More haste, less speed, could be key to motor sport thriving in the decades ahead
PUBLISHED: 19:00 28 February 2017 | UPDATED: 10:02 01 March 2017
© Copyright Stephen Waller
It’s an exciting time of the year for motor sport fans.
Whether you are a lover of Formula One, banger racing, stock car, speedway, moto-cross or any of the many nuances of motor sport, it’s now that the season gears up.
Soon we can scream, shudder, cheer, hold our breath, gasp out loud, as the boys and girls who love their sport full-on, fast and with engines, entertain us with their bravery and skill.
Motorsport, in all its guises, is a far cry from football which so dominates our screens, newspapers and radio stations for much of the long autumn and winter months.
I love football, don’t get me wrong. But when March arrives and many motorsports start up, then as far as I’m concerned summer is almost upon us and you can prepare to plant your football boots in the cupboard!
OK, so I’m no big fan of F1, even though I admire the drivers who race at such speeds. Most are well rewarded and while the speeds are unbelievable to witness, I wonder whether it detracts a bit from the spectacle.
Because motor sport is all about spectacle.
There is little doubt away from the track, F1 has got it spot on.
The promotion of the sport is second only to the Premier League, in my opinion, and Bernie Ecclestone has done wonders to create the all-singing, all-dancing circus that it is.
However, F1 and motorsports’ Achilles heel in the future, could be the actual thing that has driven its popularity . . . speed!
While speed can thrill – in sporting terms it can also be a turn off.
Take F1 and speedway for example.
Both exciting sports, with speed at its core. Both reliant on overtaking to exact the best qualities of man and machine, and to thrill the fans.
I was talking to a moto cross rider last season. We were talking about the bikes - the 450cc class and the 250cc class.
This rider rode both, but came out with a very poignant comment.
“I like both classes, but the 250s, while slower, are far more exciting for the fans. There is more overtaking.”
Now read what Lewis Hamilton said just last week as Williams, Renault, Sauber and Force India launched their 2017 cars.
The cars looked mean and this year have added speed – Pirelli developing more durable tyres.
And while the racing is expected to be more exciting, Hamilton clearly wasn’t quite so sure.
“My engineers say it’s going to be a lot harder to overtake,” the British driver said.
“If we see overtaking is worse, it’s going to be worse for the fans, the spectacle will be worse so I’m hoping that’s not the case.”
Lewis has summed up the motorsport conundrum really rather well - and honestly.
Getting that balance between speed and spectacle is crucial.
As many of you know, I enjoy speedway.
It can be as exciting as any sport on the planet. It can also be boring if there is little overtaking.
When I first went to Foxhall Stadium to watch the Witches back in the late ‘70s, the track record was 62.1 - held by John Louis.
Admittedly, today the track has changed shape a bit, making it easier to keep the throttle out for longer, the bikes are clearly quicker and the track record is 55.8 seconds - held by Danny King – eight seconds quicker!
You sit on a speedway bike and open the throttle open for eight seconds and see how far it takes you - in theory King would beat Louis by more than half a lap if the pair rode the same bikes they rode when they clinched their respective track records.
So, do faster bikes/cars make sport more entertaining?
Take a look at banger racing!
Oh, yes the sport the pundits (who have never been) like to laugh at.
Well, laugh they might, but banger racing is an exciting sporting spectacle.
It has bucked the trend at many stadia as fans flock to enjoy the sound of metal on metal, grinding wheel axles and the sheer madness of it all. However, as entertainment it cannot be criticised.
It appeals to all, is not over-expensive and provides hours of fun.
Blimey, I’m beginning to sound like the sport’s PR guru here!
But quite simply, my point is that while speed is thrilling, it does not guarantee excitement. Something for promoters of all motor sports to bear in mind.
Anyhow! From the F1 tracks of the world to the moto cross tracks of Suffolk, I wish all motor sport fans a happy summer.
I’ll see you at Foxhall and Blaxhall... And Monaco of course!