Teams at odds over scheme for practice-session races
Tuesday 17 August 2004
Over a weekend of Ferrari domination in the Hungarian Grand Prix that one cynic suggested should have been sponsored by Dulux rather than Marlboro, so spectators could watch it dry, team principals had what one described as their "least productive meeting ever" to thrash out new rules for 2005. It's increasingly tedious, therefore, that some heavy-hitters are rejecting one of the most sensible suggestions about how a deeply troubled sport can get its act together for the future.
This came from Jaguar's team principal, Tony Purnell, one of the quieter and more cerebral characters in the paddock. "Is F1 fun for the people who come on Friday and Saturday? Is it a good show?" he asks. "The Friday and Saturday figures for spectators and television audiences have dived, and that's a problem. So is the fact that all of the teams, especially the little ones, enjoy the exposure they get from single-lap qualifying, so even though that isn't universally popular we somehow need to retain that element. But I believe that fans want to see champions work at becoming champions, they want them to be racing drivers, not just drivers who can peel off fast laps."
Purnell suggests two 10-lap heat races, each to be run on Friday and Saturday afternoons after normal practice. The idea is to have a celebrity draw grid positions from a hat for the first race, and the grid order from that to be reversed for the second. Drivers would take scores from each race, which would be aggregated to form the grid for Sunday's grand prix. "You'd have to drive absolutely flat out," Purnell says. "And because it is clearly a random selection, you will find brilliant drivers like Michael Schumacher having to overtake not-so-good drivers. If you don't finish, you don't score. If Michael started race one 19th, he'd start race two second. On average that is fair. The way to get pole position for the grand prix would be to overtake more drivers and/or set faster laps than anyone else, which is what good racing drivers should do. It would create something electric each day for the media to write about, and would be brilliant for the show and for the smaller teams, because they would still get their day in the sun. Eddie Jordan would probably even win a heat race somewhere, and the advertisers would still like it ..."
Purnell's idea has its roots in kart racing, where heats and finals work very well, and has been well received by Formula One people who do not have vested interests. But it has also been denigrated by other team principals. At a time when the sport seems hell-bent on devouring its own heritage and values without a backward glance, some of them seem incapable of coming up with anything as logical and well thought-out, let alone agreeing on anything.
Sunday's race sounded a thousand alarm bells, but it's tempting to believe that only those outside the motorhomes in the paddock are truly listening to the warning.
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