The Ben Evans Column: Watching a real race

Posted on | Author Ben Evans

Hungarian Grand Prix, 2007, start | Ferrari MediaOnce again this season the Hungarian GP provided more off-track talking points than on-track action as the evil Alonso viciously blocked the blessed Lewis in the pits delaying him by a couple of seconds at the end of qualifying.

Part of the gamesmanship found at the top of any professional sport, you might say. But no, the stewards banished the dastardly Spaniard back 5 places for un-Lewis friendly behaviour.

In fact rumour has it that any driver who attempts to overtake Lewis in a race will receive a drive through penalty and that a successful pass will result in an immediate black flag.

Because it was Hungary and it was dry I only half watched the race as I was 99% certain I would spend two hours watching a procession. From what I saw I was right, as the cars are hugely constrained by the twists and turns of the Hungaroring.

The weekend before I was at Brands Hatch for the Formula Vee Festival meeting – a greater contrast to the F1 in Hungary you could not get. The racing was tight, close with overtaking and accidents aplenty (20 red flags over the course of the meeting).

The Vee Festival meeting was in fact the perfect advertisement for domestic motorsport. There were no boring races and despite the red flags the racing was largely clean. Yet, despite the current domestic resurgence of F1 the place was largely empty; the crowd was confined to family and friends of the drivers.

Having raced in and attended a number of cracking club meetings over the past couple of years I am always astonished at how small the crowds are, and it is always a major disappointment. Every Sunday millions of people tune into the Grand Prix which is largely, lets be honest here, quite dull.

Yet just a few miles down the road there is some amazing racing on, which is a bargain to get into and each ten-lapper will have more action than a whole season of F1. A Formula Ford going past you in the flesh at 100mph is a lot more impressive than a Grand Prix car on the TV at 200mph.

Club and national meetings are a great way to pick out and meet the stars of the future. The teenager in front of me in the queue for an ice cream at Snetterton on Easter Monday in 2003 now drives for McLaren – Lewis somebody his name is.

In fact there is nothing more thrilling than seeing a really exciting new prospect wringing the neck of a car that they are simply too quick for. Jan Magnussen and Mika Hakkinen certainly made an impression on me in their formative years, whilst equally exciting to see are the drivers that never made it – Oliver Gavin, Topi Serjala and Bas Leinders are all drivers who thrilled me from the grandstand in their Formula Ford days yet none made it all the way.

Partly the reason that national racing draws such small crowds is that it is so pathetically promoted both by the circuits and the motoring press. You have to search long and hard in Autosport and Motorsport News each week to find the national motorsport listings, and champions such as Marcus Pye aside most national racing is largely ignored anyway.

With some exceptions the circuits (usually the ones that host big meetings too), do very little to promote national racing – Silverstone doesn’t even list its club meetings on its website. This always strikes me as bizarre as a good crowd is essentially free money for the circuit (most organising clubs pay for the track hire) for very little effort.

So on the Sunday after next instead of switching on ITV to hear the latest tale of woe to befall Lewis Hamilton (my guess is Fernando Alonso being on track at the same time as our Lewis – in the race – disgraceful), pack a radio and head along to your nearest race circuit. You may not get the speed and intrigue of F1, but what you will get is what the Grand Prix rarely delivers – motor racing.

Photo: Ferrari media

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Ben Evans

Contributing writer.