When the time comes for TV stations around the world to edit their 2017 F1 season montages, it should open not on the moment when two Ferraris collided in a shower of sparks in Singapore, but should instead show the heartbreaking image of the young boy in tears at the Spanish Grand Prix. It could, and should be, the defining moment of the year.
You may recall it. As Kimi Räikkönen climbed from his broken car following a first-corner collision, Formula One Management’s world TV feed zeroed in on the child, resplendent in Ferrari team gear, in floods of tears in the grandstand. Räikkönen was the unlucky victim, having been pushed into Max Verstappen’s car by Valtteri Bottas.
I find it hard to shake this image, and not for the obvious reasons of seeing a child in distress. No – I can’t shake it because it highlights just what poor value F1 is to the spectator, and how it has always been thus – certainly in my lifetime.
As a child in the ’80s, I remember begging my dad to take me to a British Grand Prix weekend – and I couldn’t quite understand why we never went. Now I’m a father myself, I understand a little more the economies of such undertakings. As a parent you look for maximum value for money in any outdoor event that involves your children. You don’t want your kids to taste these experiences, you want them to feast. The greater the exposure, the more likely it will leave an impression – certainly in this age of electronic distractions – and the more likely it will have a positive effect on them.
My dad ‘got’ this, so instead of taking me to the British Grand Prix he would pack me into the family Citroën and whisk me off to test days, the (more affordable) Race of Champions and the fantastic Tribute To Williams Day at Brands Hatch in 1986. The cost-per-lap ratio (of seeing my heroes on track) was far better at these events, especially the test days, and today I have little doubt that without these events I wouldn’t have matured into the F1 enthusiast I am.
The Ferrari collision in Singapore reminded me of the young lad in Spain. Imagine being trackside in Singapore as a Ferrari superfan – and I mean a proper superfan and not a dead-eyed VIP on whom the world TV feed often focuses – and imagine the feeling of crushing disappointment as your team is eliminated on the spot. A lump rises in my throat just thinking about it. This superfan would have been counting the days to the race, saving for months for (overpriced) memorabilia, and might perhaps know that it would be years before they could afford to go to another Grand Prix. And all to witness their team crash out five seconds after the start.
Formula 1 is promising a shift in fan engagement, and while there are undoubtedly various options available I hope that it remembers the young Spanish fan – or those real Ferrari fans in Singapore, undoubtedly crushed by the first lap accident. I hope it looks seriously at the woeful cost-per-lap ratio of seeing cars on track, and I hope it looks at qualifying races, the return of warm-up sessions, more practice sessions and anything else to significantly increase the amount of time the cars spend on track. Then with this achieved it should look at reintroducing testing, seriously consider non-championship races, and attract more city demonstrations of the sort that so rocked London in the summer.
The enabler, of course, is cars that are cheaper to run and offer greater reliability, and F1 has it in its power to achieve this when it sits down to establish the future engine rules in the coming months.
AWAY FROM the bright lights of Singapore, to a rainy Brands Hatch and a qualifying session for a Fun Cup race. I’m sitting in the car, still a rookie racer, having never competed at Brands, never driven a wet qualifying session, and surrounded by a field of hard-charging rivals. Gulp.
Purists may be a little sniffy about the Fun Cup, but having found myself behind the wheel of a car for a four-hour race with three team-mates I can wholeheartedly recommend it. The recipe is simple; tough cars, reliable engines, lottery grids and no performance modifications allowed. And they are proper racing cars, too – look past the pumped-up Beetle bodywork (or underneath it) and you will find a spaceframe chassis, central driving position, paddle-shift gearboxes and pit-to-car radio. Giti provides the rubber – a single tyre used for both wet and dry conditions. You may not have heard of Giti tyres, but having experienced them in soaking wet conditions on a slippery Brands Indy circuit I’ve been left with very favourable impressions.
The grids regularly top 30 cars in the UK, and top drivers such as Anthony Reid and Nigel Greensall regularly compete. Remarkably, the series – born in Belgium – has spread to France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the Canary Islands, with a signature event bringing competitors together from the various series at Spa. Being the Fun Cup, this event at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is no ordinary race. Grids are capped at 155 cars and it runs for 25 hours…