It was David Coulthard on the podium that started me thinking. There was Sebastian Vettel enjoying a richly deserved fourth consecutive World Championship but DC appeared far more interested in talking to Romain Grosjean who had somewhat improbably forced his way through from 17th on the grid to claim the final place on that podium.
As well he might. At the sharp end where it should be most interesting, Formula 1 has been boring this year, its outcome a foregone conclusion from mid-season. I still sit down and watch all of every one, but I fear more as a Pavlovian reaction to hearing John McVie’s bass line than in expectation of a thrilling battle for victory. I have nothing but contempt for those who blame Red Bull and Vettel for introducing such dull predictability into F1 for while I’d not count myself a fan of either, nor can I blame them for doing their job better than any one else.
Even so, something needs to be done.
The question is what? At the very heart of Formula 1 lies an arrogant misunderstanding of the very reason for its existence. For the teams the prime motivation for taking part is commercial: the better they do, the more sponsorship they’ll attract, the more money they’ll make. What F1 should be about is putting on a show, for the people who to go the races, watch the telly, buy the products advertised and ultimately pay the wages of every single person involved.
But how do you turn F1 into a show without also turning it into a pantomime? I have been much taken with the measures made by Alan Gow and others into turning the BTCC into a true spectacle once more. If you like close, hard racing from first lap to last, it’s a one-stop shop. But would artificial impediments like success ballast really work at the very top level? I don’t think so: I could see a revolt by teams penalised for doing their jobs too well and rather a lot of theatrical flouncings off the stage.
So leave the cars as they are and, if I may be allowed briefly to mix my metaphors, address not the players, but the pitch. In particular qualifying. In fact, scrap it.
This I hope is not as lunatic as it sounds. Cars would still practice as before but come Saturday afternoon would compete not for grid positions on a Sunday, but in a separate competition in the form of a sprint, with lap times aggregated to ensure every team covered a minimum distance flat out to ensure the customers (that’s us) didn’t spend most of the session looking at either an empty track or the slowest cars desperate to gain some air times for their sponsors. A small but significant number of points would be awarded to make sure the sprint retained the undivided attention of all teams, but grids for Sunday would be allocated on a basis that was randomised save for ensuring that over the course of the season everyone was treated equally.
Not knowing whether you were going to start first or last would, of course, wreak a small amount of havoc with strategy but I think that’s an entirely good thing: races should be won on the track not the pit wall. What it would achieve is more overtaking (also known as racing), less predictability and a far greater opportunity for drivers to show us what they’re really made of. And guess what: I expect the top teams would still be the ones on the top steps at the end of the day and all that would happened is we’d have had a lot more fun watching them get there, as we did with Grosjean on Sunday.
One last thing: I hate it when Vettel is told to stop going for the fastest lap of the race. I think it should be encouraged, and would award to a point or two to anyone who did.
Madness? I’m sure you’ll let me know.