Ah for the old days of motor racing, the days of Stirling Moss and co, when the driver’s skill was what really counted and overtaking was central. Drivers still need to be skilled and fit and have quick reactions, but their central role is sidelined in favour of large organisation and behind-the-scenes work. As overtaking has become harder and technology has taken over, spectator interest has declined. At the Barcelona track, the last ten grand prix winners have started in pole position on the grid and stayed there, so it’s become particularly boring.
With Formula One races becoming essentially processions, some weird ideas to retain public interest have emerged, such as random watering of the track to make things more exciting. Tyres are being developed that will degrade more quickly, thus potentially leading to more unpredictable racing and an increase in the number of pit stops. This season the cars have a movable flap in their rear wing, which the driver can use in specific circumstances, again to give more opportunity for overtaking (but there are worries that it may make overtaking too easy and so undervalued).
From the late 1990s, private teams such as Ligier and Jordan ceased to operate in F1 as the emphasis switched to the big car manufacturers such as Ferrari and Renault. The telecom capitalist, Carlos Slim (the world’s richest man, according to some) is now backing one of the newer drivers. This is appropriate since, of course, it’s money that guides the F1 world. Melbourne has lost £147m over fourteen years of staging the Australian Grand Prix, but the track in Shanghai was built at a cost of £280m, in the hope of attracting big crowds and TV money. And for some, F1 really is a cash cow: Bernie Ecclestone, the boss of the whole business, is the twenty-fourth richest person in the UK, with a tidy bank balance of nearly £1.5billion.