So as has been spoken, written, even shouted about, it’s the golden weekend for the motor sports calendar approaching – Monaco for the F1, the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca Cola 600. A veritable festival of blaring cylinders, high-rollers and…ummm…Coca Cola. So what more to add to the countless column inches that are out there? Well let’s start with a couple of questions that have been rolling about in my head this past week:
1 – Do F1 fans support drivers or teams?
With all the recent kerfuffle over team orders, naughty drivers and strategic driving ‘for the benefit’ of the employer, I came to wondering whether the average Formula One fan tends to support a team or a driver.
Fan of course derives from the word fanatic. From my own perspective, I think the days of ‘fanatical support’ have been worn away from me with the passing of the years. I prefer these days to have “favorites” rather than the rabid hunting down of any news piece or rumor about a team or driver. Back when I was growing up and fanatical, I went from Villeneuve to Piquet (oh the shame!), and from there to Mika Hakkinen. I’ve always since then had a soft spot for the Finns, and would currently say my support lies with Kimi Raikkonen. So does that mean that I’m a committed “driver supporter”? Well yes….although I’m also a fan of the McLaren team, I’d far rather Kimi won the title than Button or Perez. I’d rather most people won the title than Hamilton. Far be it for me than to be patriotic when it comes to F1!
The point I guess is, that unlike soccer or baseball, F1 falls within the remit of the cult of personality. It ‘feels’ like a sport of individuals, rather than a team pursuit. As fans, observers, critics…..whatever you want to call the millions of people that tune in every week…..it’s the human stories that draw us in. It’s Raikkonen’s radio messages admonishing the team “yes, yes, yes, I know what I’m doing” that make you root for him, rather than the (rather beautiful) black and gold Lotus. It’s the battle of wills between Vettel and Webber, the relentless nature of Alonso, the “what’s he going to say next…..and in what accent” feel to Hamilton.
Oddly enough though, within the team scenario, that’s why you’ll find more fans of Ferrari than you will Mercedes. More plumping for the underdogs Lotus than those at the somewhat grey McLaren. It’s the teams that feel more human that stir the passions a bit. Those that don’t treat the ‘show’ as a corporate vehicle first and foremost.
So in conclusion to this deeply scientific study with a control group of…well…one, I’d speculate that the majority of fans follow a driver rather than a team. So come argue the point, tell me I’m wrong. What and who do you follow?
Question 2 – Is the Monaco Grand Prix, if we’re honest, actually a bit rubbish?
Yes I know, I know, it’s the self-proclaimed ‘jewel in the crown’ of Formula One. Dripping in history and perceived importance, the thought of an F1 calendar without Monaco would be like NASCAR missing Daytona, or IndyCar dropping the Brickyard. However, let’s be impartial for a moment and look at the race without the blinkers on. If the much (over)used track designer, Hermann Tilke, plonked the design of the Monaco track on the desk of Bernie today, he’d be laughed out of the Biggin Hill office with his redundancy check in his pocket. It’s a twisty, dangerous, old fashioned track that’s nigh on impossible to overtake on, with facilities for the teams so poor that the support race paddock sits away from the actual pits, up the hill, turn left…oh yes, we’re here now. Let’s be honest, it’s pretty awful really. Even as a spectator it suffers from having very few good places to actually watch the race from. No, Monaco sits peculiarly on the calendar as F1’s fashion show. A business hub from which to show off. Yes, there have been exciting races there, but those have been dictated more by weather, reliability and mistakes than out-and-out racing. Yes the greats tend to come out on top, but remember between ’84 and ’93 the race was won by only two men – Senna and Prost. Bit boring, no?
Many people fear this weekend that the Mercedes will continue their one lap superiority and lock out the front row once again. The issue being that should they do so, and get away from the line, we’ll have a procession. A Mercedes train. Back to the bad old days of waiting for the pit stops to see any meaningful position change, which is precisely the type of race that we’ve been trying to get away from for the past few years. However, the nature of the Monaco track means that this set of events is highly likely, yet it will be continually forgiven by the establishment because…..well, because it’s Monaco.
Would I like the race taken off the calendar? No, absolutely not. Monaco IS Formula One and I’m a great believer in retaining history. Retaining the soul of the sport. Hence why my ‘racing heart’ bleeds when we lose Spa off the calendar. Why I’d still love to see a race at the likes of Brands Hatch or Zandvoort. Why it depresses me to watch the smooth, tedious curves of Bahrain. However, let’s not pretend Monaco is the peak of F1 racing. It’s not. Were I a fan with a choice of one race per season, take me to Monza or Spa. Every time.
Quick Monaco fact to look out for – if Alonso triumphs this weekend, he’ll become the first driver ever to win the race for three different teams. Now that IS impressive.
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