Is Sebastian Vettel Making Formula 1 a TV Turn-off Again?
Eleven years ago this month, the world of motorsport was reflecting on the culmination of a dismal 2002 Formula One season.
That was the year Ferrari duo Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello swept all before them, with 11 and four wins apiece. Schumacher finished every race on the podium, winning the title at a canter. Ferrari, as ESPN notes, scored the same number of points as every other team combined.
ESPN also quotes the race's scathing review in the Daily Mail, which read: "If proof were needed that F1 is becoming a television turn-off, yesterday's season-ending Japanese-Grand Prix was the perfect example—a Michael Schumacher masterclass and Ferrari one-two with dramatic content of zero."
Sticking with that belief that one driver always winning is boring for the sport is Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes driver had to watch with frustration in Korea as Sebastian Vettel once again stormed to victory, and he reckons that is bad for F1.
In quotes picked up by BBC Sport, Hamilton bemoaned the situation in which F1 finds itself and likened it to the Schumacher era that was so maligned by "bored" fans - such as himself.
I remember waking up to watch the start of the race then going to sleep and waking up when it ended because I knew what would happen. I am pretty sure a lot of people are doing that today.
What Hamilton says might well be true for a lot of people.
The Schumacher domination of the early noughties was certainly not the best advert in F1's history. But to suggest people are doing the same thing with contemporary F1 is well wide of the mark.
A Different Story
F1 circa 2013 is not like that, regardless of the negative attitude that surrounds the current dominants, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull. Different people will always be subject to different appeals, but there is no denying that everyone is interested in wheel-to-wheel racing.
But while multi-car battles are often a feature of great racing, great racing does not necessitate multi-car battles.
Put simply, watching Vettel drive into the (near-) distance in Korea was not ideal. Personally, witnessing a world-class driver performing at his peak is always entertaining, and though I concede the best races required added intrigue, why does it have to be for the lead?
Who said F1 was boring? Don't judge a race purely by who won it...— F1 Broadcasting (@f1broadcasting) October 6, 2013
The squabbling Lotus cars of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean put on a great show for second in the closing stages and Nico Hulkenberg starred on his way to fourth, passing and then fending off the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, the Brit's teammate Nico Rosberg and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
Slightly further back, a four-car battle raged for 10th at one stage between Pastor Maldonado, Esteban Gutierrez, Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez.
No high reward, but superb entertainment.
The point here is that F1 in its current guise is a formula that is entertaining a television audience it cannot afford to lose—literally. The sport is so commercially-driven that keeping eyes glued to the television is on a par with pitting the cream of motorsport against each other, technically and otherwise.
Thus, we had high-degrading Pirelli tyres, no more refuelling and the advent of DRS to promote mixed strategies and more overtaking. Artificial or not, F1 racing is arguably more spectacular than at any time during the past decade and a half.
How Would You Rate F1 2013's Entertainment Value?
The Desired Effect
Whether by accident or design, the current rules package is such that there are three, four or five teams within a very, very close margin of performance.Red Bull may have the edge, but that's not to the detriment of the racing we see on television.
Yes, it would be fantastic to see even a two-car battle for the lead, but does the majority care what position it is for so long as the racing is hard, fair and taking place at 200mph?
The bottom line is F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone knows how valuable (and essential) it is to keep the television audience entertained. Formula One Management is not about to broadcast 90 minutes of Vettel running around on his own. Not that it needs to, given the quality of racing going on behind (if it is not for the top step of the podium).
If proof were needed that Red Bull is not turning F1 into a television turn-off, yesterday's Korean Grand Prix was the perfect example—a Vettel masterclass, but a fraught battle for second between two teammates and race-long fights throughout the field that threw dramatic content into overdrive in the second half of the race.
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