I’ve been thinking a bit about the recent European Grand Prix. Almost universally, Formula 1 fans have expressed their disappointment in what was — even by F1’s standards — an incredibly boring race. However, equally universally, those who are lucky enough to live in the Formula 1 bubble were effusive in their praise of the venue in Valencia.
McLaren boss Ron Dennis even went as far as to say that the European Grand Prix was so slick and cosy for the likes of him that it made him “ashamed to be English” because Silverstone was so poor in comparison. Moreover, he called for the government to get involved in the effort to create a British Grand Prix venue as good as the Valencia Street Circuit.
Quite why Ron Dennis expects that the government should subsidise a hugely rich sport which thrives better in Britain than it does in any other country in the world is unclear. The notion that it might ever be politically acceptable demonstrates that Ron Dennis is somewhat out of touch with reality. And the fact that he used the most boring race of the season to justify his idea suggests that he is well and truly off his rocker.
Alianora La Canta has hit on the problem that F1 currently faces in one in a post that ponders on the discrepancy between the views of those in F1’s ivory tower and the views of the fans on the ground.
I have a fairly simple theory on this; the discrepancy is evidence that F1’s business model is too heavily skewed towards the rich rather than the majority of people.
The fact is that despite the millions that have been spent by governments to ensure that the European Grand Prix in Valencia went without a hitch, fans were left disappointed on all manner of fronts.
Alarm bells began ringing pretty quickly during coverage of Friday Practice 1 when many television viewers noted that the circuit had very few landmarks with the exception of the bridge. Most sections of the circuit looked the same, lined with concrete walls all around. It looked grey and drab. Valencia Grand Prix? It might as well have been the Cumbernauld Grand Prix as far as viewers could see. (Is this the pit buliding?)
The people at FOM obviously noticed because as the weekend progressed, more and more aerial shots were used during the coverage. It was the only way viewers could see the harbour. Albert Park would have a similar problem, but they cleverly painted their walls green so that it did not look grey and dull. Hopefully this is on the list of improvements to be made for next year.
But the list of improvements must surely be a long one. There have been complaints from people who shelled out for tickets for the European Grand Prix that they couldn’t even see any of the action from the grandstands. Incredibly, this is a repeat of the problem from last year’s Japanese Grand Prix! How difficult can it be to build a grandstand facing the right direction?
Most importantly, though, the circuit was scandalously difficult to overtake on. In fact, I counted just one overtaking move all race, made by David Coulthard very early on in the race. He later tried to overtake someone else, but pathetically crashed instead.
The circuit was well hyped-up. It was meant to be great for a street circuit — wide and with run-off areas that would encourage overtaking. We were told there were at least three overtaking spots in the circuit.
This later transpired to be an out-and-out lie. Ferrari revealed that they knew that it would be very difficult to overtake. They were so certain of this that they actually based decision on Kimi Räikkönen’s engine on the basis that it was impossible to overtake. During last week’s Renault podcast, the Enstone-based team echoed Ferrari’s sentiments, revealing that their simulations too told them that it would be impossible to overtake in Valencia.
I can understand why it would be impossible to overtake on an ancient circuit like Monaco which was not built with today’s cars in mind. But the Valencia Street Circuit is practically purpose-built for modern F1 cars — at least it ought to be. And it was a complete failure.
Hermann Tilke gets a lot of stick for his circuit designs. However, we know that Tilke can design a great circuit. Just look at Istanbul Park. Shanghai International Circuit isn’t too bad either. But Valencia Street Circuit is a proper turkey. I think Hermann Tilke needs to save up some cash to buy himself a simulator of his own so that he can tell in advance, just like the teams, which designs will facilitate overtaking more than others.
What bugs me, though, is the prospect that the priority of the European Grand Prix wasn’t even the fans. We know that street circuits do not always lend themselves to the best racing. Yet, Bernie Ecclestone only seems to be interested in street circuits at the moment. The other new circuit on this year’s calendar is the Singapore Street Circuit. If you ask me, the Singapore Grand Prix has disaster written all over it, and the European Grand Prix was an ominous sign of things to come as far as I’m concerned.
All of this leads me to suspect that Bernie Ecclestone’s current priority is not to provide paying fans with some decent entertainment. But it is to provide the rich inhabitants of F1’s inner circle with some nice holiday destinations.
A couple of years ago there was a whisper that the Paul Ricard Circuit could play host to a grand prix where fans were kept out — a grand prix especially for F1’s VIPs and no-one else. The idea was widely ridiculed at the time. But you can believe that Bernie Ecclestone would actually go ahead with it.
It seems that the problem with F1 at the moment is that it doesn’t matter how bad the racing is. As long as the circuit comes equipped with superloos, that’s all the likes of Ron Dennis care about.