It had to happen, eventually. We hear that Mr Ecclestone is going to hang some rock music on his ‘F1 Circus’, starting in Singapore (as reported in the June issue of Motor Sport). Not a new idea. Why, there’s even a rock concert at the Silverstone Classic, but in recent times Mr E has resisted the idea of ‘sideshows’ alongside the perfection of his paddocks and his shiny Grand Prix grids.
We have seen Eddie Jordan and Damon Hill get their band together for the British Grand Prix, of course, but there’s a world of difference between this and Beyonce, or ZZ Top, who are apparently both due to appear in Singapore.
Promoters of sporting events are constantly tempted by the idea of ‘gigs’ as a support act, sometimes seeing a major rock band as the solution to falling attendance figures. And, let’s be clear, these figures are falling at a great many Grands Prix across the world. But it is by no means as simple as it sounds. These sideshows bring with them huge numbers of people, many of whom have no interest whatsoever in the sport and who like to roam around all night consuming quite a lot of alcohol, or pharmaceuticals. Such folk, who are quite rightly there to have a good time, would not be welcome beyond the gates of a Grand Prix paddock. Showbiz, at any level, can be complicated.
Music, however, has for many years been well represented in all kinds of motor racing. For some reason, possibly connected with disposable income, rock stars are drawn to fast cars and the intoxication of an F1 weekend. And they have long supported the expensive hobby of historic motor sport, some of them acquitting themselves with honour behind the wheel.
You need only think of the contributions from such as Nick Mason (above), Chris Rea, Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour and Tony Smith (below) to name just a handful. If you took Messrs Mason and Smith in particular away from the sport, the grids would immediately be the poorer.
So why does Formula 1 feel the need for the Black Eyed Peas, Simple Minds, Beyonce and ZZ Top, however appealing that may be to fans of this kind of music? Well, judging by the crowds in China, Malaysia, Turkey and even in Hungary, the sport needs that little something extra to pull in the cash and the smiling faces. Last year in Singapore there didn’t appear to be anybody there, but then it was dark and they may have been beyond the lights and thereby the reach of the cameras. So it will be interesting to see if Beyonce brings them flocking to the circuit and the exotic nightlife of this Far Eastern trading post. She will certainly be a target for Mr Brundle as he struts his stuff on the floodlit grid.
Perhaps the serious point is that this is no ‘new marketing idea’ and no breakthrough in the world of grand-scale entertainment. What motor racing needs is not gigs but sheer bloody excitement, the irresistible force of super-fast machines battling it out side by side, wheel to wheel, in a blaze of colour and noise. The crowd roaring its approval, the villains getting in among the heroes – like MotoGP, in fact.
What F1 needs is a more vigorous, more creative, more daring version of what is known as the Overtaking Working Group. Then we’ll be moving to the beat. Rock on Mr E, but there is still work to be done on your own show.