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There’s No Business Like F1

I have said quite often recently that F1 is show business and has little to do with the real world as a result. Like most sports, it tootled along happily in its early days, just being a bit of fun for a few crazy drivers and some equally crazy teams, watched by a dedicated few but largely ignored by the outside world. Many participants had to fund their efforts from their own pockets and some had other jobs as a sideline – Jim Clark was a sheep farmer, for instance.

Sutil

Adrian Sutil

Just a few of the most successful drivers entered the public consciousness; Jim was one and Stirling became a figure of folklore in the speed cop’s inevitable question: “Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?” But very few ever saw these heroes race – race crowds were small, although enthusiastic, and television did little more than show an occasional two-minute clip of grainy, black and white footage.

Then the seventies arrived and, with them, two events that propelled F1 into the traveling circus it is today. Advertising came with big bucks and put pressure on the sport to increase the number of bums on seats and so repay its investment; and television became interested, for the first time showing entire races (in color!). In a very short time, F1 was heading for stardom, soon to become the number two televised sport after football.

In common with other sports, F1 has adopted the ways of show business as a result. Suddenly the competition becomes subsidiary to how much money can be made, just as movies are judged by their takings and not by the quality of the film. And drivers become stars, sharing in the wealth that is poured into the sport by the fans, advertisers and vested interests.

A few years ago in the States, the professional baseball players went on strike for higher wages. They were already paid obscene amounts of money compared to the average fan’s take-home pay and so they received little sympathy in their quest. The fans deserted in droves and baseball still struggles to recover from the disaster. Which illustrates an aspect of show business that may well be affecting F1 – the unreality of it all.

No doubt you and I have dreamed of making a million, working out just how we would invest it sensibly and so ensure that it provides us with an income for the rest of our lives (it can still be done – just). When we read of the multi-millions paid to the likes of the Schumacher brothers, Kimi Raikkonen and others, it does not really sink in; these figures are almost unimagineable, way beyond our wildest dreams. It is rumored that Ron Dennis managed to pick up Fernando Alonso’s services for this year for the paltry sum of 16 million dollars – a real coup in the fairy tale world of F1 pay rates.

So how long can the sport sustain these incredible salaries? Will we see a time when reality intrudes to the extent that drivers’ pay actually begins to decrease? It seems likely, especially when one remembers the rumor that Frank Williams took on Alex Wurz rather than continue to pay the contracted amount to Mark Webber.

Very often we hear that F1 is a dangerous sport and the drivers deserve their money because they risk so much. Yet the risks have decreased enormously, particularly since the death of Ayrton Senna, and still the pay scales have shot up in the meantime. The reality is that drivers these days are paid according to their star quality – the better their names are known outside F1, the more they can be expected to earn. It even helps if you have the same surname as the most famous of them all, as demonstrated by Ralf Schumacher. The public knows the name but has never heard of Jarno Trulli – guess who gets the fatter paycheck from Toyota.

I am not really complaining about the situation; if the drivers can get such salaries, good luck to them, say I. But I do wonder how long it can continue and how they manage to spend it all. They say that Kimi recently bought a yacht for $3.4 million, but that is little more than pocket change from a salary rumored to be in the region of $50 million a year.

And there is also the matter of differentials here: we have some idea of how much the stars are paid but how about the guys at the other end of the grid? I doubt that Adrian Sutil and Christijan Albers get anything like the amounts paid to others and some of Spyker’s test drivers bring advertising money to the pot, leaving us in doubt that they receive any monetary reward at all for their efforts.

It’s a strange world and often an unfair one…

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Drivers Online

Some time ago I compared the F1 team websites, ranking them for ease of use, information, news, design, etc. Keith Collantine, of F1-Fanatic, reckons Felipe Massa’s blog is the most tedious in existence, so I thought I’d have a look at the what the other drivers offer online.

Scott

Scott Speed – the winner online!

