 'not the solution' for Formula 1" by Giles Richards, The Guardian (March 20, 2021) Link: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2021/mar/20/max-verstappen-says-sprint-races-are-not-the-solution-for-formula-one

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