The disappointment of Valencia shows that fans have been forgotten

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.

13 comments

  1. So true. This was particularly painful for a lot of Spanish fans, who saw how Alonso was taken out by Nakajima in the first lap.
    From my point of view, next year cars are crucial for the future of F1. More sport is what people want, and less cold technology…

  2. Great points Vee,

    This Grand Prix had the same hallmarks of the first Grand Prix at Dallas. It was hyped up by Bernie as the fastest street track that unlike Monaco will create overtaking, well they were completely wrong and it was an utter bore!

    I think those that have not already are starting to see through Bernie’s purpose in life, to screw everyone. This Grand Prix was meant to be on the calender to give the Spanish fans a chance to see more of their Hero Alonso, where in really Bernie saw dollar signs!

    We have reached a crossroads where the traditionalist for F1 will start to question why we are going to freshly painted circuits that are not conducive to entertainment over perfectly good tracks that have hosted entertaining F1 but don’t have a golden thrown for Bernie.

    I have to disagree Vee, I do not think Shanghai is a good track, Turkey is though. Lets hope Singapore offers more than a night time Valencia!

    Perhaps A1 GP is the way forward…..Did I really say that???!!

  3. > If you ask me, the Singapore Grand Prix has disaster written all over it

    Maybe the street lights will fail and we won’t have to see the bad bits…

  4. You’re a fan of the A1 Ring Neil? That’s funny. It always seemed to be a deeply unpopular circuit, but I think that was party because it was being unfairly compared to the Österreichring. And unless I’m mistaken it was Hermann Tilke’s first F1 circuit — the very first ‘Tilkedrome’!

  5. With the proviso that Rocket Ron’s quotes are from the Daily Fail, which means they are as likely to have been made up by a sub-editor as uttered by him, I wouldn’t find much to argue with in what you say. Even more embarrassing when you realise that he’s a vice-president of the BRDC and therefore could be expected to show Silverstone a little more loyalty and respect.

    This has been on my mind lately, due to the likelihood that the 2009 British GP will be the last held here for a while. And I think the thing bypassing the sport’s elite is possibly that Silverstone, Donington and any other potential British F1 circuit you care to suggest would be catering to their exacting standards for one week out of every 52. Why should they embroil themselves in planning nightmares and potential bankruptcy for a seven-day event that would do very well to break even?

    Valencia was an absolute dog of a race – and it’s not only the fans that are beginning to question the status quo. An interview with Gary Paffett on the verge of the British DTM round saw him saying he thought that series offered a much better deal for fans than F1.

    Justin Wilson has also said he’s very happy racing in the US, thanks, and would not consider returning. And these are men who know their F1 stuff.

    Listening to Bernie’s recent Sportsweek interview, in which he hoped an earthquake would finish off the 2012 Olympics, I was struck by how much he sounds like a cranky, querulous old man who’s used to getting his own way and who no-one will stand up to. Oh, wait…

  6. Great piece doctorvee. I made the suggestion elsewhere that Tilke should get himself a simulator and run cars line astern to see what happens. he should be banned from touching another circuit until he has done that.

    The one piece of sympathy I have for Tilke is that he is not given the best starting point for producing great tracks. Apart from Turkey every other track he has built has been on flat land and you can’t build great circuits on flat land.

    Regardsless of simulators or anything else there is one simple fact that made it obvious that Valencia would not produce a great race. 25 corners in around 3 miles is ridiculously too many.

    The A1 Ring was a pale imitation of the mighty Oesterreichring but it did produce good races regularly and probably had fewer corners than any circuit since the 60s. A few flowing corners are fun to drive but a few corners and lots of straight between them keeps the field together and produces better racing. I just wish Ecclestone, Mosley and Tilke could figure out that simple fact.

    As another example. It is widely recognised that the finest piece of motor racing ever seen was Dijon 1979. How many corners did Dijon have? Not 25.

  7. I meant to say I love the Cumbernauld GP line. I am sure they could link up a few roundabouts and make a track.

  8. Just a quick note in support of the A1 ring. It was an excellent circuit, I can remember many an interesting race there. The tight right hander at the top of the hill (turn 2?) was always a great overtaking place.

  9. I was looking forward to the race, a new circuit is *usually* something to anticipate. But I was always a bit cynical the this 2nd Spanish GP was more of a cash cow for Bernie, rather than any attempt to liven up racing.

    And so it proved to be.
    Gawd, I hope Sinagpore is better – I leave in 3 weeks for the race, and I don’t want to have parted with a lot of hard earned for another Valencia-type race…..

  10. Before anyone else waxes lyrical about the A1-Ring, go to youtube and find footage of the Osterreichring. It was without doubt one of the best tracks in existence. A real track for real Grand Prix racing. But we don’t get any of that now do we?