I went through each one and was quite surprised at the variety of styles and presentations out there. Massa’s may be boring but Raikkonen’s is still under development. Does it mean anything that one of the fastest drivers is also the slowest to have an online presence? If so, Nico Rosberg can feel pleased – his site has yet to go live too. Fernando Alonso’s is very lacking in information but Lewis Hamilton just has a page that redirects you to the McLaren site. Maybe he really is the quickest of them all…

Generally, the drivers’ sites are pretty ordinary, with little imagination and sparse information and news. There are a few that excel, however, with good graphics, videos, personal messages and interactivity. BMW won my previous tour of the team websites and Robert Kubica uses the same web designer, so his site looks good, although it is a bit sparse on actual information and has no news. Nick Heidfeld’s is also clear and efficient but could do with a little more information.

You’re going to think that I have a Scott Speed fixation but it just happens to be true that his website is by far the best in terms of looks, information and real interactivity with the viewer. Thanks to the provision of several videos, it is possible to get to know Scott to a greater extent than other drivers and he comes across as a very likable guy. How you react to his informality is up to you, of course, but I like it.

Another driver from the wrong end of the grid, Christijan Albers has a good-looking site that has the interesting innovation of scrolling news updates from f1.gpupdate.com but, unfortunately, his own news is out of date and there is no photo gallery. Adrian Sutil’s is by the same designer but has even less information, perhaps because he is so new to the sport.

Jarno Trulli has a good site with plenty of info, lots of of photos and some quotes, but the news is sparse. Perhaps the strangest is Alex Wurz’s, with a very flashy intro but news that is hopelessly out of date. He gets bonus marks from me, however, thanks to his use of classical music.

The others are average, although there are one or two that deserve special mention as examples of how not to build a website. David Coulthard’s looks as if it was designed when he first entered F1 and the lack of news is a definite loser. Mark Webber’s is marginally better but his news has not caught up with testing in Paul Ricard yet.

Wooden spoon goes to Jenson Button, however. The site looks reasonably good at first but requires registration before you can get to anything really interesting. Try to join up and you will find that the Country of Origin scrollbar doesn’t work – making it impossible to register! Maybe the dreaded Honda disease is spreading…

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Today’s Times at Paul Ricard

These are the times for the simulated Canadian circuit at Paul Ricard today. The configuration was run yesterday as well so I have added the times from both days as a rough guide to how the teams fared.

Kimi

Kimi Raikkonen

Although testing times are notoriously poor as predictors of race performance, it is interesting at least that Scott Speed remains the second fastest driver of the two days. It must be said, however, that Liuzzi may have encountered problems as the team did not run this afternoon.

Today:

1. Raikkonen, Ferrari – 1:28.624
2. Fisichella, Renault – 1:29.209
3. de la Rosa, McLaren – 1:29.249
4. Montagny, Toyota – 1:29.312
5. Coulthard, Red Bull – 1:29.834
6. Rossiter, Super Aguri – 1:29.869
7. Sutil, Spyker – 1:29.869
8. Heidfeld, BMW – 1:29.978
9. Button, Honda – 1:29.989
10. Nakajima, Williams – 1:29.990
11. Liuzzi, Toro Rosso – 1:29.993

Best Times for the Last Two Days:

1. Raikkonen, Ferrari – 1:28.624
2. Speed, Toro Rosso – 1:29.039
3. Kovalainen, Renault – 1:29.070
4. Kubica, BMW – 1:29.157
5. Webber, Red Bull – 1:29.179
6. Montagny, Toyota – 1:29.205
7. Fisichella, Renault – 1:29.209
8. de la Rosa, McLaren – 1:29. 249
9. Wurz, Williams – 1:29.359
10. Coulthard, Red Bull – 1:29.834
11. Rossiter, Super Aguri – 1:29.869
12. Sutil, Spyker – 1:29.869
13. Heidfeld, BMW – 1:29.978
14. Button, Honda – 1:29.989
15. Nakajima, Williams – 1:29.990
16. Liuzzi, Toro Rosso – 1:29.993
17. Barrichello, Honda – 1:30.108
18. Klien, Honda – 1:30.235
19. Albers, Spyker – 1:32.245
20. Winkelhock, Spyker – 1:32.756

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Max and the Future of F1

There is only one item of news of any importance today but it’s a doozey: Mighty Max Mosley’s proposals for rule changes in 2011. I won’t detail them here as there are plenty of sites that give the whole press release (Pitpass dot com has the best article so far, I think) but essentially, you can look foward to an F1 world of 2.2 liter turbo-diesels with traction control and standardized bodies.

