On an already jam-packed calendar, why does Germany get two races? The case for the European Grand Prix to be held at a different venue each year is a sensible one. It’s time someone took notice of it.
In the midst of last-week’s white hot build-up to the Eurovision song contest (I voted for Norway) I read that the Lebanese entry withdrew because Lebanon State TV didn’t want to show the Israeli entry. According to Eurovision rules broadcasters must show the whole thing – although due to the abject awfulness of this year’s German entry this is being revised for the future. What struck me most about this story was the fact that neither Israel or Lebanon are ‘European’ in the convention sense – i.e. they’re on a different continent (believe me I’m not trying to be inflammatory here, just look at a map).
Over in the similarly extravagant and camp (at least for Vitantonio Liuzzi) world of Formula One, the ‘European’ Grand Prix employs a comparably elastic definition ‘European’ – i.e. it’s a second race for Germany. Now, perhaps I sdouldn’t complain as the race has from time to time taken up residence in the UK, but I feel the European Grand Prix should be something more than a country’s second race, and should change country every year.
It is understandable why the Nurburgring is home to a Grand Prix. It is a great racing name synonymous with F1 history (yes I can hear the beardies moaning about how the current circuit isn’t fit to share a name with the great old Nordschliefe, but then I don’t like seeing fatal accidents every weekend so they’re just going to have to live with it).
And, of course, Michael Schumacher is German, and the sport’s most bankable star so it makes sense to have two German races (although the organisers were giving free tickets to school children on Friday).
That’s all fair enough, but in the interest of varying an increasingly fixed and regimented calendar, for the good of F1 the European Grand Prix should be a wildcard race that moves location from year to year (much like Eurovision), reflecting popularity trends in the sport. For example, there is a very strong case for next year’s race to be held at one of the many F1-friendly Spanish circuits (popular testing venues Jerez and Valencia spring to mind) to give Fernando Alonso a second race in front of his home fans. Or what about a visit to Scandinavian pastures – Norway is currently developing F1 facilities and Sweden has some top circuits. But perhaps in the grand tradition of the Eurovision, F1 bosses should take the European GP over to the superb new track in Dubai or even give the Chinese a second race.
The idea of a travelling race also stands to make the much talked about street races in Moscow and London closer to reality – if countries weren’t locked into staging a race for several years they may be far more enthusiastic about the idea as a one-off. Furthermore, nobody knows what the knock-on effects of closing off half a city centre for several days would be (although it is unlikely that commuters would be discussing their inevitably extended journey to work in terms of 100ths of seconds). To only be contracted to do one race would make local and national governments far more willing to take the plunge.
This is something we’ve seen in sports and touring cars for many years now. Helsinki held a DTM event in the 1990s, and Brussels used to have saloon car races round its suburbs.
Another compelling argument for the European GP to be of no fixed abode is that races tend to be a great deal more exciting when drivers have little or no prior knowledge of the circuit. It gives an element of unpredictability that Catalunya (for example) cannot provide. Monaco last weekend was a cracking race largely because teams were taking a step into the unknown with tyre wear and fuel consumption. To this end it would also be a reasonable idea to ban testing at the venue for these one-off European Grands Prix for the following season.
Of course there are difficulties. Very few European nations now allow cigarette advertising and quite a few of the major circuits not currently used for F1 are up to the required standards. Today’s F1 cars are so astoundingly fast that regular run-off areas are simply insufficient to contain the force of a large accident. For example, there is no way that Donington Park, which hosted the 1993 European Grand Prix, could hold a modern race without extensive rebuilding. Furthermore there are questions of infrastructure to be considered, with road networks and the availability of local hotels essential.
Likewise, any new circuits to F1 standard in countries that allow tobacco advertising tend to get awarded a race anyway, regardless of whether the circuit is finished or not (luckily for 2005 newcomers Turkey the World Rally Championship boys have agreed to have special stage at the new track if they can’t lay the tarmac in time).
Beyond the ‘European’ Grand Prix Formula One has traditionally shared much with the Eurovision. A good example would be the respective scoring systems and adjudication. In Eurovision land ex-Soviet and Balkan countries vote for each other en-bloc, and in F1 Italian and French teams always seem to come off better from FIA hearings than British ones. In the 1980s if the FISA teams boycotted a race it was deemed ‘non-championship’, if the FOCA teams stayed away it was their loss.
I would be willing to bet a large amount of money that had it been Alonso’s Renault found underweight at Imola the FIA would have accepted the stewards decision, and had it gone to the courts, they would have done little more than confiscate Flavio Briatore’s Brylcream for two races. Likewise both F1 and the Eurovision have linguistically challenged presenters (James Allen and that Ukranain girl who looked like Cher) and cynical commentators who may be indulging in something stronger than mineral water in the commentary box (James Hunt, famously, and Terry Wogan).
It is, of course, facetious to be comparing Formula One and the Eurovision, one is watched and loved by an ever growing audience who appreciate the competitors giving their best, the other is seemingly out of touch with its fans and populated by competitors moaning about being early in the running order. To be this critical of the Eurovision is truly unfair, but then again if I had to give up 19 weekends a year to hear sub-Steps Europop I might feel differently.