I have written before about the stick the Australian Grand Prix bosses are getting from all angles. Even since I wrote that post, Bernie Ecclestone’s demands have become ever more extreme. In particular, Mr Ecclestone’s current obsession with night races appears to have deepened. His comments suggest that he very much wants to have his cake and eat it. For me, the logic behind night races is muddled and confused.
We know that Bernie Ecclestone wants Formula 1 to expand its reach throughout the globe, particularly into Asia. The motivation behind this approach is fairly sound. Take F1 to the people of Asia, and the people of Asia will come to F1, building on the sport’s strong fanbase in Europe and expanding it eastward.
However, I wonder if Bernie Ecclestone’s motives are really as noble and simple as that. The more this project continues, the more it begins to look like Bernie Ecclestone is simply out to persuade gullible governments of developing countries to pay through the nose for the privilege of having an F1 race. Many of these governments will do anything to feel like members of the western club of developed nations, and where better to start than that most global — yet still quintessentially western — of sports, motor racing?
Yet, you have to wonder if these governments are really getting value for money. I think not. How long will it take before the good people of Bahrain, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, et al. realise they are being swindled?
Until that happens, it is by exploiting this situation that Bernie Ecclestone is able to pull the same trick on not-so-gullible western governments. “Look at all these other Grands Prix that are subsidised,” he says. “Why can’t you do the same?” This is the heart of Ecclestone’s demands to the organisers of the British, French and Australian Grands Prix among others that have the Sword of Damocles dangling above them.
The demands for a night race show up Ecclestone’s muddled thinking and hypocrisy. The idea behind night races is so that the ‘flyaway’ races can be broadcast on prime time television in Europe, where F1’s strongest base of support is. But this completely contradicts the supposed big idea behind hosting races in places like Asia in the first place.
Why take F1 to Asia then make the residents of these places get up in the middle of the night to watch them? Why, indeed, should the residents of Melbourne — or, indeed, Singapore City — be asked to put up with wailing F1 engines at 3am?
Meanwhile, the fact that the time difference means that European F1 fans have to get up in the middle of the night to watch the Australian Grand Prix is one of the things that defines us as F1 fans. We like to get up at silly o’clock to watch F1 — it is part of the quaint charm of the Australian and Japanese Grands Prix. Perhaps, like Ollie, I might not even be interested in F1 today had I not viewed Formula 1 as a cheeky opportunity to stay up late at night as a youngster.
Okay, so not all fans will be bothered to get up at 3am to watch this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix. But there will be a damn sight more Europeans than Asians willing to get up at 3am for F1. The big idea behind night races has now unravelled.
The only other thing a night race has going for it is the pure spectacle of seeing F1 cars racing under floodlights. I am sorry, but I just can’t get excited about that.
I watched last weekend’s Qatar MotoGP, the first race to be held under floodlights. But it was clear that the night time conditions added little to the spectacle. The only time it looked much different was from the overhead helicopter view of the circuit. Apart from that, the only difference was a few funny shadows. Big whoop!
By the end of the race, the BBC’s excellent commentators Charlie Cox and Steve Parrish (take note ITV — the Beeb know how to cover a motor race properly!), were just asking themselves, “Why a night race?” The best answer was, because we can. Is that reason enough?
The commentators also touched on the environmental impact. When Formula 1 is supposedly trying to become a greener sport, it is now asking race organisers to generate ridiculously huge amounts of electricity.
Many of the big ideas that Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley propose contradict each other in fundamental ways. The lack of joined-up thinking in Ecclestone’s current demands for night races, Asian venues and street circuits astonishes me.