Max

Max Mosley

Before I begin, let me say that I resent being forced into the position of appearing to be an extreme anti-environmentalist. When the lunacies of the greenies begin to affect the sport I love, however, I have no option but to emerge from my preferred stance of keeping my own counsel to call for a brake on this drive back to the caves. Regular readers will have read me on the subject before and I have already had a good rant on the forum I use, but it is not enough; I apologize, but I have to raise my voice once again in the cause of balance and common sense.

Surely every F1 fan must be horrified by Max’s proposals. Already the calls for his resignation are rising from the ranks of those who truly care about the sport. This is not sufficient, however, as there is no guarantee of who would succeed him in that unlikely event; we need to attack this disease at its root, not its effect.

For F1, that root is the surrender of the FIA to the car manufacturers. That results in the two motivating factors behind Max’s brave new world: that F1 must become relevant to the advance of road car technology and that the sport must be seen as being eco-friendly. Both motivations are diametrically opposed to the prime reason for the existence of F1 – fun, entertainment, a sport indeed.

Those involved in F1 do so because we are a competitive species and love to pit our wits and skills against each other – there is no great benefit to humanity in ascertaining who is the fastest, the cleverest or the best; it’s fun and interesting, that’s all. The fans watch because they too are competitive and want to see humanity’s finest competing against each other and to root for their heroes; it is entertainment, no more and no less.

This is what we call sport and, naturally, F1 fans feel that it is the best sport there is. Take away that reason for doing it and suddenly F1 becomes meaningless beyond an extension of the motor industry’s R&D departments. Watching it would be like taking a tour of a car factory – interesting for the technically-minded but deathly boring for anyone who wants to become involved in a competition to see who is the best. It is the human factor that is being excised from F1 and with it will go all reason for watching it.

I have pointed out before that the manufacturers do not need F1 as a test bed – they have plenty of such facilities already. They should recognize that, if they insist on being involved, they are there only to provide the machinery that enables drivers to compete. Somehow F1 must be wrested from the grasp of the manufacturers and placed back in the hands of those who understand that it is a sport and therefore has nothing to do with practical, everyday things – it is about competition between flesh and blood above anything else.

What really galls me about all this is that Max is doing it in lip service to a theory that is fundamentally flawed and exposed several times over as just plain wrong: the idea that mankind is causing the warming of the atmosphere and that this will soon make the planet uninhabitable. This is not the place to enter the debate that rages over the theory; if you are interested, my website, Global Warming Latest is a quick and easy introduction to the arguments against the theory. But anyone as old as I am must surely remember that, before the global warming hysteria, we were subjected to assurances that we were causing the onset of another Ice Age and, before that, we were confidently advised that overpopulation would bring on worldwide famine before the year 2000.

These are fads picked up by politicians and exaggerated for their own nefarious purposes. Even those scientists who think that global warming is taking place admit that it will have no discernible effect on climate for another hundred years at least. There is no mad hurry to reduce society to some sort of hunter/gatherer paradise just yet, even in the worst scenarios imaginable. The haste is caused because the politicians who encourage the hysteria cannot afford to wait a hundred years – they want power now.

And for this mess of potage, Max wants to destroy F1 as a sport. How dare he propose such ridiculous changes to something that belongs to us, the fans who ensure that F1 continues? It is no longer sufficient for us to bow to the diktats of the greenies by some humble admission that we should be more eco-friendly, as is done by those who want to avoid a fight. The fight is upon us and it is time for us to stand up and demand that our sport remain as such.

I know that attempting to get some sense into the minds of the money men who run the FIA has as much hope of success as starting a search for the fountain of youth. But I have to try. If F1 fans do not raise a shout of protest that is heard even in the hallowed corridors of the FIA, we will see our sport reduced to ruins. We stop the rot now or never.

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