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The Unofficial Overtaking Working Group

FEATURE BY GLEN CROMPTON
24/03/2010

Much media space and countless forum posts since the 2010 Bahrain GP have been given over to the subject of tedium. On the eve of my home race, this is not good news. Thankfully there is hope for a wet Australian GP but that comes from the local Bureau of Meteorology - a body whose work I personally distrust.

Meanwhile, draconian measures seem to be in demand. Some valid, some not and some just plain silly. F1's supreme commercial being felt the need to publicly warn against panic or calls for knee jerk reactions. According to the report I read, he added "I had a meeting with the teams and tried to explain to them what our business is all about, racing and entertaining the public, not playing with computers and being fast over one lap. The problem is that you cannot have the teams in any shape or form having a part in the sporting or technical regulations. You cannot have the inmates writing the regulations."

I doubt Bern won any friends among the teams by referring to them as "inmates", but then I also doubt he's losing any sleep over that. Prison overtones aside, I am overwhelmed by a strange sensation - the will to agree with Bernie.

Following the publication of my last article, I received the usual dose of reader feedback. Among the hate mail was a lucid note from a fellow I consider a bona fide F1 legend. I speak of somebody whose status is not born of driving prowess, rather his ability to place winning cars beneath the bums of the glamour lads who steer them. Thereupon started a most interesting and, for me, educational, dialogue.

Regrettably this fellow has requested that he not be named which is a shame, though I understand his reasons. It is however safe to say that he has been senior enough in F1 for long enough to be regarded as a reliable informant.

Being as even Bernie invoked the word 'entertainment', I was compelled over a series of emails to charge my new-found pen-pal with the task of authoring measures to render F1 more entertaining. What developed was akin to an unsanctioned, unofficial incarnation of The Overtaking Working Group. And with due respect to the FIA body of the same name, it must be said that whatsoever the extent of the power, influence and scope of the FIA version, as of the 2010 Bahrain GP, they seem not achieved much of value in the eponymous sense.

My correspondent's response initially decried his credentials for this task and made a compelling supporting case. He cited his favourite GP as one where his cars had lapped all but one competitor twice over. Therein is the validation of Bern's earlier quote. The very soul of any F1 team is to not merely beat the opposition, but to trounce them - preferably by laps rather than seconds. The teams are, by definition, the very worst people to consult about the entertainment value of F1. And that raises another rather jaded yet unresolved conundrum. Is F1 a purist sport or entertainment? Personally, I'd like to see it in the middle ground somewhere.

The problem might be self-solving. F1 probably cannot continue to exist if it is not entertaining. Well, I suppose it can but it is going to have to learn to live with 'clubbie' budgets. It's all very well to ponce about claiming to be the pinnacle of motor sport but if it is not entertaining, it may as well be the pinnacle of theoretical particle physics and I've not seen much of that on prime time TV. Eventually waning television audiences will so reduce the value of the sponsor's spend to the point where they will say "um, you know what, let's forget our outrageous F1 spend and just buy regular TV advertising because it's cheaper"

The teams, or inmates as Bern seems to see them, need to grasp this and soon. I say this because I am none too keen on the idea that to watch F1 may require tuning into an under-funded public access broadcaster in the wee hours of the morning and hoping that live coverage of the Nordic Leapfrogging Championships does not run overtime.

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