There?σΤιΌΤδσs no escaping the Wimbledon tennis tournament here in Britain. Last night F1 broadcasters BBC attracted 12.6m viewers as British hopeful Andy Murray scraped through to the next round after a four-hour match that lasted well into the evening.
But there has been criticism of the decision to keep the match going under Wimbledon?σΤιΌΤδσs new extensible roof – and questions about whether it was done to help keep viewing figures strong.
It would not be the first sport where compromises have been made to suit the demands of television ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ Formula 1 is much the same. But this sort of thing can easily go too far.
The roof at centre court was constructed before this year?σΤιΌΤδσs event to allow the organisers to keep the tournament running when the British summer runs true to form ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ i.e. cold and wet.
You can imagine what has happened. London is presently basking in a heat wave, with temperatures up to 32C. Then, vexing the organisers further, fat dollops of warm rain fell yesterday afternoon.
The roof was duly rolled across to keep everyone dry. The match was finished but afterwards the players complained of being roasted in the heat under the cover.
The BBC has denied it asked for the roof to be used to keep the game going ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ but the desire to keep international broadcasters satisfied may well have played a role in the organiser?σΤιΌΤδσs decision.
It certainly would not be the first time sport has taken a back seat to commercial imperatives. It?σΤιΌΤδσs the same reason why the British football Premier League has been considering adding an extra round of matches to be played in cash-rich eastern countries.
F1 has been making similar concessions to economic demands in general ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ and television in particular ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ for some time.
F1’s ?σΤιΌ?£elimination?σΤιΌΤδσ qualifying system was partly designed to allow advert breaks after Q1 and Q2.
I think it?σΤιΌΤδσs a neat solution which satisfies the demands of fans, television and the sport: fans needn?σΤιΌΤδσt miss any of the track action, the television companies can run their adverts and the sport has a qualifying system which works and is entertaining.
But in other areas striking this sort of balance may be very difficult. What if the sport tried to apply the same model to the race format?
This is not unlikely – it was one of FOTA’s recommendations following its survey of F1 fans in March. Flavio Briatore and Felipe Massa were among those backing the idea, and Briatore has in the past suggested F1 should run to a GP2-style format with two races per weekend.
It?σΤιΌΤδσs not hard to see why this might appeal to television companies: two 45-minute races with a break in between could allow the races to be broadcast in full with advertising breaks confined to the ?σΤιΌ?£half-time?σΤιΌΤδσ break. This is similar to how A1 Grand Prix is broadcast on Sky Sports.
But would fans like it? As ever, please have your say below ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ but I?σΤιΌΤδσm going to hazard a guess that the response will be largely negative.
The best solution for F1 on TV
A poll on this site in March showed 89% of readers did not want to see race distances reducing. When much has already been done to make F1 more ?σΤιΌ?£TV-friendly?σΤιΌΤδσ ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ shorter circuits, maximum time limits etc… ?σΤιΌΤΗ£ this could be a concession too far.
The fixed Grand Prix distance of two hours or 200 miles is part of what defines the sport. From the lower echelons through F3 and GP2, race distances get progressively longer, building drivers up for the demands of Grand Prix racing.
FOTA has made a lot of strong arguments about how F1 should be run in the future and enjoys a lot of support from fans in its dispute with the FIA. But cutting race distances, for whatever reason, will in all likelihood cost them some of that good will.
Before going down the road of cutting race distances, FOTA should look at offering a two-tier solution for F1 fans: free coverage with ad-breaks for the masses, and an ad-free subscription service, perhaps with extra features and camera angles, for hardcore fans.