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Taking Care Of Business

FEATURE BY GLEN CROMPTON
25/02/2011

The centerpiece lake of my hometown Ballarat is brimming again after years of drought rendered it a grassy field. I am enjoying a sit in the morning sun at my favourite cafe and regarding this ecological renaissance. The ducks are ducking, the swans are swanning, the fisherpeople are fishing and the platypus is still seeking an audience with its creator apropos its absurd mix of features. The cafe is named Racer's which reminds me to open the laptop to and catch up with F1 news - Kubica is convalescing, Schumey is sicking, Pirellis are peeling, Lotuses are litigating, WilliamsF1 is fund-fishing and I'm still seeking an audience with the sports masters apropos the dearth of overtaking.

Bemoaning the lack of overtaking goes back to the earliest days of my F1 writing. Back then those in charge refuted any such assertions. Some even questioned the collective memory of fans, asserting F1 hadn't ever been that thrilling. Reality disagreed of course. The 1971 Italian GP featured over 100 overtaking manoeuvres while the 1999 Spanish GP featured 2. At least there is now acknowledgement of this lack of overtaking from on high. Was it whispered in the right ears that if the sport's fans so universally craved overtaking it would be as well to at least pay them lip service? Sadly, it seems acknowledgement is about as far as it's gone.

I wonder if there were 100 overtaking manoeuvres in the entire 2010 season. Did I find the 2010 F1 drivers' championship exciting? Well, yes, but only in a statistical, number crunching, down-to-the-last-race kind of way. Perfect if Bernie has set his sights on wooing spreadsheet lovers. I cannot decide if it is mendacity, sycophancy or plain dimwittedness but I was particularly annoyed by those hacks pedalling the non sequitur that an exciting spreadsheet equated to a season of exciting racing. With the exception of some climate-effected events I found the lack of overtaking for most of 2010 just as soporific as any other season of the last decade.

In 2006 the FIA called the "Overtaking Working Group" (OWG) into being. It was populated with the teams' best and brightest which I regarded as slightly less lucid than recruiting Al Capone to enforce prohibition. The OWG quickly identified the key problem as aerodynamics. That was a good start but nearly 5 years on and there's not much to show for it. The final race of 2010 saw Webber and Alonso snatch world title defeats from the jaws of victory when both pitted early. Despite cars capable of winning and both drivers having every reason to take big risks, they ran line-astern to the chequered flag unable to advance through the field, much less tackle each other. Unlike Mike Gascoyne, I do not apportion blame upon the track for this.

I shan't devolve into the boring technical rant I have so oft visited upon readers, preferring to opine that Blind Freddy, his dog and the OWG accept that drastic reductions in downforce are required. Supplement that with some obscenely hard tyres to increase braking distances and the overtaking drought should end. It's not that difficult.

So if it is that simple why was there a need to create to OWG? Since it was created and it did identify aerodynamics as a large part of the problem why the absence of successful changes to date? Was the working group merely a clever ruse? The teams would feel like they had a say, the fans would feel that something was being done and marketers of the sport could point to its existence when confronted with the awful truth.

Buzzword lovers call them "stakeholders" while I'd choose a less flattering term. Whatever they are, those with a spoon in the bubbling cauldron of F1 must either see no need to act or suffer a profound resistance to. Perhaps there are just too many of them. Would F1 be better served by some decisive autocracy? I'd be more than happy to shove some "stakeholders" in the cauldron to that end!

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