The Ben Evans column: F1 gets streetwise

Mario Andretti, Lotus-Cosworth, Long Beach, 1977Once again F1 looks like it’s about to dip its toes into the murky waters of the street race.

Not since 1991 has there been more than one street track on the calendar – the glamorous Monte-Carlo track, which is benchmark for every other street race in the world.

So can F1 make the formula work anywhere else?

Today street races, in Europe at least, are few and far between, with only Monaco, Pau and the Norisring in regular use. This weekend the British Formula 3 championship is making its first trip to the streets of Bucharest in Romania which promises to be quite an experience.

Champ Car World Series, Long Beach, 2006, 2In the USA street racing is very popular with a large proportion of the Champ Car calendar consisting of races around American and Canadian city centres. Most of these events are hugely popular with spectators and provide a very different kind of racing spectacle.

F1’s return to the streets is a little surprising.

In an era when Silverstone, Magny Cours and Imola are criticised for having unsuitable facilities, the decision to then add two temporary circuits to the calendar seems baffling. If Silverstone’s facilities are perceived to be poor, then how will a non-permanent pit set-up compete?

If nothing else the Valencia and Singapore races indicate that in contemporary F1 nothing talks louder than money.

Throughout the 1980s F1’s reputation was somewhat tarnished by annual visits to some rather poor street circuits in the USA. Many seemed to have been designed by a toddler with access to a pen and a city map.

The 1984 race weekend at Dallas was one of the most notorious debacles in Grand Prix racing. Held in July at the height of Texan heat, the untried surface melted and only a handful of finishers staggered to the end.

I’m not suggesting that the Valencia and Singapore races will plumb these depths. Any major problems with the facilities and track surface (and lets not forget current cars place far greater pressures on the surface than those of two decades ago) would look mighty embarrassing in front of a live global TV audience. After Indianapolis 2005 that cannot be allowed to happen again.

Keke Rosberg, Williams-Honda, Detroit, 1984Street races can be highly entertaining – the accident quotient almost invariably goes up, and adverse weather can make things very interesting. Better still, because there is no testing, the pack is more likely to be shuffled with the emphasis placed on skilled drivers and adaptive engineers.

The downside is that most street tracks are far too twisty for meaningful racing and a high-speed procession is a likely.

It will be good to see F1 taken out of its comfort zone and add something different to the mix. Anyone who sat through last Sunday’s snooze-fest from Barcelona will know that something, anything, is better than that, and street races can always produce that drama.

Let’s just hope we get some races more in line with the Durban A1GP events, and less like the Phoenix Grands Prix of 1989-91.

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4 comments on The Ben Evans column: F1 gets streetwise

  1. Number 38 said on 18th May 2007, 21:28

    One of the most universal complaints about modern F1 racing is the lack of passing and passing on a street circuit is near impossible. How Bernie can chastise Silverstone’s facilities and then contract a street race, a NIGHT street race, is the height of hypocracy, the man is money mad
    and the benefit to F1 in general is a negative!

  2. What Number 38 said.

    Street racing sounds like such a great idea but it’s always much better for the drivers than the spectators. I get the impression, and tell many newcomers that spot me checking on ChampCar, that the majority talent-base of foreigners is because they must see examples of Long Beach and Saint Petersburg and San Jose and think, “Damn, that looks impossible! If I can win at that week-to-week, I can do anything!” as if it is like racing Macau six times a year, thinking of it as the greatest challenge they can impose on themselves besides Formula 1.

    In other words, this latest hypocrisy is more for the competitors than the spectators.

    That having been said, there’s nothing more competitive than blind corners and impossible passing, even if the spectators say they don’t like it, and stages like that are important in a world championship competition, so I don’t think it’s all bad.

  3. Number 38 said on 18th May 2007, 22:00

    Back again……I just read Ben’s article three more times and there are certain quotes that REALLY tell the tale:
    “The downside is that most street tracks are far too twisty for meaningful racing and a high-speed procession is a likely.”
    The buzz words “too twisty for MEANINGFUL racing” tell us what to expect. AND……if “Sunday’s snooze-fest from Barcelona…” was boring what was the STREET race at Melbourne? And did the lack of testing there shuffle that field? Sorry Ben, you haven’t won me over. We’ve already tried street races and did away with them for a reason. I just add street races to the new up-coming regs for 2011 as indicative of the slow, steady decay of F1 racing.
    I’m an oldie who dates to BEFORE WINGS, I’ve lived “the good old days”, I’ve managed to remain a fan all these years but things are not going forward any longer.

  4. Nathan Jones said on 19th May 2007, 2:45

    fact of the matter is, that races like last weekends at barcelona was dull, as is just about every other race so what does F1 have to lose by going to a street venue?
    u say street tracks r hard to pass on? well what about F1’s current venue’s?
    Barcelona, Magny Cours, Hungaroring to name the worst!
    i’d rather a street race than any at those tracks!
    all the F1 venue’s these days look the same to the untrained eye with acres of run-off at every turn! so y not change things up?
    besides, street tracks have more of the “driver” getting more from the car! more “balls” and “saughting the men from the boys” about them!
    i see ur point that street tracks r hard to pass on but my point is that it’s not like we get overtaking fests at any other venue’s!

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