Archive: Sport

This is just a quick thought on digital radio, following my post about the BBC’s commitment to DAB.

Absolute Radio platforms

I was browsing the Absolute Radio website earlier today, and noticed just how much they push DAB. On the Listen live page, it actually highlights DAB as the most prominent option. You can see how important digital is to Absolute.

Contrast this with the recent Radio 5 Live campaign that treats digital as an afterthought.

Also, once again I was listening to Radio 4 this week when Eddie Mair mentioned people listening to cricket on longwave. But no mention of the excellent 5 Live Sports Extra service, which broadcasts the same as Test Match Special on Radio 4 longwave, just without the shipping forecast interruptions.

BBC Asian Network logo

The news that the BBC is considering reversing its decision to close down the Asian Network marks the corporation’s second major U-turn on a digital radio service closure. The first was the more high-profile threat to close 6 Music.

The dithering indecisiveness is enough. But what really annoys me about these decisions is the underlying reason behind them — ratings — and the story it tells.

Lacklustre awareness

Both 6 Music and the Asian Network had relatively poor ratings before the BBC announced that the services would close. In that sense, it was easy to see why the savings-seeking BBC was lining them up for the chop.

Then something funny happened. Ratings shot through the roof. After its closure was announced, the number of 6 Music listeners doubled from 600,000 a week to 1.2 million a week. It wasn’t just a flash in the pan either. Since 6 Music was saved from the axe, ratings have remained over the 1 million mark.

The problem is that beforehand, awareness of BBC 6 Music was extremely low. Only 20 per cent of UK adults had even heard of the station. No wonder ratings are so poor if four fifths of the potential audience doesn’t even know of its existence!

Similarly, ratings for the Asian Network have increased by a third since its closure was announced. The increase in ratings has been given as the reason for the BBC’s U-turn.

Publicity vacuum hurts BBC digital radio

The problem is that the closure threat was the most publicity 6 Music and the Asian Network had ever had. The BBC isn’t usually shy of promoting its own services, but it has completely failed to sell its digital radio stations to the public at large. In fact, it has completely failed to sell digital radio full stop.

Just look at the digital radio listenership figures — figure 3.34 in this Ofcom report (PDF) (via James Cridland).

Bar chart of digital radio listening figures

A measley 18 per cent of Radio 1 listeners listen over a digital format. The highest figure among BBC radio stations (excluding those available on digital platforms only) is 5 Live — 36 per cent. These listeners have a significant incentive to move to digital though, as otherwise 5 Live is only available on poor quality medium wave frequencies.

Meanwhile, over half of listeners to Absolute Radio listen over a digital platform. Absolute’s success in pursuing digital platforms is well-documented.

Skewed priorities

Considering that the BBC is supposed to be investing in digital radio, it is not doing a very good job of promoting it. Despite having great content on its digital services, the BBC is shy of actually promoting them.

In this department, it is being considerably outperformed by Absolute Radio, a commercial outlet that doesn’t have a chunk of license fee money set aside for pushing digital. The BBC seems to have lost all of its enthusiasim for digital, even when it is producing excellent digital services.

As James Cridland pointed out, fans following the Ashes earlier this year will not have missed a ball were they listening on 5 Live Sports Extra, as I did. Yet all over the news the following day was the fact that BBC radio listeners were deprived of the victorious moment because the shipping forecast was being broadcast on Radio 4 longwave at the time.

This provided plenty of good coverage in the shape of, “ha, that crazy old shipping forecast, eh?!” All very good. But why wasn’t the point driven home that an excellent digital service was broadcasting the cricket completely uninterrupted?

I am sure there are lots of avid cricket fans out there that rely on their longwave signal. But I have checked, and I don’t even own any equipment that can pick up longwave. I suspect if I were to go to the shops to buy a radio, I would have to make a special effort to find one that could receive longwave. Meanwhile, I could pick up a DAB radio for about £30 with no trouble whatsoever.

Where are the promos?

Why did the Radio 2 breakfast slot get a big push when Chris Evans started presenting it? The Radio 2 breakfast show is the most popular radio programme in the country, with around 10 million listeners. If there is one radio show that does not need promoting, it is this — whether it has a new presenter or not.

