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A SOGGY PAPER BAG

 

   I never thought it would come to this. Sunday night (in Oz), Monaco Grand Prix. Expectations high after a scintillating qualifying in which Daniel Ricciardo put in another of THOSE laps to take pole. Just 0.066 shy of the fastest lap ever of Monaco. Predictions of rain – just to spice things up nicely. A great battle in prospect with the two Silver Slings and Vettel chasing hard on his tail. You tune in and yes, it is damp but it has stopped raining. There are no huge puddles or rivers streaming across the track. The sun is even starting to peek through. They are all on full wets so will anyone be able to make them last long enough to go straight on to slicks. We all know that passing is a bugger at Monaco so who can do what with their rubber could be vital. A quick top-up of my glass of red and into the comfy chair.

     WTF???? Starting behind the safety car? Just because it’s a little damp? Again, they are all on the “extreme” wet tyres. There is NO standing water. NONE!!! The sun is now out. Drivers are complaining over the radio that they SHOULD be racing. The safety car continues. And then it happens. Having watched every race live since Belgium in ’81, yes even that Indy race, the words “Fuck this” escape my mouth, the TV is off and I am heading to bed to get up early and watch the Indy 500. OK it’s just a sort of one make series race with four left hand corners but at least with Indy, you KNOW they will race. Unless it’s wet, but on an oval at 230 MILES an hour that’s understandable. On a street circuit at maybe 75 miles an hour it’s not. Not understandable. Not excusable.

    And that’s just me. At home. Turning off the idiot box and going to bed early. How do you explain this to someone that has just possibly spent about two or three months wages taking the missus and kids to Monaco to see the greatest drivers on the planet battle it out in what is supposedly Formula One’s Blue Riband event? What happened at Monaco displayed everything that is so wrong with F1 at the moment. There is no thought given what-so-ever to the poor mugs in the grandstands who are forking out ever increasing amounts to be served up shit in a soggy paper bag. The reason I fell in love with this sport is that the drivers were heroes who battled not just each other, but whatever conditions that were thrown at them. Races rarely stopped even for the most torrential rain until the late Eighties, hell occasionally they even raced while it was snowing.

    They were gladiators in brightly coloured cars with enormously fat slicks and big wings that had way more power than grip. Power slides were still one way to get around quickly. Screaming flat & V12s, rorty V8s, squealing steel brakes and the smell or burning oil and rubber. And then came the turbo age. Bugger 1000 horse power that the powers that be are wanting sometime soon. BMW and Honda were churning out over 1500 in qualifying trim. You could always tell when Piquet was on a qually lap because you could see the plume of black smoke that was from the burning rocket fuel that was rapidly destroying yet another BMW engine block well before the car came into sight. Having to manage all that grunt coming in at once with just one hand on the steering wheel because the other one was being used to change gears. Yes, they still had gear levers. And clutch pedals. They had to be bloody miracle workers just to keep these beasts on the black stuff let alone race.

    Now it seems to be rule making by knee jerk. It was put ever so well once in Yes Minister. “Something needs to be done. This is something. We must do it.” A prime, and pathetically stupid, example was paraded at Monaco. A new rule was to come into force whereupon a driver was no longer allowed to dispense with his visor tear-off strip by tossing it away from the car. Why?? Whatever or whoever could have decided that this practice was in any way harmful and had to be eradicated from the spectacle of motor racing? Then after coming across some criticism from various sectors, including drivers pointing out that it may be dangerous having those used visors rattling around the cockpit, the rule was dumped before it was even introduced. The current head protection issue is also a prime example. The great and mighty have decided that the “Halo” concept is to be introduced for next year as the best way of avoiding head injuries. Really? The best way? OK it would prevent errant wheels and other large objects from striking a driver but probably not any smaller ones which can cause just as much head trauma. Just ask Felipe Massa. The Halo would not have stopped the spring from hitting him if it was horizontal. A few drivers opined that the Halo would have protected Jenson Button if the flying piece of gutter cover went any higher than it did during practice. Again not if it had been horizontal. It just would have gone straight through the gap and the effects would have been catastrophic. The Halo is not just stupendously ugly but fatally (??) flawed. The only device that would provide full protection is either a canopy or the screen that Red Bull tested in Russia. These could conceivably carry their own dangers though in the event of an overturned car or fire etc. But hey – Head protection – something must be done. The Halo is something. We must do it.

