Pierre Gasly’s shock Italian Grand Prix victory for the midfield AlphaTauri team two weekends ago was a shot in the arm for the Formula 1 season, at a time when it was becoming all too predictable.
Lewis Hamilton was well on his way to another routine win in a processional race at Monza when he copped an unusual penalty during a safety car interlude that threw the running order up in the air and opened the door for a surprise result. A dull race exploded into life and, with faster drivers, including Hamilton, being forced to dig deep and recover lost positions, the spectacle inevitably revived debate about how reverse grids could artificially spice up F1 like this at every round.
During the pandemic-induced season delay, this old subject had reared its head once more. The idea punted around was for a qualifying race on Saturdays featuring a reverse grid based on the championship standings, the finishing order of which would decide the starting order for the grand prix itself on the Sunday. The concept won the support of F1 sporting boss Ross Brawn and nine of the teams, only to be blocked by Mercedes. Agendas were clearly at play, although, as we said at the time, such a crass manipulation works well for a series that prioritises entertainment over sport – the British Touring Car Championship, for example – but is just too contrived for anything that strives to be a true meritocracy. That’s F1, in case you hadn’t noticed.
F1 has deep flaws in its aspiration to create a level playing field, but it’s finally attempting to address its inequalities with the new financial deal recently struck with the teams, the budget cap that kicks in next year and revised wind tunnel usage restrictions.
The new cars due in 2022 are specifically designed to improve the racing spectacle, too, so why choose a short-term ‘sticking plaster’ solution such as reverse grids now? Gasly had a bit of luck at Monza, partly earning his win through a fortuitously timed pit stop before the safety car, but he also put in an accomplished, faultless performance. The win meant more because the circumstances that allowed him to take his chance evolved in a genuine way, and also because this was only the second victory in the Faenza team’s 35-year existence. This was special.
Grands prix won directly and regularly because of convoluted reverse grids would quickly erode what it means to finish first in F1. Victory shouldn’t become a gift that anyone can receive, and so that idea should be forgotten once and for all.