The Ben Evans Column: A classic season – on paper

Adrian Sutil, Sebastian Vettel, Istanbul, 2007 | Peter J Fox / Crash Media GroupEven Kimi Raikkonen agreed that the Turkish GP was an exercise in tedium not seen in F1 since, oh, the Hungarian GP three weeks ago.

Aside from Hamilton’s puncture it was a largely incident and interest free two hours. Furthermore what little glimpses you did get of the grandstands showed them to be largely empty.

From a distance this has been one of the best F1 seasons in years, a genuine four-way title fight between the top two teams. But on a race-by-race basis, judged by on-track action, it must surely be going down as one of the most tedious.

The end of season DVD will be quite good, but in fortnightly two-hour instalments F1 2007 isn’t doing it for me.

Partly I think its because although the rivalries have been simmering they have yet to explode into a race-day confrontation. This is due both to the re-fuel and go nature of F1 which means that drivers are not compelled to overtake (how awesome would the British GP have been without pit stops?), and also the points structure that rewards second or third instead of pushing for that win.

Back in ’89, would Ayrton Senna have sat dutifully behind Alain Prost, as Kimi did behind Massa on Sunday? I don’t think so.

Hopefully as the season reaches its closing stages and drivers really have to push for the win this will change and we will see some bona fide dicing for podium positions. In 1989 Senna and Prost were at each other’s throats following a move in Round 3.

Whereas in 1989 the points system and Championship structure rewarded the winner of the most races, now with longer seasons and less of a gap between the points positions, the reward is for the driver who can string together the most consistent season.

It is surely only a matter of time before we have a champion who has not won a single race. Whilst this is not uncommon in many club championships it is hardly fitting for a series that is the pinnacle of motor sport.

A rather anoracky analogy (and one which gives away how I spent my weekend) would be the 1984 500cc motorbike season. From what I’d read about it, it seemed like the season was a classic confrontation between Freddie Spencer and Eddie Lawson, but watching the DVD of the season, most of the races were quite dull with only four bikes from two manufacturers really capable of winning (Spencer, Lawson, Randy Mamola and Ron Haslam).

Sound familiar? I guess the only difference is that judging by the safety standards of Grand Prix motorbike racing in 1984 I would say that the riders really earned their money – no 500m of tarmac run off for them.

Lewis Hamilton, Istanbul, McLaren-Mercedes, 2007, 2 | DaimlerChryslerMy point is this. On paper 2007 looks like a classic F1 season and that this is how it will probably be remembered – along with the remarkable success of Lewis Hamilton.

However, I believe that this is masking that there is a great deal in F1 that needs fixing. In Turkey literally nothing of interest happened for nigh on two hours – one spin at the start and a puncture – there were no mechanical failures, no accidents to spice things up. Even fanatical audiences will tune-in for only so long if this is always the case.

The next 6 weeks are critical for the health of F1. If the next couple of races are exciting and incident packed with a genuine title-fight emerging then F1 could see itself catapulted into the homes of a whole new audience.

However if the back-to-back races mirror Hungary and Turkey then I believe that very few people will be bothering to get up at the crack of dawn for the Chinese GP.

As Turkey proved cars running at 200mph in single file, pitting every 30 minutes is not entertainment. Hopefully Monza in two weeks time will be a different story.

Photos: Peter J Fox / Crash Media Group | DaimlerChrysler

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17 comments on The Ben Evans Column: A classic season – on paper

  1. I was thinking this the other day actually – the hype around Hamilton and his feud with Alonso are what is keeping this season alive, without it there would be little to talk about!

    The ontrack action is as dull as it ever was most of the time, but offtrack is pretty good! :)

  2. Spot on. Given the budgets available in F1 it is absolutely ridiculous what they offer in terms of entertainment. It’s been known for 10+ years that aerodynamics are the culprit for lack of overtaking and the refueling was introduced because Max & Bernie thought it will make US audiences feel at home. In fact it is really not adding any entertainment value to the race. Bernie & Max are a bit like Beavis and Butthead when it comes to running F1. First they look out for their own interest and what follows, who cares.. And it’s not that they don’t have money to make studies, and they do make studies. It must be Max’ nature of a politician that provides one crap outcome after another.

  3. Sigmund said on 30th August 2007, 10:40

    I was also wondering why the media (perhaps because they are british and love Lewis too much) are rawing about this season. As late as 2005 the racing was a lot better, with genuine passes for the lead — in the dry.

    One set of tyre per race was a good idea, so of course they changed it as soon as possible. One lap qualifying was boring, but made the races more exciting (though they could just as well have been done without race fuel.) I would choose a good race over a good qualifying any day.

    It doesn’t really seem too difficult to make F1 good again. Personally I think the cars are safe enough to let them drive on more demanding circuits. Today F1 is safer than football — or long jump for that matter. That seems a bit odd to me, motor racing is supposed to be a bit dangorous. I commend tha cars getting safer and safer, but soon they are safe enough to race on the Nordschleife again. But of course they will never do.

    PS: Who cares about the teams facilities and parking spaces for their motor homes. In Champ Car they manage to race without any of them. To close down circuits because of lacking lacking facilities are the lamest excuse there is. (read: why wasn’t Imola on the calender instead of a very long break?)

  4. Sadly F1 has been boring for quite a while and we in the U.S. have been waking at the crack of dawn even longer.

    I would love to say I have a remedy but I really don’t. Its obvious, however, that few care about the spectator. Actually, does anyone other than Fabio Briatore care?

    (Its doubtful that Max Moronsly and Bernie E. are Raikkonen fans.)

