Lewis Hamilton fears Formula 1 fans are falling out of love with the sport and has urged his fellow drivers not to “stand still and let it happen”.
Hamilton’s plea comes after the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA) published an open letter blasting the “obsolete and ill-structured” decision-making process, which they deem to be harming the sport.
The almost unprecedented attack on Formula 1’s powerbrokers – notably Jean Todt, the FIA president, and the sport’s chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, both in Bahrain this weekend – has been building for some time.
The drivers have grown frustrated with the now engine-dominated formula, gimmicks, such as double points for the series finale in 2014, and the proposed technical regulations for next season – aimed at making the cars faster and more-aggressive looking.
The seemingly-doomed qualifying format – which flopped so spectacularly on its debut in Melbourne, yet remains in place for the second round of the championship – is another of their more recent bugbears.
Hamilton has long been critical of the state of the sport, but he is now more outspoken than ever. The Briton, in his 10th season in the sport, speaks as a triple world champion, but also as a fan.
“I think our objective is not to be the decision makers,” the 31-year-old explained in Bahrain. “We don’t want to be the decision makers – we are just the only ones out there that can know what more is needed in order to make racing fun.
“As drivers we love the sport, we love racing, we love wheel-to-wheel racing.
“We started off in go-kart racing and we aspired to be one of the greats in the past and now you are driving and you are not challenged in a way you should be challenged, either physically or mentally, by the car and the rules and the decisions being taken for the rules are going in the wrong direction and we can’t stand still and let it happen.
“People are falling out of love with the sport and ultimately it will lead to you guys and also for us. I don’t want that. It has the opportunity to be the greatest sport in the world.”
Hamilton is not part of the GPDA – he claimed he withdrew his membership a number of years ago due to “personal reasons” – and the Briton is not alone. Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, Felipe Massa and Max Verstappen are not part of the group either. But the drivers insist their disgruntled voice is a united one.
“The reason behind the letter is to show that we care,” said Jenson Button, who along with Sebastian Vettel signed off the powerful note on behalf of the GPDA.
Button, now the most experienced driver on the grid, added: “We are very passionate about the sport. As kids we grew up loving watching Formula 1 and dreaming of being in a Formula 1 car and racing against the best drivers in the world.
“We are very emotional about our decisions, which sometimes isn’t the best – but I do think you need emotion when it comes to the way the sport should work.
“We are are not putting out a statement to show how strong we are as drivers. That’s not the aim – and most of us don’t care about that – we are putting out a statement because we think we can help and make it a better sport for the fans, for us, and for the whole of Formula 1.
“Not everybody is going to be happy that we have said it publicly, but our sport needs to understand it is nothing without the fans. We don’t want people to say ‘well done, good job’, that is not the point of the letter, it is to listen and hopefully gives us a chance to help.”
Nico Rosberg followed up his season-opening victory in Australia to lead the way in opening practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Rosberg, winner of the last four races stretching back to last year, was more than half-a-second clear of Mercedes team-mate Hamilton at the Sakhir Circuit.
The Silver Arrows appear to hold an ominous advantage over the rest of the field with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen – the next-best placed driver – nearly two seconds slower than Rosberg’s best.