With radio, the BBC seems to have got its marketing priorities all wrong. Where are the big promos for stations like 6 Music, Radio 7 or the Asian Network? Why isn’t it pushing 5 Live Sports Extra harder at avid sports fans?

With radio, the BBC seems to have got its marketing priorities all wrong. Where are the big promos for stations like 6 Music, Radio 7 or the Asian Network?

Over the past year or so, I have become a big participant in pub quizzes. Quite quickly, I gained a reputation among my friends for being reluctant to guess.

This is an issue for our pub quiz team, because we have a few major weak areas. Part of this is down to our youth. All of us are around 23 or 24, making us among the very youngest of the regulars. As such, we are disadvantaged when it comes to questions about decades before the 1990s. This quiz contains many ‘guess the year’ questions. We also have big gaps in our knowledge in films, television and sport.

As such, it is important for us to be able to guess. So I understand why my fellow team members might be frustrated when I begin to pick apart the guesses we do make.

But the notion that I don’t like guessing is not quite true. What I cannot abide is bad guesswork. This is because I have realised there is a real art to guessing.

Taking a complete stab in the dark won’t do. Questions themselves are full of clues, even if they have been neutrally written. You just need to sniff the clues out.

I often ask myself questions about the question. What makes this an interesting question? What makes it something worthy of a pub quiz? Is it something topical? Is the answer perhaps amusing or ironic?

Many are tempted just to put down any old answer, as it’s better than nothing. And that’s fair enough if you don’t have a better idea. But bland answers don’t make pub quiz questions.

A few weeks ago we were given the following question: “Who starred in a 1950s public information film saying, ‘take it easy driving; the life you save might be mine’?”

I have to admit I didn’t have the foggiest idea. But I started to ask questions about the question. Why is this question interesting? It won’t just be any old person, because bland answers generally don’t exist in pub quizzes. It might be an interesting answer if the person who appeared in a public information film about speeding went on to die in a car crash.

So then I moved on to thinking of famous people of the 1950s who have died in a car crash. One person immediately sprung to mind, and it seemed like the perfect answer: James Dean.

Later, when the answers were announced, our quizmaster — and the owner of the establishment — started chuckling as he read over the answer to this particular question. “If anyone gets this right, I’ll give them £100.” It was looking good for us — my suspicion that it had to be an ‘interesting’ answer seemed to be correct.

The answer was indeed James Dean, and we were the only team in the whole pub to get it right. Sadly, the landlord didn’t stay true to his promise, even when we suggested a donation to charity!

Here is the “public service announcement” in question (which, according to Wikipedia at least, isn’t actually a public service announcement at all):

For me, this was one of the highlights of my pub quiz career so far, for a variety of reasons. Due to the format of this particular round of the quiz, for our team this question was the most important of the 25. So it was ultra-satisfying to get it right.

The amazing thing is that I didn’t have a clue. I had never heard of this footage. I just read the question and sniffed the answer out.

It underlines the importance of good guesswork. Every other team in the pub took a stab in the dark. Perhaps if they had asked questions about the question, more of them would have got it.

Sadly, even excellent guesswork skills aren’t quite enough to fill in all the gaps in our knowledge. While a few times we have won the “bingo” round (which involves a heavy element of luck), we have yet to win a proper pub quiz round. We are getting closer though, and I am learning more about how to guess all the time.

I was sad to read that Frank Sidebottom — or Chris Sievey, his real name — died today. I have vague memories of him being on television when I was very young, and it was a joy to rediscover him when he made his comeback four or five years ago.

He never returned to the heights of his late 1980s zenith, so I have had to make do with YouTube for my fix of Frank Sidebottom. Although I did buy and enjoy ‘ABC&D’, his best of CD.

I had seen that he was diagnosed with cancer recently, and clearly he was in a very bad way. But it didn’t stop him performing and just last week he released a World Cup song, ‘Three Shirts on my Line‘ (“35 years of dirt, just washed out by me mum”).

