AUGUST 16, 2004
HUNGARIAN GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT
The value of synchronised swimming
There are people who will tell you that synchonized swimming is not a proper sport and that a bunch of women prancing around in a swimming pool has no sporting value. But at least you have half-naked women to watch. No, that is not a sexist remark. It is a reality. It means that slightly more than half the population of the world will be interested.
One would love to write an exciting race report from the 2004 Hungarian Grand Prix but it was simply not possible. At the end of the first lap the running order was Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Fernando Alonso, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jenson Button, Jarno Trulli, Kimi Raikkonen, Takuma Sato, Giancarlo Fisichella and Antonio Pizzonia. One hour and thirty-four minutes later the order was Schumacher, Barrichello, Alonso, Montoya, Button, Sato, Pizzonia and Fisichella. Trulli and Raikkonen retired when their cars broke down. Pizzonia overtook Fisichella during a pit stop sequence and no body noticed. For the rest of the afternoon the cars went round and round and the crowd struggled to get excited. TV and radio reporters heaved huge sighs of relief when the networks sent messages saying: "We are going to cross to the Olympics!"
And when we sat down at the end of the event to write the story of the race there was nothing to say. The race started, the race ended. The Ferrari mechanics fiddled with a refuelling machine; Ross Brawn ate a banana and Ferrari scored its seventh 1-2 in 13 races. Michael Schumacher scored his 12th win but the numbers mean nothing nowadays. Not many people noticed but Michael's victory was his 82nd. Ayrton Senna died 10 years ago with 41 wins. The sport is wiping out its own heritage, making it meaningless. The top teams have what it takes to win the races but most of them are not using their resources competently. No-one is willing to compromise. They say "Why should we?"
Why should you? Because the sport will die if this goes on much longer. The team bosses must understand that selling the sport is not about selling just their little bit of it. It is not about squeezing every stinking little shekel from the sport by whatever means possible (legal or otherwise). It is about having the intelligence to see beyond the end of their own noses.
What people in the blinkered and closeted world of Formula 1 fail to understand is that Ferrari's opposition is not Williams and McLaren. It is the girls in the swimsuits with the silly grins on their faces. That is what people are going to watch unless Formula 1 does something about the quality of its show.
It doesn't matter who comes up with the rules as long as they are thinking about them for the right reasons. It needs people with open minds and no hidden agendas. It needs people who are bigger than those who thrive on political point-scoring and ego battles which date back decades. The way things are now most of the current decision-makers should be shoved in a skip and the job of running the sport should be handed over to the catering staff, because they at least know how to deliver.
It is amazing that the TV viewing figures of today are as strong as they are and that tells you that this sport could be twice as big and twice as successful if attitudes were different.
In part the hopeless situation in Hungary was because of the nature of the Hungaroring circuit. It has always been useless for overtaking and if it can never produce a good race it should not have a place in the championship. Once it was ground-breaking but Hungary is part of the European Union these days. There are no Iron Curtains. Going to Hungary is about money. The new Hockenheim a few weeks ago showed that the nature of the racing is to a large extent due to the nature of the racing circuit and Hungary is a waste of time. The best thing that can happen would be for bulldozers to be sent in but no-one can afford to do that because all the available money is leeched away leaving them nothing to use to improve the show. What Hockenheim showed is that on the right circuit these cars can overtake one another if the drivers are any good. In Germany we had a stonking race and in Hungary it was horrible. Hopefully we will got to Spa in a fortnight and the majestic track will let there be racing again.
Hopefully, the other teams will mount a stronger challenge.
In all probability Michael Schumacher will win again because Spa is his circuit. A racer's circuit. If that is the case he will win the World Championship and no-one then needs to bother trying to navigate through Chinese bureaucracy. The journalists can stay at home and the F1 team bosses can go and sit in a vast folly in Shanghai and argue with one another and not notice that the sport around them is burning.