Are they necessary?
Some while ago I was talking to Max Mosley, the “legal Brain” behind Bernie Ecclestone and FOCA, and he said he was not interested in spectators. We were at a Formula One race and I said I thought they were very important because it was their money that was paying for the race. Mosley explained that I had got it all wrong and was living in the past. It was Television viewers who were important, opined Mosley, spectators could only be counted in thousands. Television viewers could be counted in millions, and it was their money he was interested in. He then waxed lyrical about the possibilities in Television, how competing cars could be fitted with cameras, the excitement of seeing cars passing and repassing from a viewpoint on the nose of a car and so on. He thought Formula One could make fabulous Television, and that was where our future lay. Knowing Formula One as I do I said that his talk of cars passing and re-passing sounded as though he was proposing to rig the races for the benefit of the viewers. I went on to suggest that perhaps he was thinking of selling the leading position in a race to the sponsors who had their names across the rear aerofoil, and that maybe they would pay so much a lap, so that the cameras on the following cars would always have the “paid-up” sponsors name in view. I could see that there were great possibilities for someone in working Formula One and Television as a business, for the benefit of the millions of viewers who would only be allowed to see what Mosley thought was good for them, and him. As I warmed to his theme Mosley gave me his syrupy smile, did his characteristic little step-dance and said “You will excuse me, Bernie wants to see me”. As I walked away deep in thought I heard Jean-Marie Balestre saying that FOCA were getting too powerful and undermining the sporting code of motor racing. I understood what he meant.
Spectators are an important part and vital to the overall scene in Grand Prix racing, or any other form of racing. You only have to go to Hockenheimring on the first day of practice to realise it. Only a handful of people turn up on Friday and the vast concrete stadium is almost spooky it is so empty. On Saturday and Sunday with the stands packed with people the place comes alive. Unlike all the people on the inside of the circuit who are being paid to be there, whether they are drivers, journalists, photographers, mechanics or pit staff, the spectators are paying their own money to be there and they like to go away afterwards saying “…that was a good day, didn’t Pironi go…” Everyone has their own favourite drivers and cars and if they have performed well the spectator is satisfied. If they have performed badly or had misfortune then the spectators turn their thoughts to what else was wrong with their day, for which they have spent a lot of hard-earned money. Viewing was abysmal, toilets non-existent, catering ghastly, car parking a disaster, loud-speaker commentaries childish, programmes a rip-off and so on. The whole day was an expensive disaster. I am sure that all the Alan Jones/Frank Williams fans at Brands Hatch last July felt it was a super day.
At most Grand Prix races I take time off during practice to wander off into the public enclosures to join the spectators and see what they are seeing, and some of it is terrific. At many circuits the spectator view is just about the best there is, which is reasonable, for the spectators are paying good money to see something. The only thing lacking is communication and information even though all the circuits have elaborate loud-speaker systems and hard-working commentators. Once the cars have started going round you can forget loud-speakers for a car always goes by just as you are listening to a vital piece of information. If someone would do some serious work on visual information, like the electric signboard at Donington Park and the electric lap time display at Monaco, the spectator would have a far better time.
It is seldom long before I get into conversation with spectators and it is always interesting to hear their views on things, but it often saddens me when I find them asking questions about things that the organisers should have told them. This often happens after a race, for if like me you stay until the place is nearly empty, you invariably meet a keen spectator on your walk to the car park. They will ask why so-and-so retired, for out on the back of the circuit they lost him from their lap-chart and the loud-speakers never told them why. Or they will want confirmation of who was in fifth place because once the big race is over another one will start for Renault 5 saloons or something and they never do get the official results. There was one Grand Prix where the Press Department ran off thousands of copies of the results and handed them to spectators as they left the circuit. When I see the Marlboro, ELF, Gitanes, Parmalat or Candy minions giving away “stickers” as the public go home I feel it is a wasted effort. If they organised an efficient information/publicity service for the paying customer I am sure it would be appreciated.
