JUNE 11, 2004
Formula 1's biggest challenge
Formula 1 racing is a great show, even if the TV coverage of the sport sometimes does not do a very good job getting that across to the all-important viewers around the world. People who have only a casual interest in the sport needed to be grabbed to make them watch the sport and the fact that this has not been happening recently is the reason that TV viewing figures have to some extent suffered. Ferrari domination has obviously not helped the situation and the fact that the team goes out of its way to make sure Michael Schumacher is dominant is clearly not the best situation as it deprives the sport of a potential battle between the Ferrari team mates. But it will not last forever. The BAR-Honda combination is pushing very hard at the moment and the likes of Williams-BMW, Renault and McLaren-Mercedes cannot be written off in the longer term. In many respects the sport is very healthy even if some of the smaller teams are drifting along without being able to do anything to improve their situation. It was ever thus. Motor racing is a sport designed for those with money and in the old days the men with the most money won the races. Formula 1 needs to be careful not to panic itself into a series of changes which alter the fundamentals of the sport as some of the "it's a business" voices would like them to do. There are lots of ways that F1 can improve without messing with the sport and turning it into more of a circus. Formula 1 is not just about a few rich men making more money and it is a mistake for them to believe that because inevitably, in the fullness of time, the sport will outlive the profiteers and edge them gently towards the door.
But keeping the sport going requires money and to get that money requires coverage and the big problem in the next two months is that F1 is going up against so serious opposition in the battle for media space. Firstly there is the Euro 2004 soccer tournament in Portugal which is now sweeping onto the sports pages and grabbing the air time. This will be followed by the All England Championship tennis at Wimbledon and then by the Olympic Games in Athens. Hanging on to viewers this summer is going to be tough, particularly if the weather is good as any TV channel will tell you a sunny Sunday attracts fewer viewers than an overcast when people decide to stay at home.
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