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Ecclestone and Silverstone

I see Bernie has being having a go at Silverstone and its owners, the BRDC again. Apparently, he is fed up with the BRDC never managing to fulfill its promises regarding redevelopment of the circuit.

Damon Hill

Damon Hill, president of the BRDC

As usual, the problem is funding the work necessary to bring Silverstone up to modern standards for F1 tracks. Noises are made about the possibility of government assistance but this is the UK we’re talking about – since when did a British government donate public money to a project as popular as keeping the British Grand Prix?

F1 Fanatic has an interesting proposal that might ensure Silverstone’s survival: that Bernie himself buy the track and spend a few of his many millions in bringing it up to date. Since Bernie has already invested in the Turkish Grand Prix circuit (and thereby ensured its existence for years to come), it seems reasonable that he should do the same for a circuit as loved and historic as Silverstone.

Now there would be a marriage made in the corridors of power, if not in heaven – the two Stones coming together in a union of bliss for the foreseeable future. But it’s the Silver that might get in the way; Bernie did not become rich by investing in lost causes and I’m not at all sure he would be interested in throwing his loot at such a big project as Silverstone. The Turkish circuit is almost brand new and does not need much cash to keep it up to par; Silverstone needs several fortunes to turn it into the glitzy venue that Bernie wants.

Yeah, I tried very hard to get in a quip about Eccles cakes but failed – see if you can do better…

So it remains to be seen whether Silverstone will survive yet again through its annual crisis. But there is one point in all this that I have not seen mentioned yet. Amongst all the cheers for Bernie’s purchase of the Turkish circuit, I detected no pondering upon the matter of a conflict of interests. Surely that must occur if the man who says yes or no to prospective GPs also owns one or two of them? How likely is he to cut out his own GP if it fails to come up to spec? And are not other circuit owners entitled to query his impartiality as a result?

It is not that I think Bernie would do anything underhand or that I want to see the future of some circuits threatened because they can’t get funding from Bernie. I am just interested and wondering why the matter has not been raised before. Call me awkward or a pot-stirrer – that would fit well enough.

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VisionF1 – A Priceless Resource

Yesterday I stumbled upon a really interesting website: Vision F1. It gives replays of GPs in graphic form, little labeled dots representing the drivers going around the circuit.

VisionF1

That sounds a bit primitive and, the site having been in existence a while, it does have a retro look and feel, but in practice it is nothing short of brilliant. By looking down on the track one can get a much better understanding of what is happening throughout the field. Say a battle develops between two midfield runners – you’re not bound by some TV director’s need to slavishly follow the leader; you can watch the fight exclusively until resolved.

It is also an excellent way of examining a driver’s performance throughout the race. I watched Speed’s drive at Istanbul 2006 and was surprised at how fast he was going; did you realize he spent the entire race passing Kubica and then having to pass him again after pit stops?

A very important factor is that you can increase the speed of the replay, thereby avoiding having to watch for over an hour and a half. I took it as high as 20x, searching for the maximum, but things are happening so fast at that speed that it’s useless for practical purposes. Six times actual speed is a good compromise, cutting the time element quite drastically but still allowing you to see what is happening.

There are several other options available and various statistical information on other pages. But the preservation of races going back as far as the German GP of 2005 is the most important factor. It is such a useful facility for the history of F1 and I hope it continues for as long as GP racing does. YouTube is great but video can only record what the camera happens to be looking at; Vision F1 is a full account of the whole race.

Have a look at the site and play a bit. If you love F1, I’m sure you’ll agree that this is an excellent resource.

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Tilke in India

I see that Hermann Tilke has been nosing around Delhi, working out where a street race circuit could be run. Good luck to him.

I have seen mention of India’s enormous bureaucracy as an obstacle to a GP there but, so far, nobody has pointed out what may be an even greater problem, especially if we’re talking street circuits. Think of all those photos of Indian street scenes you’ve looked at (there’s one below if you haven’t seen what it’s like) – apart from the traffic, which would be moved out of the way, presumably, what about the cows?

