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The Chaotic 2023 Australian GP is an Example of F1’s Focus on Style Over Substance

The Australian GP was a chaotic mess with bits of good racing sprinkled in between but the decisions of the FIA may signal an unfortunate direction for the sport....

What a wild ride the 2023 Australian GP was! What a mess! Initial reactions over the chaotic race have compared the race to the incredibly controversial 2021 Saudi Arabian GP. That might be hyperbolic, but mentioning both in the same sentence just goes to show how tumultuous this race was. If 2021 was a lesson for the FIA not to lean too hard towards the spectacle, after Australia it felt like all that was learned was forgotten and might indicate the sport’s future direction – style over substance.

While the Australian GP started like any other race, things got weird. There were only four laps left when Kevin Magnussen’s shunt started a series of decisions from the race control that left many scratching their heads. The subsequent restart was a mess with Sergio Perez calling it “really dangerous.”

“First of all, the warm-up,” said Perez, “but secondly, we could not see anything [because of the sun]. We cannot race in these conditions anymore. One day, there’s going to be a big shunt. We cannot see anything. In the last three laps, we were just passengers where we don’t have visibility.”

Just 12 cars finished the race with four cars out of the race after the restart including both Alpines. Esteban Ocon thought that much of the midfield was “suicidal” going into Turn 1.

“My tyres were hot,” explained Ocon, “I didn’t feel like it was very slippery but what was tricky was a little bit [the sun] being lower, so we couldn’t really see well. But some drivers were just suicidal a bit in Turn 1, like Nyck [de Vries] on the inside. It was very close and obviously there’s a lot to gain at the time, but a little bit too much for some drivers.”

Theories questioning race control’s decision-making at the Australian GP are numerous with many pointing out the similarities with the 2023 NASCAR COTA race in which the restart caused many cars to collide and spin out. Which is exactly what happened in Melbourne.

Two-time MotoGP World Champion, Casey Stoner, called the race “an unnecessary mess” and that the FIA should be “embarrassed.”

As he tweeted, “@fia you have embarrassed yourselves today with @F1 What an unnecessary mess. Please remember everyone, that this a sport first and entertainment second, not the other way around.”

Are You Not Entertained?

Trying not to end a race under a safety car backfired spectacularly, but in a sense, it could be viewed as intentional. Not the carnage specifically, the FIA didn’t know what would happen, but they did know that it would be a spectacle regardless. That’s what some fans have taken issue with, the pandering to the spectacle that is modern Formula 1. If the restart wasn’t a mess, fans would have likely been praising the FIA for such an entertaining race, but these things are unpredictable and dangerous.

Since Drive to Survive has propelled the sport to unparalleled levels of popularity, it has in turn influenced the sport. Decisions have been made since DTS that seem intended solely to provide entertainment and spectacle. Saudi Arabia in 2021 was the first time it became obvious, even the change in regulations to provide closer racing could be argued to be a part of this though this is something F1 usually does to provide quality racing so it could be a case of correlation rather than causation. If F1 is considered a reality show as much as it is a sport it will have serious ramifications that will affect the races themselves.

In Australia, it was clear that they didn’t want to end the race under a safety car because it’s well-known that fans consider it boring and anticlimactic. The problem lies in the requirement of these kinds of rules to provide a safe and fair sport. For television you want drama, you want unexpected moments, but forcing them to occur can lead to dangerous situations and unfair results which bring to the fore questions of the FIA’s integrity. Just look at 2021, Max Verstappen’s first world championship was marred in controversy and remains so to this day with many questioning whether the championship was rigged by the FIA.

Fair racing might be boring at times, but it is at least an accurate reflection of each driver and team’s performance that weekend which you might view as the intention of sport, to compare competitors and rank them accordingly, the process of which is entertaining. Arbitrary rulings and decisions that have veterans of the sport scratching their heads are not what you want.

Even suggestions that Practice Days should be removed for more racing is something that actively hurts the development and safety of the sport for a greater spectacle. The idea is that it would provide closer racing as there is less time for the engineers to come up with solutions for each track, but it could also spin the other way and lead to just one team getting it right and stomping the competition.

The 2023 Australian GP was a prime example of the downsides of this entertainment-focused decision-making from the FIA. It was chaotic, messy, and cost the teams more than they would’ve otherwise spent which in the cost-cap era means more than ever. The teams won’t be happy, and while fans are grabbing the popcorn and enjoying the chaos, others are questioning where the sport’s integrity has gone.

For more, check out the new possible challenger in 2026, Formula Equal

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