MAY 12 — There is a lot bothering Fernando Alonso of late. Since the start of the 2012 season in March, the disappointing performance of his Ferrari must rank highly in his thoughts.
The Spaniard has been struggling for pace since arriving at the Scuderia outfit in 2010 and had expected a major turnaround that would put him genuine contention for a third world title this year.
But apart from taking advantage of a lucky break in the rain to snatch victory at Sepang two months ago, it just hasn’t really taken off.
Heading to this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix with key updates installed, Alonso, 30, is counting on a leap in performance to stay within sight of Red Bull’s championship leader Sebastian Vettel.
In fifth spot, he trails Vettel by 10 points and with 15 races to go, there is still plenty to play for.
But finishing first in front of a partisan home crowd in Barcelona tomorrow was not uppermost on Alonso’s mind leading to the weekend.
In his Ferrari blog mid-week, he lamented the absence of “mutual respect” among some drivers in the pitlane.
According to him, in a different time not long ago, when racers knew the high risk to life and limb piloting cars that lacked today’s technology to fully protect them in a crash, there was more of it.
Alonso’s memory is, of course, fresh over incidents in Bahrain three weeks ago when he and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton had to take evasive actions from the dangerous manoeuvres of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg. Stewards took no action and one wonders what the aftermath would have been like had there been walls along the track if both instances ended tragically.
It is a glaring indictment of a sport where winning at all costs has become its DNA, in an age where live television and the Internet can deliver a huge global audience instantly means raking in the big bucks.
Winning means instant fame for victors, but, critically, more airtime and exposure for sponsors, who, in Formula 1, help bankroll a sport worth US$4 billion (RM12 billion) a year. With the financial stakes so high, it is now all about teams keeping their financial supporters happy, and doing what it takes to give sponsors value for their money and keep the cash tap flowing.
Spygate, Crashgate and Liegate were all symptoms of an increasing tendency for money to take precedence over the soul of Formula 1. It is a dangerous pit that motor racing’s premier series is slipping into because in a sport that is fairly risky, if respect for regulations and competitors are not upheld, it can mean the difference between life and death on track.
Formula 1’s sporting rules certainly do not lack the means to punish rule breakers but there is plenty of room where its application can improve.
It is not uncommon for stewards to mete out €10,000 (RM40,000) fines on race weekends, but is it an effective deterrent on millionaire pockets?
Grid penalties fare no better because it is no longer a real disadvantage.
Race suspensions that deprive offenders and ultimately their sponsors of airtime are more effective in keeping the chase for money saner and safeguarding the spirit of sportsmanship in Formula 1.
There has to be consistency in punishing wrongdoers as well because the cries of favouritism towards popular teams and drivers have been well documented in the past.
As sporting and moral guardians of motorsport, perhaps it is high time for world governing body FIA to revisit their rulebook and impose their authority ever more strongly to stem the rising threat of money calling all the shots in Formula 1. — Today
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.