July 4th, 2013 (F1plus/P. Godley).- The two are of course not mutually exclusive, but can they sit side-by-side, hand-in-hand? Can entertainment and safety reside in equal measures to make Formula 1 - wait, scrap that - all forms of motorsport and ensure it remains an exciting, heart pounding yet safe activity? Entertainment is vital, but safety is paramount. Surely?
It's been a tough few weeks for motor sport, with several tragic events highlighting the dangers that still exist within this way of life. Danger is part of racing. It always has been and always will be. The huge strides made in safety, not just for drivers but for every single person at a race track, has resulted in the events of the past couple of weeks an increasingly rare occurrence. Safety is something that should never stop being worked on as ultimately, it is the single most important aspect of this wonderful branch of sport.
The events at Silverstone will have undoubtedly opened the eyes of many to what can happen, with little to no prior warning. 'Entertaining' and 'exciting' were some of the words being bandied around after the dust had settled at Silverstone; and whilst the numerous fight backs through the field we saw from the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa were a joy to watch, the events that led to those fight backs being required were far from 'entertaining' and exciting'. It was dangerous. Tyres exploded. Exploded for goodness sakes.
Thankfully no one was hurt, but it was close. Just ask Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Spectacular, but not in the way we want the sport to be spectacular. It resulted in a safety car period, one that was very much needed to clear the track of tyre fragments and body damage. And talking of safety cars, that moves me on to a slightly different point. Entertainment.
So when it comes to entertainment, what springs to mind? More specifically, what springs to mind on race day? Ah yes, the race. All 300km of it. All 50+ laps of it. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Whether it should return to a marathon of sprints is another matter all together, and one to discuss at a later date.
Sebastian Vettel's retirement 10 or so laps from the end was met with rapturous applause and cheering from a large section of the crowd. The reaction seems a poor do to me, and follows on shamefully from the booing in Canada. Each to their own I guess. But on to the matter at hand; the post-safety car sprint. From a short term entertainment stance these type of races are great. Driver vs driver going flat out to win. But there's always that feeling in the back of my mind that feels the race as a whole has been somewhat tainted.
We see it frequently in oval racing, where being on the lead lap towards the end of a race can put you in just as good of a position as the guy who's been leading since lap 1, lap 10 etc. because of the high chance of a late caution. A long race coming down to a 5 to 10 lap sprint is not always what we want to see is it? Or is that just me?
I like strategy. I enjoy watching what different drivers and teams can do at different times in a race. Had it not been for gearbox failures and exploding tyres in Silverstone, I believe we'd have witnessed a truly brilliant race long battle between both Mercedes' and Red Bulls, but particularly between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Give me a race long scrap for the lead any day.
Entertainment has long been integral to the appeal of motor sport, but has it become the sole reason for many to now watch it? In these times when we seemingly demand everything to be instant, has the aspect of what makes 'feature' racing so appealing - the strategy, the long term thinking involved, the battle of great minds - now been lost on many? Does the Formula 1 of today appeal to a younger audience? Would Formula 1 of yesteryear appeal to that same generation? Is the sport moving with the times? Or should it stick to its roots?
Without entertainment, you don't have fans. Without fans, you don't have racing. Without racing, you don't have entertainment. But first and foremost, we must ensure safety for all parties. Aspects of Silverstone were entertaining. But for all the overtaking, the fight backs and the recoveries, it still left a bitter after taste. Finding that balance between safety and entertainment always has been and will always remain a challenge. As I said at the start, I don't believe the two and mutually exclusive. They can work together and ensure the long term future and success of motor sport. We have had some great races in recent times don't get me wrong, but Silverstone was not one of those.
Can you please everyone? No. But that's a good thing. It means people will always want something looking at. How can we make it safer? How can we make it more entertaining? How can we make it more sustainable? These questions should always be asked, and if they're not being, something is wrong.
Entertainment or safety?
Entertainment and safety.