His former keyboardist, Jon Ronson, wrote a great article about Frank Sidebottom’s career a few years ago. Fascinating reading, and quite sad too.

I only learnt today that he worked for a few years on Pingu. Via the Cook’d and Bomb’d forum comes this video of an episode of Pingu that he wrote.


(If you look carefully in the credits, you’ll see that he is even credited as Frank Sidebottom, not Chris Sievey.)

A Twitter campaign to get Frank Sidebottom to number 1 is gathering steam — @MakeFrank1. I think it would be very apt. Because going by the reaction from people today, while Frank Sidebottom disappeared from view somewhat in recent years, it’s clear that many people loved him.

Read on to view a selection of my favourite Frank Sidebottom videos.

Click for more »

I see there has been a frisson of activity over the suggestion that some councils are looking to hold their counts on a Friday rather than the traditional Thursday night / Friday morning when the General Election comes round. The Sunday Times has reported that the BBC believes that up to a quarter of councils are considering making the switch to sociable hours.

The fear is that such a move would ruin general election night, the greatest political television show going. There have been plenty of passionate defences of the show, and the “Save Election Night” campaign has true cross-party support: see Jonathan Isaby of Conservative Home, Labour MP Tom Harris, SNP activist Will Patterson and Liberal Democrat Voice’s Mark Pack.

Without a doubt, it is fun to stay up all night watching power switch hands from one MP to another, and gradually from one government to another. And there is no denying that the television show has brought us some of the most memorable political moments of recent times. Everyone knows what you mean if you mention “the Portillo moment”.

But is it important? Is it even right? The political class treats a general election like a big sporting event. It is our Superbowl, and David Dimbleby is our John Madden. Coverage of politics is heaving with horse racing and other sporting metaphors. Correct me if I’m wrong, but an election is supposed to be about the serious business of government, not an entertaining night in front of the box.

Adam Smith famously wrote, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public.” I do think the cross-party support for election night coverage may be to the detriment to what is good for the public.

It is interesting that three of the biggest stories of the past week or so have been about the entertainment side of politics. There is a big debate just now about whether there should be a presidential-style leaders’ debate in the run-up to the election — Sky News is promising to plonk three chairs on a stage and give anyone who doesn’t turn up the “tub of lard” treament. (Of course, all the smaller parties cry, “Why can’t I be on a fourth chair?”) I’m not sure that anyone genuinely thinks such a debate would be a valuable addition to our political discourse, but it will be entertaining so that’s all right then, huh?

Then there is the controversy over the BBC’s decision to invite Nick Griffin onto an edition of Question Time. Chris Dillow summarises Paul Sagar’s point that Question Time is “not a platform for debate but merely a zoo in which soundbites are vomited into an audience who clap like hyperactive seals.”

Now there is this controversy; this fear about the future of election night coverage. Don’t get me wrong. I like a bit of political rough and tumble as much as the next person. And I agree that the votes for a general election should be counted as quickly as possible. There are very valid arguments against moving counts to Fridays, as you will see in the articles I have linked to above.

But the focus on the entertainment value of staying up all night is something that I find a tad distasteful. I am particularly surprised to see this point of view being advocated so strongly by any Liberal Democrats.

That party is quite rightly in favour of reforming the voting system. Most electoral reformers agree that single transferable vote (not to be confused with STV) would be the best (or least-worst) system to adopt. That move would almost certainly put the kibosh on any notion that we will find out the result before breakfast time, but it would still be right.

What is important is that we have a result that is fully reflective of the wishes of the people. In comparison to getting the right result, the speed of finding it out or the entertainment of the televisual spectacle pales into insignificance.

I would rather see a complete end to those sporting analogies I referred to earlier — “first past the post” and “two horse race” being among the most important ones to consign to history. I would happily see the television show “general election night” consigned to history too if need be.

So sacrifice your psephological salivating. Yes, election night can be fun and entertaining. But it would be better for democracy if our democratic institutions operated for the good of the voters, not for the good of politico television viewers.

