It is a quiet day in the forest, a very agreeable place to be when one is not at a noisy racing circuit. The marshes are still and the pond is doing a good impersonation of being a mirror. Even the coypu are staying in their underground nests and not splashing about and the egrets are off doing whatever it is that egrets do at this time of year. The mallards – over here they are called colverts – are off dabbling as dabbling ducks do. The weather is getting warmer (perhaps) but this may be a micro-climate caused by the first F1 car launches.
These affairs are very bad for global warming as they release a huge amount of hot air into the atmosphere, as all of those involved spout forth about their hopes and ambitions, no-one really having the faintest clue whether the cars will be better or worse than last year. Car launches are warm and pleasant events, but one should never believe a word spoken, as it is all just bla-bla-bla. The cold hard truth will arrive if not in the testing in Bahrain, then in the first three races, wherever they may be – and whenever they may be.
I spoke to Stefano Domenicali last week and he was very keen to say that F1 will be doing everything possible to keep to the schedule announced, but admits that there needs to be some flexibility if the dates have to change. There was a certain amount of irony about the conversation as he was sitting in Italy because it has not been possible in the five weeks he has had the job to get to London and set up shop there. But Stefano is one of the good guys and his enthusiasm for the sport is unbounded. He is excited about his new job, a little surprised at having been offered it, but delighted to be back in the business in which, as he put it, he was “born”.
I’ve known him for more years than I care to remember, going back to the days when he was not the big banana at Maranello and our paths would cross in F1 paddocks around the world. I’m a big fan of the way he does business. It’s so refreshing compared to some of the folk who have gone before him in the F1 world. There are still a few sharks and charlatans, and a number of snake oil salesmen (best not to name names), but with the corporate age, such behaviour has had to improve. This means that the level of mumbo jumbo has risen, as it tends to do whenever corporations are involved in anything, but people tend to be a little better behaved.
Well, in most cases…
One of the side-effects of the corporate squaddies marching into the F1 trenches is that the purity of race names is quietly going to pieces. Formula 1 was always good at maintaining standards. They do not change car liveries every other day (like NASCAR does). I suppose that if a NASCAR fan can remember the number of his hero he can just about follow the action, even if one day the car is green, the next pink. The sponsors rotate in and out and so unless you know that 24 is William Byron (no relation to the poet) and that #48 is Alex Bowman, it doesn’t make that much sense. I haven’t done the homework but there are almost no full-season sponsors left, with the possible exception of FedEx (Denny Hamlyn). I thought that Joey Logano might be as well, with his big Shell/Pennzoil deal, but sometimes his car appears in AAA colours, sometimes with AutoTrader backing and occasionally with PPG as his primary sponsor.
But it is when one gets to the names of the races that the Americans go further over the top than Kim Kardashian West (Is there a Kim Kardashian East?). No-one is ever going to use the full name of races such as the “Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard, powered by Florida Georgia Line” or “Go Bowling at the Glen” and this nasty practice has been transferred to Australia where the Bathurst 1000 has had to go by the shameful name of the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 for some years, although thankfully that deal has now ended.
Marketing folk may refer to the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, but normal human beings will call the race “The Indy 500”, although the sponsors do sometimes complain that no-one is taking them seriously.
Formula 1 has avoided making such things overly-complicated, allowing title sponsorships, but trying to avoid the names of title and “presenting” sponsors. The policy has always been to have a race that is a national event, the British Grand Prix, for example. With that you knew where you stood. If it was the Shell Oils British Grand Prix that was fine, but it was not “presented by Burger King” or “powered by Tacky Tyres”. F1 was about high-rolling big corporate names. It was part of the image of the sport.
Last year with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an urgent need for a few different names at events because they were either at the same circuit or in the same country as other races and one could not really have the Italian Grand Prix I, II and III. There was a time when the United States had a United States GP and a United States (West) GP and there were a few oddities along the way such as the Pescara Grand Prix and the Swiss GP being held at Dijon, but the only really commercial race title was the Caesars Palace (no apostrophe) GP in Las Vegas, a title that was allowed because Bernie Ecclestone was keen to get more F1 action in America and was rather partial to the green ink used in printing dollar bills.
So last year the sanctity of F1 naming conventions changed and we had the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone and events in Styria, Tuscany, Emilio Romagna, Eifel and Sakhir. Needs must.
But this year it is rather alarming to see that rather than a Brazilian GP or a Mexican GP, we will (in theory) have a Grand Prix of Sao Paulo and a Grand Prix of Mexico City. Does it matter? These are the people paying for the races and so why would the countries get a free ride? That is a fair point, but I cannot help but think that this undermines the gravitas that F1 races have always enjoyed. And I have heard that the race in Imola is planning to be called the Made in Italy and Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. I do hope this is not the case but I can already hear some F1 folk spouting on about “my Kicker Shoes Benetton-Maserati being awesome today in the Made in Italy and Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, presented by Jelly Babies”.
Yes, I do understand that the Italian government agency ITC has kicked in some cash to promote its “Made in Italy” campaigns, but I see it as being the start of a long slippery slope towards the Kangaroo Meat Dog Food Grand Prix of Australia and other such aberrations…
Commercialism and professionalism are two very different things, and I’d hate to see F1 forgetting that in pursuit of the required greenbacks.