Kevin Garside: No one tunes in for tyre strategies Bernie, so give us chariot races
The Way I See It: When the purists complained, Bernie replied: ‘Beats going out of business’
No Red Bull bust up to fire the juices this week. The Chinese Grand Prix passed in a blaze of tyre strategies, which is never the most interesting discussion in the pub. The beastly behaviour of Sebastian Vettel and the knife he thrust into the back of his team-mate Mark Webber in Malaysia did at least raise a point worthy of discussion. It questioned both the propriety and the desirability of team orders in a sport that is predicated on racing.
The text traffic into my phone and Twitter feed was replete with punters deserting F1 in a frustration over team-mates falling into line. Nico Rosberg behaved impeccably in holding his station under instruction from Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn on the pit wall. It made perfect sense from the team perspective but killed the spectacle.
Vettel brought a visceral flavour to proceedings but to pull it off he was required to blow his morals out of the diffuser and attack an unsuspecting team-mate. This outraged the moral majority but not apologists siding with the German on the grounds that it is incumbent on racing drivers to race. It certainly warmed up my television.
While Vettel's instinct is to be applauded, offence was rooted in the manner of the attack. Webber's engines were dulled at base as part of an agreed strategy. His power was turned down because the race was won and there was no prospect of an attack from a team-mate. In that context Vettel was stealing from his grandmother. It was not a fair fight and there was no great joy to be taken in winning it.
The Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, was massively compromised and got himself into an almighty pickle trying to extricate Vettel from the mess while protecting his own integrity as the leader of the team. He failed on both accounts. Vettel turned up in China saying he would do the same again. It was a brazen show of the power and influence he exerts as a three-time world champion. He clearly cares little for the reputation of his "boss". It is all about him.
This appeals to the machismo impulse in an F1 audience that believes the sport is the greatest expression of dog eat dog. Fastest man wins. Bring it on. You can see why Formula One's commercial executive Bernie Ecclestone loves this boy. He is good for ratings. Wrestling with the problem of fading interest and the need to spice up the show, Ecclestone suggested some years ago that the grid be inverted after qualifying sending the slowest cars out first. A bastardised version of this was introduced expressly to find a way of making it harder for Michael Schumacher to win races in a dominant Ferrari. When the purists pointed out that he was tricking up the show and thus risking the integrity of the sport, Ecclestone replied: "Beats going out of business."
Paradoxically Ecclestone's problem is business. He has built this stage so brilliantly it remains a key marketing tool for global sponsors keen to take advantage of the commercial reach of a sport broadcast fortnightly, not to mention emerging states in the east happy to pay millions for the projection. Teams are reluctant to encourage drivers to risk putting a car out of the picture unnecessarily when so much is riding on the sidepods, nose and wings of these automotive advertising boards.
Vettel was wrong to do what he did but need not apologise for his instinctive drives. Instead of trying to rein him in, Horner would be better served trying to devise a formula that allows his racers to do as the sport demands, to race each other legitimately. To hell with team orders. Nobody cares. We want chariot races out there, deeds of derring-do. At its best there is no sport like Formula One because in no other game are the protagonists required to fly into tackles at 200mph.
Stand at the entry of the swimming pool section at Monaco and watch those cars snap out of line within inches of the wall and tell me your pulse is not going 10 to the dozen. Wheel-to-wheel excitement is the selling point of the piece. No one tunes in to watch cars running with the wick turned down.
A line-up including Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen is a cast worthy of EastEnders. Sort it! Leave it out! Do what? You're having a laugh! These were the kind of exhortations we heard in the paddock in Malaysia, brought about on that occasion by an illegitimate act. It is time for Formula One to free Vettel et al from team orders, not by outlawing the practice but by killing the culture.
Let these boys race each other and watch the ratings go through the roof. Beats going out of business, eh Bernie?
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