    Despite decades of fan feedback almost universally demanding a reduction in aerodynamic downforce to improve the actual racing, what do the great and mighty come up with? Something must be done to improve the racing. More grip and downforce is something. We must do it. Not one team manager thinks this will improve close racing or overtaking. The wider cars will create more drag and disturbed air. With the cars being more aero-dependant they will less able to be close enough through corners to aid overtaking on the straights. But this is what we will get in 2017. It’s almost impossible to overtake at Monaco as is (or Catalunya for that matter), so won’t it be so much better with wider cars that can’t get as close as they currently do? Can’t wait.

    So watched the Indy 500 which was typically American. Tons of overtaking. Some silly driving and cars into the walls. Bad driving vigorously punished. Forget five second penalties, bad boys go to the back of the field or do a stop-go in the pits. No stupid grid penalties for the next race, you get whacked immediately, just as it should be. Brilliant placement of TV cameras so that the impression of speed was given even on TV. There’s something else F1 could learn from the Yanks. Varying fuel strategies resulting in some very late “splash and dash” pit stops a few laps from the end. The winner was the occasional Manor driver Alex Rossi who took the lead with just three laps to go and running on fumes in the fuel tank. He ran out of gas coming out of the final corner but had enough momentum to coast across the line to win his very first “500”. A great fun spectacle that had you in doubt as to the winner until the flag dropped. The exact opposite of Monaco.

    Watched the recording of Monaco after Indy and what a contrast. The first ten percent of the race was behind the safety car. Snore. The rest was fairly processional. Hamilton couldn’t get past Rosberg despite the latter being slowed with brake problems until team orders were issued. After the pit stops, in which Red Bull made a monumental cock-up of Ricciardo’s tyre change which cost him a certain win, no-one else of note successfully overtook. Ricciardo was stuck behind Hamilton. Vettel was stuck behind Perez. Everyone was stuck behind everyone else. It was at about the 40 lap mark that the fast forward button started being used extensively because you knew nothing was going to change except in the case of some stupidity. Kyvat and Magnussen for example. Or the Saubers. Just what a team struggling with financial issues needed, its two drivers taking each other out while dicing for last place. Good grief Charlie Brown.

    Here’s an idea. If we have to put up with Monaco with its lack of passing as a Grand Prix circuit, and I don’t mind it once a year as it is very different from all the other Tilkedromes, how about an F1 oval race? I like the idea of F1 cars racing on all types of circuits and the one glaring omission is an oval race. A Grand Prix at Indianapolis, Michigan, Rockingham or the Lausitzring? Or even Motegi? Could be fun and some of the teams that are not usually in the running could be dark horses. How fast are the Manors in a straight line for example? Or Williams and Force India? Red Bull and Mercedes would be hard pressed to beat them around an oval.

    Then again I like the idea of a mixture of engine types, bugger-all aero downforce, steel brakes, manual gear changing, my heroes racing in the rain, engines that occasionally detonate and a bit of doubt as to just who will win any given race. Maybe that’s why I spend way more time at historic racing these days. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper and a hell of a lot more fun than going to Monaco and seeing them troll about behind the safety car.

    For them wot are interested the ARDC/HSRCA are putting on a pretty good historic meet at Eastern Creek on the June long weekend. I know where I’ll be – getting great value for my money. And not a soggy paper bag of shit in sight.

 Sam Snape

 31/5/2016