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APRIL 26, 2007

The dubious nature of Briatore's calls for change

Flavio Briatore has long been the man who has concentrated on the need for Formula 1 to provide entertainment, rather than remaining a sport in the truest sense of the word. This attitude makes sense if one's primary motivation is for the sport to generate money, which seems to be the current way of thinking at the top end of Grand Prix racing.

If one accepts that the sport is simply a business designed to entertain TV viewers on Sunday afternoons, then it can be argued that it is not doing a great job as it has failed to embrace many of the new technologies which could be used to enhance the coverage, notably in terms of computer graphics and better camera work. This appears to be because the sport does not wish to invest the money needed to do a better job.

There are some who argue that there is nothing wrong with the sport that better coverage would not solve but others, like Briatore, seem to think that the very canvas of the sport should be changed and Grands Prix should be split into two races so that people with limited attention spans will be able to handle it.

In the broad sweep of history (something in which Briatore has no interest) Grand Prix racing has changed over the years. The very first Grand Prix was nearly 800 miles of racing over two days, while the French GP of 1912 ran to almost 1000 miles. In those days, however, the importance of the racing was as much about reliability as speed.

In the 1920s and 1930s the length of difference races varied but on average they were 300 miles in length. Since the start of the World Championship - 57 years ago - the length of a Grand Prix is one thing that has never changed from 200 miles.

Briatore obviously feels that the GP2 format - which he and others invented - is a better one for the sport and also believes that the top eight grid positions should be reversed.

This is a concept that will be resisted by many F1 fans. Qualifying has lost all meaning in comparison to history because of the new formats that have been introduced in recent years. It has (perhaps) created better racing but the achievements of the modern era can no longer be compared to days when pole position went to the fastest driver.

The idea that journeymen could win Grands Prix because they finish eighth in the first race and get a good start in the second and then cannot be overtaken because of the design of the cars is one that will not go down well. A look at the winners in GP2 reveals that many of the winners of the reverse grid main races have not gone on to greater things: Olivier Pla, for example, won two Race 2s in 2005 and has since disappeared without trace, while other Race 2 winners such as Adam Carroll, Jose-Maria Lopez, Clivio Piccione and Michael Ammermuller have either been diverted to other career paths or have yet to convince F1 team owners that they have what it takes to be in the big league. Race 1 winners such as Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen have done rather better because they are recognised as being great talents and do not need a reverse grid to help them out.

The cynics would say that Briatore's desire to change the F1 format may have something to do with the fact that Renault team, which he currently runs, is racing around eighth at the moment, but this would probably be a little harsh as one hopes that the team is working hard to win back performance that has been lost since last year.

Would Flavio be so keen on reversed grids if his Renaults were going to have to start on row four for the main event?