Over the years I have got to know a lot of regular spectators and have been allowed to join a very active “spectator group” who have got together to form a friendly association of people with the same ideas. When they go to a race, whether a Grand Prix or a Club event, they make the most of it and the only way to join this group is to be “of like mind”, you don’t fill in a membership form or pay a subscription. It is an international friendly society of hard-core, grass-roots spectators who love the sport. If they are camping at a circuit they raise their flag and gather together from all over England and European Countries. At Brands Hatch I think they counted 52 members round the Saturday night camp-fire. Between races they keep in touch with each other by a very enthusiastic Newsletter, compiled and circulated by a young lady in Bristol. It makes interesting reading to me because it voices the view of the paying spectator, the many thousands that Max Mosley is not interesting in.
I can do no better than quote some passages from recent Newsletters:—
“We saw a really wonderful practice on both days, everybody giving 140 per cent, little Pironi outpacing all the others. Reutemann was impressive as was Gilles as usual. Harry and I thought it was one of the best practices we had seen in the last couple of years.”
“We got back in time for the Formula 3 European Championship round. It was so boring we went to the beach after the first heat and a race for those stupid Renault 5 saloons, which in my eyes have got nothing to do with motor-racing whatsoever.”
“I do recall that we used the remains of the barbecue to start a camp-fire, also that we burnt an effigy of Bernie Ecclestone, which looked a great deal like an old chest of drawers.”
“One thing was the abysmal standard of the commentators, with the exception of Ian Titchmarsh, who was very rarely allowed to have the microphone. They hadn’t done their homework and spent their time reading from Motoring News. As there was an awful lot of time to fill in, it was waffle, waffle, waffle all the way.”
“We had to leave Clearways as we had seats in the South Bank Grandstand. It is not a place we’d choose to watch from again, though we did have a good view of the start and Paddock Bend, but most of the people in the stand were far more interested in eating, drinking and chatting. Star of the day was the chap who arrived five laps after the start, watched for ten laps, departed to buy an ice cream, returned for four laps and carried on like that throughout the race.”
“I’ve discovered the perfect slimming aid. It is the entrance gate to the circuit campsite. If I put on one more centimetre round my waist I won’t be able to squeeze underneath, and that will cost money!”
“One race morning the boys got up at their usual revolting hour of 4 a.m. while the girls stayed in their tents until a slightly more civilised hour. They got us a good place to see from and got the tea-machine going.”
“At the Nurburging (F2) second practice (in my view the highlight of the weekend) was cancelled because of the fog at Hohe Acht.”
“At Monaco the grandstands were completely filled up by 8 a.m. for the pre-qualification practice and at ten o’clock we heard it was cancelled.”
“At Zolder we had to wait for more than an hour for practice to start because there was no medical helicopter around.”
“Mister Ecclestone tries to sell his super-professional circus but in his silly quarrel with Monsieur Balestre it is looking like a bunch of super-amateurs and the public is completely forgotten.”
“The Grand Prix of Spain. Very funny if you go all the way to Jarama to see a decimated field not racing for the World Championship.”
“I’d heard that Switzerland was expensive but £38 for two soups, two pizzas and four beers was a bit much. This was in the cheapest place we found open. At 8 p.m. most of the restaurants had already closed — no wonder the people looked so miserable.”
“Villeneuve drove a great race again and got the most applause from the public afterwards.”
“On the subject of Ferrari, their turbo should be banned — now. It sounds like the Renault and I assume next year the Alfa Romeo, BMW, Matra and whoever else decides to build a turbo engine (Cosworth?) will all sound the same. It was bad enough when we lost the sound of the Matra V12 but for Ferrari to end up sounding like a knackered Formula Ford…no, it ain’t right.”
“This time it was motorway all the way. Up to Milan, through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Dijon, Paris, Rouen and le Havre, arriving at 2.30 on Tuesday morning. 840 miles in about 14 hours driving time.”
“Hope to see some of you in Bath (RAC Rally) or in the Forest of Dean. Can’t really recommend Longleat.”
These are the views of people who pay their own money to go and spectate at motor sporting events, the unimportant minority of a few hundred thousand. Not to be considered in relation to the very important 1,000,000,000 (yes! one thousand million) television viewers that FOCA claim have been watching the Max and Bernie Show in 95 (yes! ninety-five) countries each year. If FOCA are organising a Formula One race I suggest you don’t go to watch it, for you won’t be very welcome and they reckon they can do without you. The RAC Motorsports Association, the BRDC and Silverstone Circuit will be very pleased to see you at the British Ground Prix which is to be run under the jurisdiction of the FIA on July 18th. — D.S.J.