Hembery: F1 drivers need higher profiles like those in NASCAR

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Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery has become the latest paddock figure to call for widespread changes in Formula 1, saying that drivers should enjoy the same kind of profile that they do in NASCAR.

Following the change to a V6 turbo engine formula in F1, many have called for the sport to become more aggressive and make radical changes for the 2017 season.

F1 is also dealing with a financial crisis at the moment, with the Marussia and Caterham teams collapsing during the 2014 season. Another three – Force India, Lotus and Sauber – are also known to be struggling.

Speaking to The Observer in the UK, Hembery said that big changes need to be made in F1 to give fans greater value for money and a better on-track spectacle.

“It’s not for us to tell people what should change, and how it should change, but change is needed,” Hembery said. “We’re anxious to understand what’s going to happen in 2017, when we will be looking at a new contract.

“We’d like to see what the plan is. We are in the entertainment business. Some people get ruffled by that idea, but if we don’t entertain people don’t watch us, and then the sponsors won’t come, and the cycle continues.”

Hembery suggested in the interview that F1 could hold a shorter sprint race on Saturdays to give fans more on-track action, moving away from the one-race model that has always been used in the sport.

“I thought qualifying on Friday night was a good idea, so you can actually win something, and the promoters have something to sell,” Hembery said. “Maybe a sprint race on the Saturday, an extra product, so Saturday fans actually see a result and podium places.”

The Pirelli chief also drew an interesting comparison with NASCAR, believing that the drivers are treated like superstars and racing heroes in a way that the F1 field is not.

“In NASCAR, the driver is the king,” Hembery said. “Even the guy at the bottom is a superstar with a multi-million dollar contract.

“I would love to see our drivers held in that esteem. In F1 the driver has to become an international superstar, like David Beckham.

“But we’ve got drivers who don’t understand why it’s crap to change a helmet every race, and moan and bitch about it.”

The idea of having racing ‘heroes’ is one that the sport’s supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, also recently touched on in an interview with the official F1 website. The 84-year-old believes that Lewis Hamilton is perhaps the only driver in the sport to truly embrace the fame that comes with being world champion, and would like to see more follow his lead.

“[Lewis] is visible – he is living the life of a true champion,” Ecclestone said. “He is no stranger to the red carpet which makes him a good ambassador for the sport, as he is world famous.

“And look at what he is doing on the track! I would go so far as to say that he will win his third title this year. I am positive about that.”