Formula 1 2004 Season Preview

Formula 1 is not a sport in decline; it’s actually in a full-fledged plummet. Addicted to tobacco money, scouting race locations in such dynamic and interesting places as Bahrain and Hyderabad, trying to be a fan of Formula 1 nowadays is like trying to give emotional support to your crack-addicted second cousin who is constantly scaring young girls in the supermarket parking lot but somehow still manages to think that they’re just intimidated by his great looks.

What do we have to look forward to this year? Fewer European races. More stupid rules. Drivers that can’t wait to escape from the teams they are driving for. Where to begin?

Rules Changes

Friday qualifying is gone; now there are two sessions of (single-lap) qualifying on Saturday. I’m leading with this item as it’s the only positive development. Unlike everyone else in the rest of the world, I actually like the single-lap qualifying. It adds some drama to know that it only takes one mistake to cost a driver the pole.

Rear wings can now only sport a maximum of three elements, in an effort to reduce the aerodynamic grip on the cars. This makes the cars go slower through the corners, which is a key element of the FIA’s “make the race as boring as possible” master plan.

One rule that some commentators think will help the slower teams is the “one engine rule”: if a team changes their engine between qualifying and the race, they will drop 10 places on the starting grid. The theory is: the Minardi team is always last, therefore they can change engines without losing any places, and will get a reliability advantage that will help them do better. The problem, of course, is that in racing “reliably slow” is not really much better than “unreliably fast” for values of “unreliable” under “guaranteed to explode in flame”


Michael SchumacherWanna-be footballer and 6 time world champion Michael Schumacher, Inc, is still the lead driver for Ferrari, and is scheduled to win the championship once again. Don’t look for any surprises here. About once a month throughout the season various F1 online magazines will post articles with headlines asking “Can Anyone Beat Schumi?" At the risk of spoiling the season, I can reveal that the answer to that question is “No.” At times, people will propose various theories as to how and why Michael might manage to lose. Perhaps Bridgestone’s tires will fail to be competetive with Michelin. Fernando Alonso will develop further and be able to challenge Schumacher in every race. A meteor will fall from the sky and annihilate the Ferrari paddock. None of these things will happen. Ferrari will dominate again, and despite what many people wish, he’s not about to retire.

Juan Pablo MontoyaNow. Juan Pablo Montoya is still driving for Williams/BMW. He doesn’t want to drive for Williams, and Williams doesn’t want him to be driving for them; McLaren/Mercedes has offered him a lot of money to drive for them, and he wants it, but Sir Frank Williams (who once put square tires on his 1988 F1 car because he heard a rumor that McLaren was developing Square Tire Technology), has decided that he has to hold on to the driver he doesn’t want because someone else wants him. Until next year. With me so far? Williams instead wants Ralf Schumacher to be their main driver, except they don’t want to pay him what he wants, and so he doesn’t want to drive for Williams either. My understanding is that Williams/BMW’s current plan is to actually detonate explosives under their cars at the start of the first race this year, killing both Juan Pablo and Ralf. They will then be able to complete the rest of the season with robotic drivers.

McLaren/Mercedes, meanwhile has issued a press release saying that until Montoya arrives in 2005, their drivers will be young Finn sensation Kimi Raikkonnen and “that other guy whose name we can never remember. The Scottish guy. You know. With the chin.”

There are a few drivers that have been ‘promoted’ from Formula 3000 this year, but since none of them is my personal favorite, American Townsend Bell, I will snub them by not discussing them here. Fear my awesome power.


Bahrain paid Bernie Ecclestone a kerjillion dollars to arrange for a race there, as did China. F1 is continuing to flee Europe as various European countries outlaw tobacco advertising. Really, this is a losing proposition. While people in Bahrain are enthused about this, it marks yet another step away from the traditional, sprawling Grand Prixs of Monaco, Nurburgring, and Spa towards the modern soulless closed-track in the Malaysia spirit. Eventually, we’ll end up only having races in Chad, Peru, and Micronesia. F1 needs to kick the tobacco habit: it’s not helping the sport in the eyes of fans, although I guess it is helping pay for those extravagant garages. Bahrain and China take the place of France (which is scrambling to slip onto the schedule anyway, although they probably won’t manage to raise the money) and Canada, always one of my favorite races. Thanks, Bernie. You’re a real mensch.


This would be a good year to start following the WRC World Rally Championship instead of Formula 1.

Additional Resources

I find the following resources useful when looking for F1 news: