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The drivers meet regularly, at least at every race and have a discussion after the official FIA Friday evening briefing. A few years ago in Korea they had a dinner and a few years before that they did something similar in Suzuka, Japan going bowling during a bad weather break.
The death of Jules Bianchi last year and his funeral in the South of France, clearly brought them closer together and topics like the Halo head protection for the cockpits, provide rallying points for shared interest.
But does the dinner, following so soon after the GPDA letter and last season’s global fan survey, indicate a change of direction, a clear ramping up of the drivers’ desire to take a stance and be heard.
They have the chance to be heard at every race anyway on an individual basis. What is significant here is the desire to position themselves as #united
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And what is the significance of giving the movement that social media hashtag, which allows fans and other stakeholders to communicate around the drivers’ movement?
It would be naive to think that the dinner was a coincidence. The drivers meant what they said about the need for the governance of F1 to be improved and the social media communication around their dinner, while not exactly an act of defiance, is a clear statement that they are not going to go away or to be silenced. Some feel that they should have a driver representative taking a seat on the F1 Commission, given that they know more about the sport and especially the things that matter such as what makes for exciting racing.
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The top drivers seem calm and resolute about this. They have won world championships and Grands Prix victories that no-one can take away from them and they are financially secure for life. There are also some leaders amongst them and social media gives them the chance to see how widely their fame and reputation carries.
“We feel that some recent rule changes – on both the sporting and technical side, and including some business directions – are disruptive, do not address the bigger issues our sport is facing and in some cases could jeopardise its future success,” they wrote in their letter.
F1, like most sports, is weakened by divisions. The 2017 regulations are a good example. The brief was to make the cars sexier looking and to go 5 seconds a lap faster, but is that the right brief? Shouldn’t close racing be the brief?
The teams like Red Bull who have outstanding aerodynamics departments, want as much aero dependency as possible. Mercedes, which is currently dominating F1 thanks to hybrid turbo engine technology, doens’t like that idea. One can see why both have their position, but it’s not in F1’s best interests.
This kind of stuff has been going on for years, but what’s changed now is that F1 is in a weaker position due to fans having far greater choice in where to spend their time and their money and also the posibility to bypass the media and have a direct dialogue with the fans via social media.
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The drivers sense an opportunuty to put their case. They want to race each other, not follow in each other’s wake for 90 minutes unable to get close enough to pass.
They also want their heads to be safer from flying debris.
At the moment, that’s about it. They are not about to barricade themselves into a hotel room and threaten a boycott, as a group including Niki Lauda and Nico Rosberg’s father Keke did in 1982.
The review of how F1 presents itself resolved around the idea that the drivers are the stars of the show and that the fans will come back if the show is based around them. All stakeholders agree to that, hence rule changes like the ban on radios.
The drivers are not revolting. But they feel empowered and are testing the limits.
And they like what they’ve seen so far of the reaction.