SPIELBERG, Austria -- Formula One's future has been brought into sharp focus after the negative reaction to the dull French Grand Prix last Sunday.
After coasting to victory in France, Lewis Hamilton agreed F1 is in a worrying state currently. The reigning world champion attended a rules summit in Paris earlier this month aimed at shaping the crucial 2021 rules, with all 20 drivers on the grid now united on the direction they want the sport to take.
The topic dominated the media sessions ahead of this weekend's Austrian Grand Prix, which completes the first back-to-back of the current season.
Daniel Ricciardo offered a typical tongue-in-cheek moment during Thursday's media sessions, when asked which year of F1 he would travel back to if he had a time machine.
He replied: "1714! I think before it existed, there were no issues."
When it was pointed out Mercedes did not exist back then, he laughed and said: "There you go, problem solved!"
He did add a more serious point, saying he often dwells on what must be going through the minds of people watching on TV every Sunday afternoon.
"Honestly, sometimes in the car during the race, I am thinking about the people watching the race. I kid you not, I think 'I hope there is a battle somewhere in front of me because right now nothing is happening [around me].'
"I am aware of it for sure, and as a racer I want everything to be closer, but as a spectator I'd want to be watching something closer. I don't think it is Mercedes' fault. I've said it a few times -- it is up to us to catch them. But it is probably more the cars in terms of where they are at the moment.
"They do these little front wing changes which is going to make us follow and all that more. I am not the engineer, but I guess we need to be able to follow easier."
Other drivers also had their say.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen downplayed the impact of Mercedes' current dominance, with the team already waltzing toward another drivers' and constructors' championship double.
"I agree it's not great, but I think Formula One has always been like this," Verstappen said. "Before this, Red Bull was dominating the sport. Before that, you had Ferrari dominating the sport. Before that, you've got Williams. Before that, McLaren again. You always have those years of domination.
The Dutchman feels it is key to take the rule-making power out of the hands of the teams, who are currently involved in the process.
"I don't agree with it, but it's like it is, there's one team which gets the rules or understands the rules better than others or does a better job. It's up to us to find a way where not every team starts looking for their own advantage, because at the end of the day, even with the new rules coming at the moment, everybody is bidding for their own advantage. Maybe it's just better to leave out all the teams from discussions and just say 'these are the rules' and you deal with it."
On the subject of the cars themselves, Verstappen said: "Of course it's great to set lap records and stuff, but if we are maybe going one or two seconds slower, then we can at least follow each other a bit closer, that would be great.
"But I think that's also not purely car-related, because I think also the tyres, if you are really close to someone for two or three laps, they overheat too much and you start sliding too much, so most of the time you just back out because if you stay there, you have to pit earlier and stuff. So then it compromises your whole race.
"It's a combination of both the car where we need to find a different way of creating the downforce, but then running close to each other, and then the tyres, I think we can do a better job on that. If we can support Pirelli in that... I think at the moment still the differences between the engines are still too big. So I think if you also close that up a little bit by making it not that complex."
"I understand if we have to stay with hybrid engines, but I think it can be done in a better way."
While Lewis Hamilton was less outspoken than he was after his victory at Paul Ricard, he did elaborate on the views put across on Sunday. The five-time world champion thinks it is wrong to think there is a quick fix to F1's current malaise.
"I think they're all entwined," he said when asked what is the biggest issue to solve in 2021. "Naturally you make the cars heavier and more downforce, they go faster, but the cars are heavier so more pressure on the tyres, more degradation.
"It's a domino effect, the decisions that are made. Going heavier is going to be a worse direction to go in, for sure. As I said, we're already on the limit of our brakes. All of us are pushing for better brake performance, but we can't get any better at the moment. We're at the limit of that technology currently.
"The tyres are always an issue because the cars are too heavy, so it makes it a harder job for Pirelli each year. It's just a combination of things. But definitely when you are following, as we've always commented on, it's not easy. I think it's the first time they've had a real group of people within the FIA who are working on studying the aero scanning and the aero data to help create a car for the future. So I'm hopeful they're as good as my aerodynamicists, and they can create something that's better for us to race with."
Sebastian Vettel welcomed the fact F1 has reached out to its drivers for opinions.
"Well we've been invited [to the 2021 meetings] lately, so I think that was good," the Ferrari driver said. "As drivers we have a very, very clear view of what we think the cars of the future or the regulations of the future should be like. I think we keep things very simple, we don't have any other interests other than racing and keeping the sport as pure as we can.
"In that regard I think we're fairly aligned with the fans. I think also the way Formula 1 works these days is not just down to purists, there's other stuff and politics involved. But as I said, as a first step it was nice for us to have a voice and we hope we will have a continued voice with regards to the future."
On that same topic, McLaren's Carlos Sainz agreed the drivers can force real change in the sport now that they are speaking from the same hymn sheet.
"I think Formula One drivers are the only ones capable of feeling a Formula One car, or knowing what's happening actually in a Formula One car and giving the insight to the FIA and Liberty about what we need to follow each other and create a better show.
"The final decision will be done by them as they are the ones in charge to take these kinds of decisions but we can give them an insight and give them a lot more help, which is something we are fully available for. We just don't know why in the past they were not using us more."