Formula One is in desperate trouble and, unless it does something to stem the tide of fans leaving the sport it faces risk of collapse.
It's an opening line that could have been used at almost any point in the sport's 60-plus year history. It was true when the sport ran to Formula 2 regulations, when advertising was introduced, ground effects, tobacco advertising was banned, the influx of gadgets and gizmos in the early 1980s.
It was true then, it is true now. The obstacles it faces may be different, but the broad headlines have always been the same.
Formula One's problem is one of image and perception. It has made itself out to be the pinnacle of motor sport though there are good arguments to be made against this.
It claims to have the best drivers, despite the most exciting youngster since Lewis Hamilton currently twiddling his fingers in Japan.
Teams boast they've the brightest engineers, all tasked not with engineering innovation but exploring grey areas in what has become an over regulated competition.
Formula One is made up of only the best motorsport teams in the world, if you choose to believe them.
The problem is none of that is true, but that Formula One has promoted itself as such for so long it has begun to believe its own hype.
Formula One is the pinnacle of open wheel motor sport, of that there is no argument. Over the past three decades as its presence on global television has increased so too has its popularity. Many of viewers have little grasp (or interest) of the sport prior to the 'Bernie era', and so have bought into the concept that the sport is a flat-out race from lights to flag made up of the best drivers employed by the best teams driving the best cars.
It's total nonsense, but it's been sold so hard for so long that we believe it. Even the drivers believe it and, most worrying, the sport has come to believe it too. It is PR hype, and when you believe your own hype you are in trouble.
That's where the sport now finds itself. The issue it faces is one of perception, not one of finance or competition. For decades the sport has been banging its drum to position itself at the top of the tree, and the problem with being in that position is that it puts a target on your back. Every other category looks for ways to knock you off your perch and the media is only too willing to fire a shot from a grassy knoll in the pursuit of eyeballs. And so things like pay drivers get raised, though they've been the cornerstone of the sport since its very inception. Anything that doesn't tally with the sport's position as the grand poohbah of motorsport is pounced on, even if it means digging through the trash.
That invariably creates negative headlines, which is perfectly fine because nothing sells newspapers like hysteria and negativity. When was the last time you saw a picture of a puppy on the front page? We're all guilty of it, vicariously living through the misfortune of others, it's basically how the news media industry works.
But let's be perfectly frank and admit that racing in recent seasons has been good. There will be some who long for what they view as the glory years of the sport; when drivers pushed all the way; when there was perhaps greater variety; when there wasn't so much money involved. However I challenge you to watch a race from that era now (I really, really challenge you, since FOM makes it damn near impossible for large parts) and be entertained.
Aside from the odd thriller, which can be cherry-picked picked from any era to support whichever argument you choose, Formula One has always been, on track, more or less what it is now; the best qualified at the front and typically went on to win a cabinet full of trophies.
Formula One has always been comparatively processional. Sure, there have been some corkers but by and large the best team and driver runs away with it. A lot.
Jackie Stewart won 27 grands prix from 99 starts. He raced in Formula One for eight seasons and won a third of the races he entered before retiring in 1973. Jim Clark was similarly dominant while none have the starts-to-wins ratio of the maestro himself, Juan-Manuel Fangio, 24 wins from 54 starts.
The sport has always had its dominant drivers; the difference now is it gets broadcast into our homes in detail it's never had before. We understand how a driver won, why they won and, more importantly, why the other guy lost. And that's a problem because there is no mystery left, there is no romance in the knowledge that Lewis Hamilton has the sort of divine talents the likes of Clark, Stewart and Fangio had. We know he did it on strategy, by carrying more speed in the second sector because he ran a higher rear wing and was therefore able to open a two-tenth gap each and every lap. Television has killed the racing car star.
As a consequence we no longer live in awe of these men. We are no longer impressed by their ability to dominate their competitors. It makes the racing boring and therefore we long for some action. We want to see them going wheel-to-wheel and there is a growing push in recent years to manufacture that, no matter the cost.
I don't believe Formula One is in crisis. As fans tune out and sponsors leave, teams will be forced to downsize and change the way they go racing. That's perfectly normal. It happened when computers were introduced into the design office, it happened when test teams were cut. Like it or not the sport is going to change, something we humans are not naturally tolerant of.
However, what those in power need to be aware of is trivialising the sport in pursuit of maintaining an audience, and losing itself as a result.
Formula One has its problems, but every business has. The difference is they aren't broadcast around the world every second weekend with a pack of salivating journalists looking to justify their expense accounts.
Between Formula One insisting it is the biggest and best motor sport category in the world, and the media pulling it to shreds, we've been brainwashed into believing the sport is something it's never been.
To learn more about Mat and check out his previous features, click here