Formula One - Losing it's Edge?
by Julie GatesArticle is written by and copyright © 1999-2001 Julie Gates and The F1 Rumors Site
The Canadian Grand Prix may have enlightened us with more action that we have seen so far all season, but due to the nature of the track, that was to be expected and it is unlikely we'll see races like it again this year.
Overtaking isn't the only controversy in Formula One at the moment. Television coverage, the state of ticket pricing and the treatment of fans, are also major talking points.
In the early nineties, we were blessed with man and machine collaborating as one to produce some tantalising racing. The cars were wide, and the tyres were fat, non-grooved slicks. Brilliant! Remember that exclusive battle at Barcelona in 1991, with Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell wheel to wheel the length of the mile long pit straight? In today's Formula One, the drivers can barely get into another's slipstream, let alone race alongside their opponents.
Today, overtaking occurs once in a blue moon, if we're lucky. Should your idea of a good race be watching twenty-two cars drive round a circuit sixty odd times, in procession, then you are lucky in the racing you see! Even overtaking back-markers is becoming a joke... something the entire Circus is danger of becoming.
We don't want overtaking to be easy. The last thing we want is to have a dozen passing manoeuvres every lap. We just want overtaking opportunities to be there. We want action, and attacking and attempts at passing without having to rely solely on the pit strategy aspect of the sport. We want cars swarming all over each others gearboxes and trying to dive in for the kill when entering or exiting a corner.
The current grooved, harder compound tyres contribute to making it virtually impossible to overtake. The car relies so much on aerodynamic downforce that when a driver hits a dirty patch of air, their grip is virtually wiped out as the aerodynamic component is destroyed.
Formula One should be motor racing, not motor follow-someone-around-the-track-until-you-reach-the-chequered-flag. If even the drivers aren't getting much enjoyment from their racing, then how can the spectators? It's the spectators that have to pay absurd sums of money to see cars playing follow-my-leader…
Max Mosley, was attempting to complete an impossible task, making racing safer and more exciting by replicating wet conditions, but even he has admitted that overtaking "is now probably a bit too difficult." But what does he propose to do about it? The rules can't be changed until 2001 at the earliest, so next season looks to be much of the same.
But what else needs can be done? It isn't just tyres that make overtaking virtually impossible. Maybe re-fuelling stops should to be scrapped too? They represent a large risk to the driver and team (and promote the "pass in the pits" mentality). A better balance of mechanical grip should be implemented, maybe by bringing back slicks and increasing the width of the tyres. In contrast, the amount of aerodynamic downforce could be massively decreased. The characteristics of the circuits could also be altered to increase overtaking potential, and testing and development might be limited to enable the smaller budget teams to play catch up and challenge for reasonable finishes.
On another track entirely, the supposed sport is becoming more money-orientated than ever. Team bosses seem more interested in making a buck or two than winning or entertaining.
Race fans have to pay a colossal amount of money to go to a Grand Prix, particularly in Europe. Take a weekend grandstand ticket at the British Grand Prix - it will set you back a whopping £250. Add to this the cost of travelling, accommodation, merchandise and eating-out, and your bill could be as much as £500. Have a family of three or four going? Then expect to fork out over £1500 for a decent seat and accommodation. And what do you get for your money? The chance to see twenty-two cars involved in the on-track procession… and that seems to be about it. Fans are unable to get close to their heroes, let alone talking to them or asking for an autograph - particularly now the under-sized 'autograph hole' in the back fence along the paddock has been sealed off. The world of Formula One is becoming just that: A fairytale land of which we are merely passing by from afar, looking in through a closed window.
Television coverage and the costs involved are also major discussion topics. Terrestrial stations, those such as ITV or RTL, seem to be lumbered with basic footage and rare on-board shots. International Digital subscribers can choose from a wide variety of cameras of which to watch the action from... all for a fee of £10 per race - if their country has access.
Furthermore, commercial breaks do not help the cause of ITV, RTL or their equivalents. Football matches come to viewers with uninterrupted footage, so why should we have to suffer three minute breaks at regular intervals in the race?
It's not just that though - did you notice anything strange about the coverage of the Canadian GP on ITV? Schumacher hit the barrier, by my reckoning, on lap twenty nine and during a commercial-pain-in-proverbial-break. However, ITV coverage portrayed the accident as being 'live' on lap thirty-two, on returning from the ad-break. This is totally unacceptable on their part. They have misled millions of viewers by implying the accident took place live on lap thirty two, when in fact they were showing a replay minutes after the event!
I am an avid F1 fan and I hate to see the sport I love suffer because some folks who can't take on board the opinions of others think they know what is best for spectators and the sport. Well I'm a spectator, and I know I represent the views of many others who want to see things change… when will someone in authority pay attention to what we are saying?
Julie Gates is happiest watching F1 and writing. Also interested in singing, cars, cinema, reading and going to concerts, she has little spare time to relax, but this is the way she likes it - rather being busy than idle as she can't stand still for five minutes! Totally committed to her career as a Formula One journalist, she is determined to succeed.