Lord and master of the fate of Formula 1, Bernie Ecclestone really does have some innovative, bright ideas, doesn’t he? The trouble is, he never tends to let these interfere with his work. Alas, the supreme dictator in control of motorsport at the very top tends to only allow the most ridiculous, untenable and utterly unreasonable ideas to slip through the net.
His latest is a London Grand Prix, which will be known by the rather catchy title of the London GP. Notice the use of the world “will” there. While true F1 fans would love to hear that this is only a pie-in-the-sky idea, and that there will be full consultation and focus groups with those who have, not a monetary, but an emotional investment in the future of the sport in Britain, that is simply not the case. If Bernie wants it, it will happen.
Images have even been released, which were subsequently plastered all over the front and back pages of the daily newspapers this morning, of what racing in London could look like. While the computer graphics are extremely well-rendered, and the cars do look to be travelling very quickly down the Mall and along the Embankment, the proposition remains completely ridiculous and an affront to true F1 backers everywhere. One of the proposal’s key backers, Santander, even had the temerity to make the following claim: “Drivers find street races significantly more exciting.”
No they don’t. There is a reason why the European Grand Prix, formerly held at the excellent Nürburgring circuit in Germany, a true race track I might add, failed to sell out this year. This was due to the fact that, like the “exciting” night race at Singapore, city circuits are perennially boring affairs, devoid of the very entertainment value that makes a sport such as F1, which is not to everyone’s taste, watch-able and even interesting in the first place. Overtaking, fast corners, long straights, tight, unpredictable racing. And most of all, F1′s greatest selling point to its millions of fans across the world is the incredible and rich history of this sport.
People don’t simply buy Ferrari merchandise in their droves because they like the nice red on the caps, or the prancing horse. Most of us have never owned a car produced by the Italian marque. The vast majority of world citizens never will. The reason race fans don said merchandise is because they remember the days of Michael Schumacher, when the imperious German driver won everything there was to win. Ecclestone may long ago have decided that history and tradition are “not for him”, but to some, who see cars going round a track as a sport not an exercise in counting money, they still hold some significance and resonance today.
The London “concept” is half-baked, and insulting. Moreover, it shows more clearly than ever before the direction in which F1 is going. Safety improvements following the tragic death of Ayrton Senna in 1994 have sanitised the racing, but they keep the tremendously talented and honest drivers who pack the grid safe. I’m sure nobody wishes for a return to the late 1980s, where F1 was a sport in which you could quite literally die doing what you loved. However, the selfishness and blindness to values that actually matter which pervade the FIA and all the various “businessmen” associated with F1 are a cancer that is eating away at F1.
“City circuits are perennially boring affairs, devoid of the very entertainment value that makes a sport such as F1, which is not to everyone’s taste, watch-able and even interesting in the first place.”
Nav Sidhu, the offending spokesperson from Santander, continued his descent into farce with the following words: “There’s a tremendous appetite for Formula 1 in the UK – more than anywhere else.” Speak to French fans of the sport, and they’ll probably tell you that the days of Magny-Cours and the French Grand Prix, which was won by F1 greats including Schumacher, Nigel Mansell, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Fangio himself, for want of a better phrase “shit all over” the empty, corporate stretch of tarmac at Bahrain, to take just one example.
Assurances have been made that the London GP would not replace the race at Silverstone, long under threat from Ecclestone’s “grand plan” to remove all meaning and tradition from the sport. And I for one believe this, as the circuit has a long-standing contract to stage F1 races, and while having to put up with another pesky “proper race” must be a real pain for the pint-sized puppet master, it generates sufficient interest to be financially viable. And that is what matters, to put it simply. Over the past few years, and although races have varied, there have been about seven to eight meetings that simply should not exist. As the sport has been taken away from Europe, so its soul has been ripped out.
Although F1 was never a “people’s sport” in the same way football once was, before it made heroes of humble men (Senna), produced epic battles (Senna and Prost, Mansell and Nelson Pique, Lauda and James Hunt) and inspired legends, while turning stretches of road that would otherwise mean nothing into places of near-pilgrimage for racing fans. Perhaps my cynicism is unwarranted, and in a few years time we’ll be applauding Ecclestone for his vision. But I doubt it. And as circuit racing begins to come under attack from all quarters, so begins the slow death of a sport that for all its dull moments, can produce the most exhilarating and worthwhile viewing that can compete with anything else across the sporting spectrum.
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