  5. Nathan Jones said on 30th August 2007, 12:49

    imola would have provided yet another snooze fest!
    altho i am a dedicated fan, even i wonder sometimes y i didnt sleep those 2 hrs away (i live in aus) and by the time our delayed telecast begins it’s about 11:00pm at night plus how ever long big brother goes over time, now it’s aus idol we r waiting on! Turkey started here at 12:00pm

  6. Sigmund said on 30th August 2007, 12:56

    Yes, Imola probably would have been a snooze fest, but actually the last two races there were quite good. Even without much overtaking.

  7. Number 38 said on 30th August 2007, 14:47

    So many people are “snoozing” through the boring races but I picked up on a line in Ben’s article that is worthy of discussion:

    Aside from Hamilton’s puncture it was a largely incident and interest free two hours. Furthermore what little glimpses you did get of the grandstands showed them to be largely empty.

    “interest free two hours” is of course the snooze time but what about the “largely empty grandstands”? And I read they had to GIVE OUT 35000 complimentary tickets at Bahrain to fill the stands.
    What I find interesting in this dilemia is Bernie OWNS the Istanbul circuit, shouldn’t he have a responsibility to promote or supervise the event. He cancelled the USA GP citing ‘lack of promotion’ although it turned out twice the attendance of his Turkish race. Something seems hypacritical here. And now we’re going to suffer through a night street race (Singapore) all the while he’s canceled the French GP and is blackmailing the BRDC at Silverstone. Boring races in boring places, how long must we endure this?

  8. Not to defend Bernie E. but one has to factor the cost of the GP tickets. Here in the U.S. the tickets are dirt-cheap. Penthouse seats were less than $200 for the entire weekend.

  9. The tipping point here in the UK has been largely missed for F1. Sports journalists should be kicking themselves here. Lewis became a genuine super-star here for about a month over the summer. I bet the ITV programs got far more viewers than normal. But the races weren’t very exciting to the non-fans (other than the notable exception of Nurburgring which was interesting simply because the rain removed all of the downforce). Now the football season has started again the opportunity is lost.

  10. Obster said on 30th August 2007, 21:11

    This season I have been recording each race-sleeping in-then blasting past the commercial interruptions while viewing during the evening. This actually improves the continuity of the race-and you don’t feel the lack of passing so much.
    The “boredom” factor is a bit of a mental exercise-you have to realize each of the top teams is developing their cars between each race at an unbelievable pace. We just don’t get to see this part. This seems to keep one car from becoming better than the others during the season. I think the exception to this was last year with Ferrari-Schumacher “rallied the troops” through the last part of the season, and we saw them put on a great charge.

  11. The cost of the GP tickets is largely down to Bernie charging large fees. The USA could afford be cheap because a) Tony George had relatively low start-up costs, b) he had two huge events to subside the F1 and c) American people were already educated about motor sport and were happy to try out F1. Many of the new tracks are spending over $50m on construction, rely on (generous) governments to subside them and also need to educate their populations about motor sport and F1.

    That Bahrain statistic is embarrassing. They only had an F1Racing-estimated 45000 spectators on race day to start with. If 35000 got free tickets, then only 10000 paid. And at $66 for the cheapest paid race-day ticket, the prices aren’t much higher than in the USA. Since Bernie charges approximately $23m a year for the race rights, that means every paying spectator is shouldering a $2276 portion of the Bernie fee.

    Perhaps F1 should take a hint and return to countries that can cope with the true economics of hosting a race. Then we might get interesting races again.

  12. Journeyer said on 30th August 2007, 22:28

    Ali, countries like Malaysia, Bahrain, Turkey, China, and eventually Abu Dhabi CAN cope with race economics. But if not enough fans watch, the government helps out with subsidies. But where do subsidies come from? It could come from he royal family’s pocket. But if not, it’s from people’s taxes. So if race fans won’t pay, all the citizens are forced to pay. Brute force, but effective.

    And interesting races don’t happen with good economics. They happen with good track design. (Hi, Mr. Tilke!)

  13. Eric M. said on 31st August 2007, 3:01

    I’ve never liked the current points structure. I suppose it’s nice that more drivers can find themselves in the points when the race is over, but has it really made things better now that 7th and 8th are points-paying positions? I don’t think it really has. And this whole business of drivers settling for second or third place rather then risk their race challenging for the win is just sad. Two points difference between 1st and 2nd just isn’t high enough. Maybe the winning driver should get 12 points? Someone should ask Kimi what the point differential between 1st and 2nd would’ve had to be for him to at least try an all-or-nothing passing move on Massa.

  14. Daniel said on 31st August 2007, 13:23

    I agree with Eric, but I would suggest giving the winner 11 points, and an extra one for the pole sitter. Anyway, the current difference is too short, and the best example happened in 2003, when Schumacher won six races, compared to Raikkonen’s maiden and lonely win at Sepang. Despite that, Michael was champion only two points ahead of Kimi.

  15. When the government and track owners are having to find $2276 per spectator just to pay for Bernie’s track fees (this is not counting the cost of hosting, maintaining and improving the track – the latter being needed if better racing is to be had at a particular venue), then the race economics are not working. There is a limit to the amount of time any government will subsidise an activity – either the people will complain (if it’s from their taxes; eventually they decide other things are more important) or the royalty will complain (if they change their mind about the value of F1). Once this happens, the track has nothing in the kitty to improve itself to make the event seem worthwhile.

    Self-supporting tracks, on the other hand, can weather that kind of storm. They can make changes to improve passing, the spectator experience and anything else that can help make the event better. Events that can better themselves would be a big step in the right direction.

    And Daniel, you’re right about the points gap being too small.

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