A Useful Fiction coverHave you noticed that there is a lot of introspection about devolution just now? I suppose it underlines the fact that devolution is a process rather than a settlement that everyone is still looking at how to tweak it. Maybe it is just the newness of it. The Scottish Parliament is very young as these things go, just ten years old. As such, there is inevitably a sense that we haven’t quite got it right yet.

Mind you, you can never get it “right”, in the sense that everyone will be happy. Westminster is as well-established as they come, and yet people are constantly suggesting reforms from every angle imaginable. That has, of course, gained even more momentum in the past year or so, particularly with expenses scandals and the like.

So it is only natural that people should be wagging their jaws about devolution all the time. But the chat has seemed particularly intense of late. The SNP are having a National Conversation, while the other major parties have thrown their lot in with the recently published Calman report.

I guess you can put a lot of this down to the fact that the SNP are in government. That was an epoch; completely new territory that demanded introspection. What are the reasons for the SNP being in power? Unless it is an anti-Labour vote (which, to be fair, is highly likely), it may be because people are unhappy with the constitutional situation as it stands. An SNP government is perceived to be a major step towards independence, even if a number of major hurdles remain.

The tenth anniversary of the Scottish Parliament is also a good excuse to look back on how devolution has panned out so far and to work out how to refine the system for the future. All of this has been a useful hook on which to hang Patrick Hannan’s latest book, A Useful Fiction, of which I recently received a copy to review.

But that is largely a marketing device. The tenth anniversary of devolution is barely, if at all, mentioned. Meanwhile, thoughts on the Calman Commission feel as though they have been slightly shoehorned in, rushing to mention it lest the book feel out of date by the time people get round to reading it.

But the book could not have been written six months ago. Indeed, the sheer amount of important events that actually happened in the past year or so (chief among them the credit crunch and the collapse of RBS and HBOS) become quite clear as you read the book. For that reason, it probably will feel out of date by the time many people get round to reading it. But that is the peril of writing a book about current events, especially a process as unpredictable as devolution.

Mind you, not all of the book is about current political events. That is simultaneously the book’s main strength and its main weakness. On the one hand, it ensures that the book isn’t completely preoccupied with political points that are very salient in 2009 but will be fish wrapper come 2010. On the other hand, any politics geeks who read the blurb and expect to be able to immerse themselves in interesting constitutional arguments will be disappointed.

While the second half of the book focuses very much on the politics of devolution, it takes a while for the book to reach that point. Much of the front end of the book is preoccupied with more general points about national identity. I spent a lot of my time thinking, “well there’s plenty about cricket, rugby, the meaning of flags and other cultural issues; but not much of the politics I was looking for”.

That is not to say the early part of the book is useless; far from it. These reflections on Britishness and the nature of national identity are fundamental to the subject, not to say interesting to read about. But I did feel as though the book was taking its time to deal with the questions I was seeking answers for.

But when the book does move on to ask these questions, answers are few and far between. In his review of the book, Will Patterson said that A Useful Fiction is a book for moderates, which is a good way of putting it.

It is not exactly to say that Patrick Hannan constantly flits cowardly around the middle ground. I did raise my eyebrows from time to time in the course of reading this book. But after making an interesting suggestion, he often fails to commit it. The reader feels almost like the victim of a practical joker who looks like he is passing you something only to snatch it away as you reach out for it.

This left me finishing the book feeling as though I had read an interesting book, but one that lacked any central themes or arguments. It makes me wonder what Patrick Hannan sat down to write the book for, other than to set out an interesting collection of thoughts on Britain’s constitutional situation.

Nonetheless, I would say it is well worth reading A Useful Fiction because it is an interesting collection of thoughts. It certainly provided me with some fresh perspectives and Mr Hannan is an engaging enough writer.

But if you think you’ll want to read it, I would hurry up before it gets overtaken by events.

I was interested in this recent article about SNP MSP Kenny Gibson’s comments about Reporting Scotland (via cobaltmale). For him, BBC Scotland’s flagship news programme is too parochial. Apparently the way to fix this would be the creation of a Scottish Six.

It would mean you would have less of the Mrs-McGlumpha’s-cat-caught-up-a-tree-type stories that you sometimes get on Reporting Scotland.

