Open this week’s Autosport, Motorsport News or Autocar at any page and you will see someone connected to Formula One talking about improving the show. Now we know that it isn’t going to happen, but there is a simple way to improve the ‘show’ at Grands Prix.
The simple answer is to put on better support races. In general the European races suffer rather badly in these terms: The Australians get Aussie V8s for three races over the weekend, while Bahrain gets Thoroughbred Grand Prix and Formula BMW. In Europe, we get the Porsche Supercup – not bad, but the astronomical budget needed to participate leads to a small grid – and GP2 which is shaping up well, but needs to develop.
This is all well and good except that on Sunday morning the Porsche race lasts 20 minutes and the GP2 ‘sprint’ race is roughly the same. This equates to about an hour’s worth of entertainment. If you’re really lucky you may also get the Trofeo Maserati, remarkable only for Jodie Kidd’s inept attempts to become a racing driver (she’s as good a racer as I am a supermodel).
Oops, I almost forgot the drivers’ parade, an event so smug and patronising it makes politicians appear sincere. Marvel at how Nick Heidfeld almost breaks into a smile before remembering the ‘no charisma’ clause in the contract! Gasp at your inability to recognise either of the Minardi drivers!
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t strike me as very good value for ticket prices usually in excess of Â£100. Apparently there is going to be a paint-drying competition supporting the Grand Prix next year. But it wasn’t always like this. Until the mid-1990′s the Silverstone Grand Prix weekend was like a giant ‘clubbie’ with some F1 thrown in. Saturday afternoon, after qualifying finished, was traditionally given over to Britain’s top club racing series to entertain the crowds. And the British Touring Car Championship and British F3 were there as well.
For example: 1996 was my first British Grand Prix and included the BTCC on the support bill for the last time ever (it was mooted again for 2004 but, regrettably, the teams couldn’t agree terms.)
Likewise, Saturday qualifying traditionally drew huge crowds, firstly because there was loads of F1 track time and the one-hour sessions were hugely exciting (often better than the races), but also because the F3 race was invariably a cracker, as were the other support races as well.
I realise that the F1 teams may not appreciate a bunch of club races putting rubber and oil down in all the wrong places on the track, but that is not the point. F1 is a sport, but it is also a spectacle. People want to be entertained, and if that means a bunch of Minis or Formula Fords ruining the track conditions then so be it. The F1 drivers can cope with it, after all, they are supposedly the world’s best.
In my view Grand Prix weekends should be a celebration of motorsport and provide domestic racers with the opportunity of a lifetime. This is an even more pressing issue given the lack of running seen at Grands Prix on Fridays due to the ‘two race engines’ rule. Why not put on a few fun races on the Friday afternoon? The drivers would revel in the spotlight and it would be a far better spectacle for the fans. I for one would love to have the opportunity to race a Formula Vee or Formula Ford at a Grand Prix meeting.
Over in the world of Moto GP the fans have it much better. Firstly, race day tickets do not have several zeros before the decimal point and there is action all day. Aside from the Moto GP you get the 250s and 125s and a plethora of support races. Did I mention all three GP classes also have a race morning warm-up? All this for the price of a Ferrari baseball cap. Admittedly you do spend they day surrounded by men in leather trousers but in terms of value it’s a clear winner. Understandably F1 bosses are keen to avoid clashes with Moto GP events, as the bikes stand to draw a larger crowd.
I realise that Formula One is the pinnacle of global motorsport, but a Grand Prix weekend should be about more than a one-shot qualifying session and a two-hour race. It should be packed with action from start to finish and a chance to show race fans that there’s more to the sport than Formula One.
Both drivers and fans would love a varied and exciting support bill so, please, can next year’s Silverstone meeting have a Formula Vee race?