Formula One Racing. 41 Days to Season Opener.

F1 TV: The Bigger Picture

F1 TV: The Bigger Picture

Last week Adrian Newey gave the Watkins lecture at the Autosport International Show. Named after the long-time F1 medical supremo Professor Sid Watkins (who still heads up the FIA’s Instutute of Motorsport Safety) it covered the arrival of the new moveable rear wing for 2011.

Newey told his audience that he was worried that the new rear wing would make it too easy to overtake in the season ahead. “The difficulty of overtaking is overstated,” he said. “What difficult overtaking does mean is that when somebody does it, it is truly memorable. If racing becomes too much like NASCAR slipstreaming, it’s going to lose some appeal to me.”
In a week where increased TV figures for 2010 were released, Newey’s sentiment that ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it’ would seem to have some justification. He’s not the only one banging that drum, though. FOTA chairman Martin Whitmarsh also told Autosport.”It is very fashionable to say that what we need in F1 is more overtaking. I lost count of moves last year, as Lewis (Hamilton) in the first four races did about 39 competitive overtakes. So they are there. (But he clearly didn’t lose count).
“I don’t think overtaking is an important as some people think it is. It has become a bit of an obsession. To be honest, some people with a lack of creativity have jumped on the bandwagon and are saying that is what we need to do.”
So, there you have it. Two figures at the top of the sport saying that things are fine, we don’t need to be too embarrassed about boring races like Abu Dhabi where neither World Championship contender Mark Webber or Fernando Alonso could get close enough to the car in front to make an overtaking move – let alone try one.
Dig a little deeper into the TV figures and it’s more worrying, though. We had more races last year, in more countries. New countries, such as India and Russia are going to be hosting a GP so should be starting to take an interest. Russia had Vitaly Petrov’s progress to follow (for a few laps anyway).
We had the return of the grandees Ferrari and McLaren to the front of the grid following the year of wilderness where Brawn battled it out with Red Bull in the battle of the lightweights. Ferrari’s 2009 performance was well below par added to by Felipe Massa’s Hungaroring accident. In 2010 the single most popular team – by a mile – was back on form.
In 2010 we had the sporting comeback of the greatest weltmeister there’s ever been in F1, Michael Schumacher. We had the intrigue of the new teams, the Korean GP, team-mates colliding and all the juicy acrimony that ensued, plus a final race where four drivers could have won it.
So you would think that the barnstorming 2010 viewing figures of 527 million viewers would be well above 2009…? Wrong. In 2009 the figure was 520 million. In 2008, the year when Felipe Massa battled it out with Lewis Hamilton at Interlagos, it was over 600 million. Economists would say the underlying trend is not good.
If you were to strip out all those things that made 2010 such a gripping season – maybe Ferrari’s return to form alone – then the figures would have gone down. No surprise then that Bernie Ecclestone is bringing in High Definition coverage for 2011, because he needs to arrest the slide.
That is also why we need a moveable rear wing device. Martin Whitmarsh may enjoy reciting the statistic that Lewis Hamilton made 39 overtaking moves in the first four races of 2010, but how many did he make in the last four? The reason Lewis was so prolific in the early stages of last year (apart from qualifying so badly) was because he had an F-duct and nobody else did. McLaren’s genius idea gave Button and Hamilton their own stallable rear wing which they could deploy wherever they wanted on the circuit – not within a delineated zone as planned for 2011. They could also deploy it when they wanted, they didn’t have to get a green light from race control. Once the other teams had got their version of the F-duct sorted we were back to square one.
The new moveable rear wing may not be the solution to make races more exciting, but it’s a start. The fact that TV figures haven’t returned to the Massa vs Hamilton levels of 2008 should be a warning shot for all concerned.

One Response to “Formula One Racing. 41 Days to Season Opener.”

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