There would be things presented from an international perspective rather than at present, which is still on occasion mind-numbingly parochial in my view – that would be a better way forward.

Before proceeding, I should point out that I am in favour of the Scottish Six. But I do have one problem with the idea.

I don’t follow Kenny Gibson’s logic that by increasing the length of Reporting Scotland, you will have fewer cat-up-a-tree stories. Sure, a Scottish Six would cover all of the important international news and UK-wide news that is salient to Scottish viewers. But then what?

I would guess that on most days, that would fill 40 minutes tops. Don’t forget that a Scottish Six would remove any “Englandandwales”-only stories, which could easily trim five or ten minutes off the Six on many days.

Given that the current Six O’Clock News-and-Reporting Scotland slot is almost an hour long, it seems to me that there would be a lot of time to fill. When you consider that it is followed by the dire One Show, filled with its own type of cat-up-a-tree stories, the problem is accentuated. It’s bad enough having half an hour of dross on prime time BBC One. We don’t want even more.

Maybe it is a prestige thing though. A confidence thing. Part of the nationalist argument is that Scotland has latent abilities that are locked up as a result of its participation in the union. Maybe they also think that a Reporting Scotland with an upgraded “Scottish Six” status will result in the producers and journalists coming up with a better product. Who’s to say that’s not possible?

Perhaps the most lamentable thing about Reporting Scotland is not so much the quality of the programme, which I think is not too bad. The main problem is the fact that I couldn’t honestly tell you that today’s Reporting Scotland was all that different to the programme that existed before devolution. It is still presented as a local news programme; a disposable appendix of the Six.

This adds to the perception that the Scottish media has, counter-intuitively, withered in the devolution era. Faced with more news to report in the form of a devolved Parliament, Scotland’s media has in fact failed to step up to the plate and is by most accounts weaker than it has ever been.

Unlike the newspapers, Reporting Scotland is funded by the license fee. So it doesn’t feel the pinch in quite the same way as commercial outlets. Maybe there is an opportunity for BBC Scotland to fill the gap that is being left by Scotland’s media by going ahead and launching the Scottish Six.

There is still something inside me that doubts that the Scottish Six could successfully fill an hour-long slot. When you watch Reporting Scotland, most days they are already talking about sport (almost always football, and usually just Rangers or Celtic) just ten or fifteen minutes after the programme has started. With more time to fill, we might have to get used to the real cat-up-a-tree stories.

A word on the important matter of Twitter etiquette. Of course, Twitter itself is full of its own little rules and norms. But now it seems that there is a need for social norms to develop so that we know when it is acceptable to update Twitter.

I find myself once again on the side of Patrick Harvie. I spotted in The Scotsman on Friday that the co-convener of the Greens found himself in a bit of hot water for using Twitter while hob-nobbing with Gordon Brown and other politicians.

Tavish Scott bemoaned the poor manners of it. But a spokesperson for Jim Murphy (himself an occasional Twitter user was a bit more light-hearted, noting that it is normal for Greens to like birds, so it’s not unusual for Patrick Harvie to be tweeting.

Although The Scotsman article itself is not too scathing, immediately underneath was a comment piece by a curmudgeonly “etiquette guru” who says dislikes “antisocial BlackBerry use” because “it really is the worst sort of behaviour”. I don’t know about you, but I think someone takes it upon themselves to go around the place telling other people to behave is actually incredibly rude.

Richard Havers calls him a twit. But Jeff at SNP Tactical Voting doesn’t see the problem, and I have to agree. I wonder if there is a generational divide here. I can well understand why people might find it disconcerting for someone to occasionally prod on a gadget while at a social function.

But these devices are our umbilical cord to the world. Why be holed up in a room when you can be communicating with the world? I think people my age have a tacit understanding about the acceptable use of mobile phones in a social situation.

While I would certainly feel offended were it to happen during a one-to-one meeting, it is in the nature of discussions with larger numbers of people for everyone to find themselves not taking part in a conversation at some point or another. I would particularly be tempted if the conversation centred around that turgid game known as football, as Patrick Harvie found. It is not as though he was constantly plugged into Twitter. He only fired off seven tweets over the course of about three hours.

