The Independent really should know better. This morning it has a very dubious story based on a quote from Ron Walker, the Melbourne Grand Prix promoter saying that F1 race promoters will walk away from the sport because of the new engine noise.
Just because someone says something does not make it true. If, for example, Walker had said that there were pixies living in the trees in Albert Park, would the story have been printed or would someone have gone to check?
Is there any evidence to back up what Walker said? It is true that some fans don’t like the new engine noise, but some do and change always incites criticism because some people simply get stuck in the mud. The truth is that very quickly fans will get used to the new noise and no-one will even notice it in a few races from now. This is basic human nature.
We will only be able to judge whether fans are walking away from the sport a year from now when we can make direct comparisons between crowd numbers, although statistics can always tell lies. A year ago, for example, if it had suited his purpose at that moment, Walker could have complained that the screaming V8s hurt the ears of spectators and that was why his race day crowd figure had dropped from 114,900 in 2012 to the 103,000 last year. Unlikely perhaps, but at least there would have been a number to support such a remark.
F1 turbos are not new – the were dominant in the 1980s – and the 2014 cars are much more exciting to watch than their predecessors. So where is the evidence to back up Walker’s claim?
Some in the sport think that there is a pretty unsubtle campaign to try to destabilise the FIA over the new engines. One or two see Red Bull’s protest as part of the same campaign. Ron Walker is a bosom buddy of Bernie Ecclestone and the journalist who wrote the story is constantly proclaiming his close relationship with Ecclestone.
I don’t go for that theory. Such stories are chaff in the wind and Jean Todt and the car manufacturers are not going be bothered one way or the other. It would have been better if the federation and the teams had worked together in Melbourne and given the media a positive story about how efficient the new engines are and what amazing effects the technology will potentially have on road cars. This, allied to the fact that the cars are faster in a straight line and less stable in the corners (hence the slower lap times), would have created a win-win story. Instead there was a communications vacuum which allowed the negative to dominate. There is no excuse for that wasted opportunity. However, no-one is about to go back to gas-guzzling screaming V8s. That would invite well-deserved media crucifixion.
First of all, Walker knows that race promoters cannot walk away from contracts.There are clauses that mean that if a promoter does not want to continue he will still have to pay the fees for the full term of the contract. The government of Victoria (which pays these bills) is not going to be impressed if they get a bill and no race and, were that to happen, Walker would likely be pensioned off to Kangaroo Island, chased by screaming taxpayers. Another promoter somewhere in the world would step up and the Formula One group would relieve him of his wallet. The new “customer” would be happy and would not care whether the cars had a V6s or Wurlitzer Organs in the back. F1 is an event that offers great value for money for governments which don’t want to splash out on an Olympic Games or a Soccer World Cup. I doubt that Walker can produce a contract with a clause that specifies the decibels required for a racing car to be designated as an F1 machine. Formula 1 is what the FIA defines it to be.
In fact, these days that definition is arrived at by something called the F1 Strategy Group, an entity which has three equal players, each with the same voting rights: the Formula One group, the FIA and the F1 teams. If there is opposition to their decisions, it can be heard in the F1 Commission where sponsors, engine manufacturers, circuits and others have a limited say. And after that, if the FIA does not like the result, there is the World Council to block a change.
So, what is this story all about? Why has it appeared? The only possible conclusion, apart from the obvious ‘gullible newspaper meets hack selling a cheap headline for a few quid’ scenario is that there is some arcane power play going on. One might speculate that such a story is designed to frighten investors looking to buy Formula One from CVC Capital Partners. CVC wants out and have been rushing around telling other suited wunderkinds that they have a goose that lays golden eggs. New shareholders might conclude that the business would be worth more money with a bright shiny new management unencumbered by history. If these folk read in the newspaper that the goose’s leg is about to fall off, they may think twice about parting with (someone else’s) cash.
The author of the story seems to have missed this angle completely.