Author­ity, wit and in­tel­li­gence from the voice of F1 Rac­ing

While it was flat­ter­ing to have the F1 Strat­egy Group adopt our ‘re-starts are get­ting pre­dictable’ theme of last month, it was dis­ap­point­ing to see them drop the ball and adopt ‘stand­ing restarts’ as the so­lu­tion. Why not dou­ble-file rolling starts, as sug­gested?

I hear that Ron Den­nis ac­tu­ally floated the idea with the Pow­ers That Be but that it met with the re­sponse: “Nope. They al­ready do that in Indy­Car. For­mula 1 can’t be seen to be copy­ing Indy­Car”.

On the ba­sis that they ac­tu­ally don’t do that in Indy­Car – they dropped dou­ble-file rolling re-starts a while ago – and that F1 adopted Pace (Safety) Cars in 1994 specif­i­cally be­cause Nigel Mansell had de­fected to Pace Car Amer­ica, there­fore dou­bling Indy­Car’s in­ter­na­tional TV rat­ings overnight, I thought at the time that the ar­gu­ment of the Strat­egy Group was not only some­what disin­gen­u­ous but also ill-in­formed. Now we hear Bernie Ec­cle­stone wants to con­sign stand­ing re-starts to the same bin as that other waste­ful in­san­ity of re­cent F1 times – grooved tyres. Dare we hope that the dou­ble-file idea will again get the air­ing it de­serves?

We’ll see. In the mean­time, it’s clear that the so-called Strat­egy Group seems to have about as much un­der­stand­ing of what F1 is all about – and about as much ap­pre­ci­a­tion of what an F1 fan-in-the-mak­ing is go­ing to want to see – as Mercedes man­age­ment have of team or­ders. The glib con­cept of se­lect­ing the ex­cit­ing bits and mul­ti­ply­ing them by ve ‘in or­der to im­prove the show’ is about as ob­tuse as spend­ing money on radar weather pre­dic­tions when all you have to do is step out­side and place your hand palm fac­ing up­wards. It started with DRS and now it’s head­ing for Hol­ly­wood – ie we’ll take a bit of this block­buster, a scene from that art lm, we’ll sprin­kle them with a bit of ‘re-make’ and we’ll end up with an un­watch­able mess. It’s the easy so­lu­tion. It’s what they do be­cause they are the Pow­ers That Be. Why do we need to be sub­jected to the dic­tates of a Strat­egy Group when we have races like the Hun­gar­ian GP? It’s ob­vi­ous: all you have to do is start a Lewis Hamil­ton from the pit­lane; throw in a bit of wet track that al­lows a Jean-Eric Vergne to em­bar­rass a Nico Ros­berg; give Fer­nando a dog of a Fer­rari to haul around for 70 laps; add a few shunts cour­tesy of a Mar­cus, a Ser­gio and even a Seb; and stitch it all to­gether with an ag­gres­sive but in­tel­li­gent guy like Daniel Ric­cia­rdo. All that hap­pened nat­u­rally in Hun­gary, so why do we ad­di­tion­ally need some bunch of do-good­ers try­ing to give us all that on de­mand?

Let’s look again at the stand­ing re-starts idea. The Pow­ers That Be were as­sum­ing, on the be­half of the fans, that we want noth­ing more than the ul­ti­mate ex­cite­ment ev­ery lap, ev­ery race. We’re not even given credit, any more for want­ing F1 sim­ply to be F1. Of course stand­ing starts are dra­mat­i­cally ex­cit­ing. That’s part of the ap­peal of F1. It doesn’t fol­low, though, that two stand­ing starts are go­ing to be twice as ex­cit­ing as one – par­tic­u­larly if they in­clude slow-starters or stallers caused by me­chan­i­cal glitches. To fol­low Strat­egy Group logic, we might as well have 57 stand­ing starts, the win­ner be­ing the last man (or woman) stand­ing.

Let me re­it­er­ate the point I’ve made on sev­eral oc­ca­sions in this col­umn: there is and was noth­ing wrong with F1 that much bet­ter ex­po­sure, pro­mo­tion and pub­lic un­der­stand­ing can’t put right. Teams need to open their doors to the fans in a way that al­lows the pre­cious F1 tech­nol­ogy to be touched and felt, 24/7, 365 days per year. What is the point of hav­ing the most ef­fi­cient en­gines on the planet and the most so­phis­ti­cated aero­dy­nam­ics in the cos­mos if Mr Aver­age Joe Bloggs doesn’t have a feel for how it im­pacts one team more than an­other and is un­able to ac­cess its in­ner work­ings? And driv­ers need to spend a lot more time pro­mot­ing the sport in which they are so for­tu­nate to per­form. I’d like to think that Nico, Lewis, Fer­nando, Seb and Daniel spent the Au­gust break tour­ing the US, warm­ing up cor­po­rate Amer­ica for the up­com­ing race in Austin… but I some­how doubt that this hap­pened. We don’t have a For­mula 1 pro­mo­tions depart­ment and nor do the teams have the mo­ti­va­tion for such cre­ativ­ity. I’m not pay­ing for it – and nor has he. And so it goes on. Has any­one in For­mula 1, for ex­am­ple, thought about the im­pact of NAS­CAR’s

“The Pow­ers That Be were as­sum­ing, on the be­half of the fans, that we want noth­ing more than the ul­ti­mate ex­cite­ment, ev­ery lap, ev­ery race”

Texas 500 be­ing run on the same day as the US Grand Prix? You could say – as I guess every­one in the high-alti­tude For­mula 1 pit­lane is now re­signed to say­ing – “Well, NAS­CAR peo­ple don’t get F1 any­way”; equally, some­one with a brain might also think, ‘There’s po­ten­tially a huge mo­tor­sports au­di­ence out there; why don’t we do some F1 pro­mo­tion in the build-up to the NAS­CAR race? The Texas Speed­way is only 200 miles away, for Pete’s sake. Let’s do some demo runs. Let’s put Kyle Busch or Jeff Gor­don in a For­mula 1 car. Let’s try to win over some of the NAS­CAR au­di­ence.” They might think this… but they won’t do any­thing. In­stead, they’ll run in Austin as if the US is very for­tu­nate to have them, they’ll throw in a race-day sup­port pro­gramme that’s about as in­ter­est­ing as an empty glass of beer and then com­plain – just as they did af­ter Hockenheim – that “not enough” is be­ing done to pro­mote the race.

Af­ter which the Strat­egy Group will no doubt spring back into ac­tion…

To fol­low Strat­egy Group logic, we might as well have 57 stand­ing starts, the win­ner be­ing last man stand­ing

Felipe Massa af­ter his first-lap T1 shunt in Ger­many: if a stand­ing start is the most danger­ous part of a race, why in­crease the risk by hav­ing more of them?

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