If you are not engaged in conversation, there is no harm in getting your mobile out. Everyone does it in larger gatherings, and from time to time I have even seen instances where almost everyone in the group is doing something on their mobile. It might seem odd, but it is not a demonstration of antisocial behaviour.

It is silly to call using Twitter antisocial. I never got this nation that using modern communication technologies is antisocial. In fact, it is the complete opposite. So Patrick Harvie decided to take a bit of time out from communicating with eight other people. But by posting to Twitter, he began communicating with his 100-odd followers. So which is more antisocial — ignoring the eight or ignoring the 100?

I also like Patrick Harvie’s point that it is those other 100+ people who are the important ones. If nothing else, the politician’s use of Twitter is a good demonstration of a desire to engage people in the political process, even if his contributions on the night were not always very serious.

At work, we are given a choice between working on Boxing Day or working on the 2 January. I have always opted to take 2 January off, even though I tend not to drink much on Hogmanay — certainly not enough for me still to be hungover two days later. Sure enough, this year I have no plans to see in the new year with a bang.

(Even if I did, I probably wouldn’t be able to attend, as I’ve been hit by some winter disease that has taken it right out of me. Yesterday I was sent home from work, and when I got home I went straight to bed and accidentally fell asleep. This was at around 16:30. I stayed asleep more or less right through until 08:30 this morning. I feel better today, but still in no form to celebrate properly.)

Nonetheless, it feels right to work on Boxing Day rather than 2 January, even though I couldn’t articulate a reason why. I don’t know if this is some kind of subconscious Scottish patriotism, the day being recognised as a holiday in few other countries. Maybe it’s just because it’s later, and I want to save it up to enjoy (time discounting wouldn’t be much of a factor, as I filled in the form months ago). Or maybe it just indicates a preference for New Year as a holiday over Christmas.

It has to be said, Hogmanay is pretty naff. To be frank, we could do without the twee BBC Scotland fiddle-me-dee extravaganza. Only an Excuse? ceased to be funny about a decade ago, and lost all relevance to me as I lost interest in football. The other side is not much better, as if the BBC thought that making us suffer most Fridays of the year with Jools Holland on the box wasn’t enough.

But there is still something special about Hogmanay. I think it stems from my memories of it as a child. It was more or less the only day of the year when I was allowed to stay up late. For a nightowl like me, it was amazing. And sometimes I even got an extra special tipple with which to see in the new year: Irn Bru.

Mind you, it’s not as if childhood memories of Christmas are exactly dire. But I think it is easier to fall out of love with Christmas as you become an adult. Gleefully receiving presents makes way for having to give presents. Your eyes are opened to the stress everyone puts themselves under. People get hung up on creating the perfect Christmas, which I would have said rather ruins the mood, which is supposed to be cheerful.

Some people are forced to spend Christmas with family members that they don’t like, and possibly don’t even see for the rest of the year. For some, Christmas Day is a day of dreary, dreaded routine.

Perhaps most importantly, Christmas brings with it a whole suite of naffness. Tacky tinsel, Christmas cards with garish depictions of Santa Claus, and a list of terrible Christmas songs as long as your arm.

Despite the twee TV, our attitude towards New Year is much simpler. You go out with your pals, get blootered and take two days to recover. And perhaps most importantly, there are no bad Paul McCartney songs about New Year. Awesome.

So happy new year everyone! Thanks for sticking with the blog through the dry patches. I might make it my new year’s resolution to update more often. Then again, that was my resolution last year as well…

The 2009 season will bring a completely new look to Formula 1, with one of the most drastic and far-reaching overhauls of the rulebook in the sport’s history. The only comparable change I can think of in my lifetime is the rules brought in for 1998 (grooved tyres and narrower cars), but even that pales in comparison to what will happen for 2009.

The new rules are being brought in partly to remedy the perceived lack of overtaking in F1. The various aerodynamic devices that have appeared over the past decade or so are said to create ‘dirty air’ which makes it very difficult for one car to follow closely to another, therefore reducing the amount of overtaking. These devices will be outlawed from 2009.

