Editorial: Bashing the bishop

A reputable bank, keen to promote their close alliance with a leading Formula One team, have rolled out a series of adverts to communicate to Formula One fans that they understand the complexities, the pressures and the demands of the sport. At least, that is what they tried to do.

Because when you show an avid F1 follower their advertisement with the slogan, ?????ǣwelcome to the 200 mph chess game,?????? the first thing that will spring to their minds is FIA President Max Mosley’s oft-quoted remark that we should think of F1 as being, ?????ǣlike a game of chess.?????? This was in response to a line of questioning from a reporter who suggested that tactical fuel strategy battles are no replacement for good old-fashioned wheel-to-wheel racing. It did him no favours with the fans.

Don’t get me wrong: chess is a rewarding, cerebral and enjoyable endeavour. But the world of kings, rooks and bishops does not make for gripping Sunday afternoon viewing in quite the same way as men blasting through the streets of Monte-Carlo at 300 kph does.

The problem with refuelling is that it is yet another thing that puts F1 beyond the understanding of the average sports punter who can’t appreciate the difference between F1 cars battling at 300 kph and his daily motorway trips.

Over dinner with an F1-unenlightened friend last week, who had caught the end of the Spanish Grand Prix, I found myself trying to explain exactly why the race commentators had spent so long discussing refuelling strategies and pit stops.

Let’s be very clear on this point: refuelling strategies are a complete turn-off for the average sports fan. F1 diehards will continue to watch F1 however dull it becomes, but if the sport is to widen its popularity and its potential income, it needs to be appreciated by the masses.

Now this is a controversial matter. There is no question that the most spectacular draw that Formula One has to offer is also the one thing that the governing body must always do their utmost to reduce – crashes. However the second biggest draw is the potential for close racing and the promise of a race’s outcome in doubt until the last possible moment.

The proof of this is simple. A driver stuck behind another does not need to risk a collision by passing him on the track. He can simply wait for the fuel stops and hope to pass him by stopping later.

But there is a more compelling argument that often gets overlooked. Not only does refuelling kill overtaking, but it reduces F1 to little more than a ?????ǣ200 mph chess game?????? – and that is emphatically not a good thing. When a casual channel-surfer finds an F1 race going on they are not going to be absorbed by talk of fuel-adjusted qualifying times, the weight penalty of carrying more fuel, or the merits of one refuelling strategy over another. No – people want to watch cars being raced, not being driven.

Refuelling, of course, is a single example of F1′s myriad problems. A range of other factors from aerodynamics to driver discipline are at fault to varying degrees. And, with the FIA finally asking the F1 fans for their thoughts on F1, we have put together a solution of our own – do have a look at how to fix F1 and let us know what you think. And, whether you agree with us or not, make sure you do contribute to the FIA survey.

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