Jaipur

A street in Jaipur

Somebody made a joke recently about cows being the only thing to see at Magny Cours but, in India, they could be a really big problem. They’re sacred to Hindus, remember. And that means you can’t just move them on when they decide to take a nap in the middle of the road.

In America, Christiano da Matta has just spent months in hospital thanks to hitting a deer that had wandered on to the track. That was in a country where deer are definitely not sacred and yet somehow that deer had managed to find its way there. Cows tend to be a lot bigger and heavier than deer…

Understand, I’m not against all these new GPs adding to the calendar – as long as they don’t replace the few great circuits we have left. I just hope that Bernie has considered all the implications of racing on the streets in India, including some sort of an agreement regarding cows.

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How Many Races Makes a Season?

Over at F1-Fanatic, Keith Collantine has asked the question, How many races does F1 need?, and thereby saved you from my proposed rant about Honda’s new colours. I feel inspired to be awkward, irascible and downright objectionable over the idea of increasing the number of GPs and, as usual, I cannot resist an opportunity to play devil’s advocate. So here we go.

Rouge

Will the added circuits have corners as good as this?

It is easy for us to say, “Yes, give us more races,” when it costs us nothing and adds to the entertainment we crave. But the teams have a point when they say that more races means more expense for them – and this at a time when the FIA is trying to reduce costs. Even Bernie’s upper limit of twenty races may be pushing the envelope too far for some of the teams involved – and that means the little ones that tend to be more popular (Williams, for instance).

Before we shout too loudly for more races, we should consider carefully what effect this might have. It is not just a matter of expense; there is quality to be considered too.

Some will remember the days before the advent of cable and satellite television in Britain. Believe it or not, there was a choice between five channels, take it or leave it. With the arrival of new TV technology, suddenly we were presented with hundreds of channels and we thought we’d entered a brave new world of unlimited entertainment.

The reality turned out to be very different. Sure we had choice as never before, but what was worth choosing? From having a limited TV service that we continually assured ourselves was the best in the world (and it was – remember the annoyance of having two great programmes on at the same time?), we progressed to limitless choice between channel after channel of pure tripe.

The lesson is that there is only so much quality in the world; you can concentrate it or spread it thinly but nothing will increase the amount you started with. I will admit that, with perseverance, it is possible to find one or two channels on satellite TV that are pretty good but are you not then right back where you started? So quality collects into little bundles while the dross spreads out, offering no real choice at all.

This has some relevance for F1, believe it or not. If we increase the number of races, we also increase costs and cut down the amount of time and money that can be spent on developing and testing the cars. Yes, NASCAR has 40 races in a year but they are racing primitive machines that could never be regarded as the pinnacle of technology. And the danger is that allowing more races will lower the pace of development in F1 cars.

Look at this off season that is now drawing to a close. Cars that were designed at the beginning of last year are only now hitting the tracks in test sessions and the teams are struggling to get them fully prepared before the first race of 2007. Some will not be ready. And the result of less testing time is more failures and underperformance.

Does anyone remember how frustrating it is to see a talented driver lose race after race because of breakages on his car? Go back thirty years and you will find countless races in which the driver who deserved most to win was sidelined through mechanical failure. We are spoiled in this age of almost perfect reliability and have become used to seeing the best driver in the best car win with regularity.

There is the matter of familiarity breeding contempt to be considered too. Increase the number of races too much and they will begin to look the same, especially as the new ones added will inevitably be the anodyne, squeaky-clean chicane fests that are designed these days. Boredom will creep in as we realize that the circuits all look the same and they might as well hold all the races in one place. I would rather have a season of ten races on the great circuits of old than thirty held on brand new featureless tracks that provide no challenge at all.

So let us think carefully before providing a knee-jerk response of “Yes, yes, more races, always more races.” If we are talking about additions that are genuinely interesting tracks that provide a real spectacle, then yes, perhaps we could have a few more. But I think twenty must always remain the upper limit – any more than that and the quality will begin to decline.

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