Formula One may already be past its sell-by date

EDITOR'S BLOG: Bowls on Wednesday at the WI can be more dramatic than a Grand Prix these days.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 30 Oct 2015

Mad Murray Walker once told me a good James Hunt story. Hunt was a famously boho, Hooray Henry, red trizers kinda guy. A smoker from the age of 10. But he also was never very keen on shoes, preferring to go barefoot. This was all very well, but levered into the cramped BBC commentary Formula One booth he shared with Walker for 13 years his feet became a real issue. Because they stank like a ripe Camembert. Walker being the sort of Home Counties bloke who uses Bloo Loo and probably has a furry seat cover on his lav, this caused some bad blood.   

I thought of this when I watched the surprisingly good 'Rush' on TV at the weekend. Directed by Ron Howard it tells the story of the legendary rivalry between Hunt and Niki Lauda for the Formula One championship in 1976. Along with the terrific 'Senna' documentary they are those great rarities, excellent movies about sport.

In fact I'd go as far as to say the two films are far more entertaining than watching the real thing these days. Formula One has a problem, namely that the corporate shenanigans going on off the track in recent years - in courthouses and elsewhere -  have been a much better spectator proposition than the dull rortmeisters circulating on the tarmac. On occasion, it seems as if Wednesday bowls afternoon at the Eastbourne WI might have more dramatic moments than the F1 track.

The news that the Qataris - fresh from the FIFA scandal over the World Cup - might be behind the latest £5bn bid rumours is no surprise. In 45 degrees of heat they won't have to worry whether the tyres are warm enough to get some grip. There's also an American sports magnate involved (the owner of the Miami Dolphins no less), because they always do so well when they go abroad buying up weird foreign franchises - cf Liverpool FC, Fulham, even Manchester United.

Bid or not, it's high time Bernie Ecclestone shuffled off and let someone else take over. It could be - as the 84-year-old has frequently claimed - that nobody could sustain his high wire act of keeping the show on the road. This might well be the case. So many complex deals all over the world are carried around in his head.

If a sale is on the cards, then Ecclestone’s intransigence will have certainly been a part of current owner CVC’s decision. A deal could prove the beginning of the end for Formula One. It has now travelled so far from its white-knuckle Fangio and Jim Clarke roots that disintegration followed by something new and fresh could be a desirable result.

The major global car companies are certainly fed up with it. People have been receiving emails from Silverstone recently offering 40% off tickets for the British Grand Prix. And that's one of the earnestly-supported events. Several fans who attended Le Mans recently told me wistfully that F1 would do well to replicate the spirit of the 24 hour sports car race.

When it becomes awash with cash, as F1 and football have, sport grows decadent and cynical. What a relief it was to watch the almost unbelievably exciting conclusion to the one day cricket internationals between England and New Zealand. Especially gratifying that the endlessly troublesome mercenary Kevin Pietersen wasn't involved. Cricketers make an OK living but they don't have three Bugatti Veyrons in the garage. The IPL is changing this, but the sport has a new vitality from 20/20 and faster scoring in the one day game.

One thing is for sure: I'd swap ten F1 Paddock Club tickets for a seat on the first day of the final Ashes test at The Oval. Not least because I can walk the 300 yards home afterwards.

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