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Monday, October 13, 2014

So-So Sochi!

When the most fun you can have at a race is to take the mick out of Bernie's constant mantra that our sport is non-political you know the weekend has been a total loss.

The only joy to be taken out of Sunday was Mercedes winning its first ever F1 Constructor's Championship in 120 years and even that was overshadowed by the fact that you hardly saw the Mercedes on screen at all during the race.

The Mercedes Team celebrate their first ever F1 World Constructor's Championship in the pits at Sochi
Copyright with thanks: Mercedes AMG Petronas
It was the first time, since the turkeys in Turkey and the vapidity in Valencia that I've used the words asinine, antiseptic and monotonous in relation to an F1 race.  Sochi has all the hallmarks of a track destined for the Gulag Scrapheap. God help us if it survives until 2020!

In a sport which depends so much on on-car advertising I guess it just doesn't pay to be so far ahead of the rest, do dominant, that you're not even worth watching. Red Bull/Toro Rosso, Ferrari, and Williams got the lion's share of TV coverage for which I'm sure Martini, ORIS, Shell, Marlboro, CEPSA, and Infiniti are all thankful.

Valtteri had a great race but it was Felipe Massa who provided the TV coverage, coming from the rear of the field after an engine problem messed up his qualifying.  He got regular coverage, particularly when he was hunting down Danny Kyvat (surprise, surprise!) who had a great qualifying but an incredibly bad raceday.

Felipe Massa, Sochi 2014
Courtesy of copyright holders: Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1
As I watched the race all I could think about was that Mercedes would have to start backing Nico Rosberg up into Valtteri Bottas' Williams in order to get some airtime.  It's a sad state of affairs when first through to fifth don't even get a look-in.

Once again I find myself asking if Hermann Tilke can consistently design a worthwhile racetrack. He has had success with the likes of Malaysia, but these are overshadowed by the boring circuits in China, Turkey, Valencia and now Sochi.  He is also the designer of the Azerbaijan circuit, due to be foisted on the sport in 2016 under the auspices of being named the European Grand Prix. Isn't that in Asia?

To allow such dominance at any given track by one engine manufacturer - sorry, power unit manufacturer - brings the focus squarely back onto the design and by extension the designer.

Sure, the drivers like the circuit because it drives well, because it's loops and whorls encourage them to experiment with racing lines and gives them the confidence to seek the limits of the circuit.  I'm not saying the track isn't a joy to drive...but can it produce a good race?

I would venture to speculate that the GP2, GP3 and Porsche Supercup races were far more exciting given that they all utilise the same chassis, engine and tyres.  The racing must have, by definition, been far closer than we saw on Sunday. Perhaps this is how F1 will go in the future, when the point of Formula 1 has been made redundant by the designs of Tilke and his ilk.

God help us if the US GP goes the same way.  Another potentially bright and shiny US F1 future scuppered by the inability of a Tilke design to cater for the reality that F1 goes through long periods of dominance by one team and/or one driver.

I had real hopes for Austin.  It has provided us with some good racing over the last two years and perhaps the design is such that it will provide another good race, but after yesterday I'm pretty sure that, unless Bernie imposes a speed limit on the Mercedes or sabotages the cars, all the rest of the field will be seeing in three weeks time is their dust.

Riding drag, is, I believe, the cowboy terminology for eating the dust of the cattle drive. If that's the kind of spectacle we're presented with in Texas then the questions will once again be asked as to the future of F1 in the United States.  We know that the US fans of the sport are hardcore but it is not them that F1 needs to impress to gain popularity. It is the US motorsport community.  It has to appeal to the NASCAR crowd, the Indycar crowd and the wibblywobblies that go to their local tracks on the weekend who are used to seeing close racing, lots of lead changes, and a hefty amount of on-track controversy.

The political and background games played out by the Piranha Club in the back rooms of the paddock are too subtle to provide entertainment to all but the most knowledgeable fans, the formula itself encourages dominance by the best and catch-up by the rest, and thus, to each and every team on the grid, the very idea of close racing is anathema.

In the off-season each team goes to great lengths (budget dependent) to design a car that will be far, far better than the opposition and if they achieve it, they work bloody hard to increase their dominance over the course of the season. These teams do not want to be riding drag, they don't want to be outriders, they want to be riding point; ideally a long, long way ahead of the herd.