SPIELBERG (Austria) - Formula One is failing both fans and drivers and needs to become more gladiatorial and less artificial, former Red Bull racer Mark Webber has warned, as the sport considers its future direction.
In an interview released by Red Bull ahead of tomorrow's Austrian Grand Prix, the Australian echoed calls for change from the energy drink company's billionaire owner Dietrich Mateschitz.
"The championship itself and Formula One itself is not in great shape," said the 30-year-old, a runner-up for Porsche in last weekend's Le Mans 24 Hours sports car race.
"We're disappointed with it as F1 fans... All the drivers that I'm talking to, we're disappointed with what's going on with the cars, the lap times; it's just not stimulating for the drivers.
"And this is rubbing off, the fans can see this. Over the last five or six years, they've got many things wrong... and it became a sniff too artificial."
Webber, who left F1 at the end of 2013 after winning nine races for then-dominant Red Bull, had been critical of the direction the sport was taking even before he moved to sports cars.
Red Bull, whose relationship with engine supplier Renault has soured notably this year after they won four championships in a row together from 2010 to 2013, have also become increasingly vocal in calling for change.
The sport is now looking at ways of making cars faster and lighter for 2017, to allow drivers to race flat out rather than having to coast and save tyres and fuel, but various proposals have yet to be finalised.
"There are a lot of questions to be answered and they need to act fast on getting the fans engaged again," said Webber.
"MotoGP, not many people can do that and that's why people watch. Messi, Ronaldo, this is what people love to switch a TV on for. We've got a big chance here to keep Formula One like that, but it's not like that at the moment, it's a shame, they've dulled it down."
He said making cars five or six seconds faster was not enough.
"The reference point that we now have is horrendous in terms of pace," he said.
"They need to make heavy changes and get the drivers stimulated again and that'll wash off on the fans."