Furthermore, rear wings will be made taller and narrower, and front wings will be wider. F1 Wolf has tried to describe what the new cars will look like. If you have a copy of the August 2008 issue of F1 Racing, you will see a good illustration of a typical 2009 F1 car on page 102–103.

The FIA was basically forced to admit that the problem with ‘dirty air’ had become serious when Fernando Alonso was penalised during qualifying for the 2006 Italian Grand Prix for supposedly impeding Felipe Massa. You can view a video of the full lap including the infamous incident below.

The car in front of Massa is Fernando Alonso, but he always stayed a large distance in front of Massa. But Massa stumbled on the final corner of the lap, Parabolica (at 1:05 on the video). Even though Fernando Alonso was so far ahead of Massa, the ‘dirty air’ caused by Alonso was deemed to have prevented Massa from setting a fast lap. No wonder, therefore, that overtaking is such a rarity in F1.

But is overtaking as rare as the doom-mongers make out? The way some people go on, you would think that there were only about a dozen overtaking manoeuvres all season. But according to the June 2008 edition of F1 Racing, there were in fact 270 on-track overtaking moves pulled off in the 2007 season. Interestingly enough, Felipe Massa topped the table, completing a total of 20 overtaking manoeuvres during the season. The Japanese Grand Prix alone contained 46 passes.

To clarify, this does not include positions gained in the pitlane or as a result of retirements. Nor do the figures include any passes made on the first lap of a race. Because of the methodology adopted by F1 Racing, the statistics will also omit any instance where a driver overtook then got overtaken again later on in the same lap.

My own view is that the theory that there used to be more overtaking in F1 is utter bobbins. For a start, no-one seems to be able to agree when F1 did have more overtaking. Most people talk vaguely about the past. Many people on the BBC’s 606 discussion board decided that there was more overtaking in F1 ten years ago. But an article on bemoaning the lack of overtaking in F1 was written thirteen years ago — and could as easily have been written today.

Is it not possible that these people are all looking at the past through rose-tinted spectacles? It is notable to me that when harking back to the past it is often the same few races that are cited over and over again.

Yeah, so there was an ace wheel-to-wheel battle between Gilles Villeneuve and René Arnoux in the 1979 French Grand Prix. But that wasn’t emulated in any other grand prix in 1979, nor in any GP in 1980 or 1978 either. In other words, it was a one-off. Note Murray Walker’s commentary: “There has never been a more exciting battle for a major position than this one” — and that was before the real fireworks started!

You can argue whether or not F1 needs more overtaking or if it has the balance just right. We all like to see a great overtaking manoeuvre. But the reason an overtaking manoeuvre is so great is precisely because it is so rare. If you artificially encourage overtaking, it will become devalued.

Keith Collantine had a great post about this last year. The last thing F1 should do is follow the “Nascar example”. Overtaking is so common in Nascar that a move is scarcely worth mentioning — so what’s the point? I would agree that GP2 has the balance right.

GP2 does have its own boring processions from time to time. But the occasional boring race is inevitable. Unless you want your sports dumbed down to a horrendous extent like they are in America, true sporting contests are not always designed to be entertainment spectacles. A processional F1 race is like a 0-0 draw in football. We don’t like it, but we live through it for the high times.

One of the proposed changes for 2009 threatens to devalue overtaking. I have mentioned the wider front wings already. What I didn’t mention is an extra feature the front wings will have — an adjustable flap. The flaps are huge and drivers will be allowed to adjust them by six degrees as much as twice per lap.

This, to me, is just a terrible idea on so many levels. For one thing, it smacks of A1GP-style gimmickery. Formula 1 is supposed to be about pure racing — a fast person and a fast car, end of. “Push to pass”-style schemes can be left to the mickey mouse series as far as I am concerned.

For another thing it seems to me that the drivers will quickly find out where the optimal time to adjust their wing is during practice. If each driver is able to make two adjustments per lap, they will make those two adjustments at the same two points on every lap. So the cars will all go faster and slower in the same places. How is this supposed to encourage overtaking?