Date:Saturday June 7 2014
It must have seemed like such a great idea to them. One barely without flaws.
F1’s trying to save money, right? So how about running only one 90 minute practice session on Friday rather than the current two? Saves on the various mileage costs. Even better, why not hold the session late on in the day, say starting at 5pm, as that way it’ll allow the sport’s personnel to turn up a day later, saving on logistics bills such as hotel expenses? Ker-ching.
The problem is that the idea has flaws. Plenty of them. And discovering those flaws would have required Bernie, the FIA and the teams that make up the F1 strategy group – who’ve approved this move to be taken to the next required levels of rubber stamping – to talk to people other than themselves, or even merely to have some empathy with them. On this evidence they didn’t. It doesn’t reflect well on how they go about their business.
Even more worrying is that this wheeze appears to have got close to universal approval among the F1 participants. There has since yesterday when it was announced been very little opposition, or even reservations, sounded among the teams for this one. As mentioned the sport’s strategy group – which includes Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren, Williams and Lotus as well as Bernie and the FIA’s Jean Todt – has given this the thumbs up while when the matter was raised in Montreal’s Friday team representatives’ press conference which included representatives of three teams not on the strategy group – Force India, Sauber and Marussia – there again were few words of dissent.
Andy Green of Force India pointed out that his team would be less able to run other drivers on Friday, which was a good income source for it.
Giampaolo Dall’Ara of Sauber pointed out the general technical value of track time. Otherwise the noises were positive – yeah it’s a change but we’ll get used to it.
No one mentioned the impact it would have on those on whom the sport relies for its income: namely the fans, the circuits and race promoters, TV and the sponsors. In this the most capitalist of activities quite how all concerned appear so ignorant of one of capital accumulation’s most fundamental rules – that of knowing where your money comes from – is anyone’s guess.
It’s indicative of a sport wherein its players talk to themselves, and are disconnected from the outside world even if those parts of the outside world really matter to it. Even if they couldn’t survive without them. Their views seemingly were neither sought nor even thought about.
Martin Brundle talking on Sky F1 summed it up: ‘I think it’s rubbish – 100% of the money for this business comes from the promoters of the races, i.e. then the fans; the TV companies like ours and the sponsors of the teams. None of those three groups who provide 100% of the dough are interested in seeing their cars on the track less often.’
The BBC reported too that ‘the idea is primarily that of F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, who believes a later practice session would enable more people to attend after work’. If this is so then it shows how long it’s been since Bernie had a proper job. After all, most of us who have gone through the rigmarole of attending a Grand Prix on a Friday – travel, camping or sorting other accommodation, parking, queues etc – would tell you that a 5pm Friday practice start (a time that Autosport has quoted as being mooted) is unlikely to make much of a difference in the time you have to take off work or school. Plenty of fans come from far afield to attend a Grand Prix; in a frequently cohobating phenomenon many F1 tracks are far away from the conurbations where a large proportion of the fans who attend live and work. So a while a 5pm Friday practice might just about help in tracks near or in a major city such as Montreal and Singapore – but only for those that live nearby – it definitely won’t for the vast majority at a Silverstone, Spa, Suzuka or at plenty of others. And even if you do happen to be in the relatively small proportion who are in the perfect case scenario of working (or studying at school, university or whatever) near an F1 circuit the probability is still that you’ll have to bail out at mid-afternoon at the very latest in order to be in place next to the track for a 5pm practice start.
Even parking these considerations this remains a bad idea as most probably it will not achieve its primary objective, indeed it may even have a detrimental impact when matters are considered holistically.
A single Friday practice session has been come up with as a way to save money, but all in surely it will take money out of the F1 pot, thus rendering any attempts at cost saving as worse than useless. TV companies will have less to show, meaning they’ll presumably be less inclined to stump up as much; sponsors will get less exposure meaning they’ll be similarly inclined. And presumably with 90 minutes less of the big show on the ticket fewer fans will buy tickets for a Friday, perhaps even the promoters won’t be able to charge as much for that day (though I’m not holding my breath on that one), meaning less money for the circuits and promoters and therefore less ability to pay the mammoth hosting fees to the sport. Whichever way you look at it it’s not good.
Brundle doubts too if the single Friday practice session will even save that much money for the teams in the first place: ‘We all pay a minimum number of nights for a Grand Prix anyway, you’ve still got your flights, when you’ve got back-to-back races I can’t see how they’re going to save any money anyway because you’re just in limbo…’
As intimated the move still has a couple more hoops to jump through before it becomes an actuality. One such hoop is the F1 Commission, on which the race promoters sit, so they perhaps will call a halt to it. More power to them. But as we saw with the rise of double points logic doesn’t always enter these things; realpolitik, quid pro quo, not wanting to pick a fight with the powerful, can all contaminate matters.
F1 isn’t short of bright people. The intellectual capabilities of those who nodded through this move can hardly be questioned either. But this is yet another case that betrays the dis-functionality of F1’s decision making in the modern age. Those very bright people made the mistake of only being concerned with themselves, their own viewpoint and narrow interests.
There’s no evidence that they looked up and saw the bigger picture, a bigger picture that doesn’t even require much of a butterfly effect to impact them directly. Kites were not flown; wider views were not sought. If they had been then I suspect this scheme would not have got this far, nor even seen the light of day.
And because of all of this – with this being just the latest case – a sport not short of clever people doesn’t half come up with some stupid ideas.
Author: Graham Keilloh
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Date:Saturday June 7 2014
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