Columns - The Man in the Pub

You're confusing us!


Being the sad guy in the corner of the pub with a pint and a copy of Autosport, I have had to fight endless battles with the pub bores over the years over whether or not Formula 1 was "just about driving around in circles". Then it was the "I'd watch it, but the same bloke wins all the time" routine, and now, just when we look like having a season with quite a few different winners, the whinge down at the pub is that "it is too complicated".

Mmm. Now here, they may have a point.

I read somewhere once, that, after taking into account the race broadcast itself, and the following television sports bulletins, then a quarter of the Earth's population, watch each and every Grand Prix, making it the world's third largest sporting event after the soccer World Cup and the Olympic Games. That is pretty impressive as the other two events are held only once every four years, whereas F1 is on the TV every fortnight throughout the summer months.

All I can say is that not many of those one billion people seem to live anywhere near the pub I go to. Knowledge and awareness of Formula 1 with the folk at the bar is astoundingly low. I follow F1 with an unhealthy devotion, yet even I am a bit confused, so trying to explain it to all to the already sceptical pub regulars is not an easy job. However, having analysed the subject I have concluded that there are three main areas of confusion: four if you count anything that Minardi says. These areas are tyres, engines and qualifying.

What is going on with tyres? A set of rubber is supposed to last for qualifying and the race. At three grand a set they flipping well ought to do that. So how can Bridgestone spend hundreds of millions of dollars, have the best team in the sport as a partner, yet still fail to make four bits of black stuff that'll last until tea time on Sunday? And what happened to the rule about the grooves in the tyres to make sure they don't end up as slicks? When the hideous grooved tyres were brought in we were told that groove depths would be monitored but half of the cars at the end of the Malaysian Grand Prix had tyres as bald as Yul Brynner.

At least the engine rule is a little bit more straightforward, one engine must last two races. Except that the season has nineteen races, so presumably if a team has superb engine reliability throughout the season, they will have to start next season with the engine they finished with in China which, by the start of 2005, will be as out of date as Tom Jones's little black book.

And then there is qualifying. If there is one area of F1 that has been completely messed up with spectacular efficiency then it has to be qualifying. The problems started when the sport adopted the "one-by-one" format. The plan was to avoid having periods when the track was empty. Every car would get equal coverage and the TV ads could be slotted in nicely. Fine, except it is as dull as dishwater and has never really produced the mixed up grids which we were promised. That format might have been a disaster but it was infinitely better than the two session system we now have. Saturday qualifying is no longer qualifying, it's just the warm up act for the proper (untelevised) session on Sunday morning. Everybody hates the new system, everybody acknowledges it is a failure. And here we are are still not watching it.

Why? Qualifying is a doddle to fix. What you need is a system which gets rid of the "After you Claude" nonsense with each car having a number of laps, half of which must be completed in the first half an hour and half of which must be done in the second. Refuelling should be allowed at the end of the session (so we can go back to seeing some balls-out qualifying) and tyre choice should be made after the session. Simple. That way, when Michael Schumacher reaches Ayrton Senna's amazing pole tally of 65, it will be a record which means something, which under the current system it does not.

If that all sounds pretty similar to the way it used to be before they messed it up, it may be because the average man in the public understands a very basic form of human logic. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

That way I can go back to the easy arguments about cars driving round in circles.