Toto Wolff says Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was “boring” and Formula 1 needs look at what to do about it.
“It was not a thriller,” the Mercedes team principal said. “No overtaking, even with a big pace difference, made it not great entertainment.
“Even if you are within 0.2secs, it is nearly impossible to overtake unless the other driver makes a mistake.”
However, Wolff stopped short of saying the new rules introduced in 2022 were at fault.
“After a race weekend like this, we mustn’t talk it down overall and say it is the wrong direction and we need to change completely,” he said.
“It is more about asking why wasn’t it entertaining, and revisit it.
“We need to look at how we can avoid a boring race.”
Was the new sprint format to blame?
The event in Baku was the first run to a revised ‘sprint’ format.
It introduced a second qualifying session that decided the grid for the sprint – a shorter race on Saturday – which has been separated out entirely from the main grand prix. Previously, the result of the sprint decided the grid for the main race.
The sprint format has met with a mixed response. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen said he felt the whole idea “should be scrapped”, while other drivers said they liked the new structure for the weekend, even if they wanted it to be limited to just a handful of events a year.
Wolff pointed out that the only action close to the front was a collision between Verstappen and Mercedes’ George Russell that ended with the drivers having a verbal altercation in the pit lane.
Wolff said: “We have to analyse the weekend with the sprint format whether there are positives that we can take out, but in the end it all comes down to racing.
“It needs the tough battles and the highlight [on Saturday] was George and Max being able to battle it out and [in the grand prix] there was none of that,” Wolff said.
Are the new rules a factor?
Wolff’s comments come at a time when F1 teams and drivers are saying that overtaking has become more difficult.
Last season, F1 introduced rules aimed at closing up the field and making overtaking easier.
While it is still easier to follow than it was before the rule change, drivers have said that it is tougher this year as a result of the teams developing their cars.
And while drivers have reported that the new rules have made it easier to follow than before 2022, this has been counter-balanced by a reduction of the slipstream effect behind another car.
And far from the racing becoming more competitive, the sport finds itself in a situation where one team is dominating.
Verstappen set a new record for wins in a single season in 2022, while Red Bull have won all four races so far this season and are on course to monopolise the championship.
Wolff said: “You have two cars sailing off into the sunset on merit and there is a 20-second gap, and I wouldn’t know between Aston Martin and Ferrari and us who was quicker because you are stuck where you are stuck and that is pretty much it.”
Part of the philosophy of allowing cars to run closer together was fundamentally changing the way the cars generate their performance. F1 adopted a phenomenon known as ‘ground effect’, which uses underbody tunnels to create downforce.
This design requires a car to be run very flat and stiff for optimum performance.
Red Bull seem to have stolen a march on their rivals with a much more effective way of controlling what is known as the ‘platform’ of the car, reducing its movement on axes front to back and side to side and therefore allowing it to create more consistent downforce.
Wolff said that Mercedes’ lack of performance was “more about ride control than sheer downforce”.
“You can see their car is barely moving, be it on straights or over bumps,” Wolff said of the Red Bull. “Corner-through balance looks easy. You look at all the other onboards and the cars are tricky. Generally ground-effect cars are rubbish cars, it is just who has the least rubbish is ahead.”
However, he said it was the responsibility of the other teams to catch up with Red Bull.
“We see a pattern,” Wolff said. “There are two Red Bulls, and then there are six cars, and a long way off is the third division. That has been the pattern the first four races and we have to shake that up somehow.
“They were 20 seconds ahead of [Ferrari’s Charles] Leclerc after 40 racing laps, so it is half a second a lap. At least we have seen they were pushing so that is the real pace. Half a second is quite a long way to go.
“We either have to do a better job all of us together to catch them or change the regulations, and I don’t think we should be doing the second one. We just need to win on merit and that means being more clever than Red Bull.”