In a way, the BBC’s decision to end its F1 coverage three years early, on money-saving grounds, is immaculately timed, however regrettable it feels.
For one thing, today’s races are really only contests between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, and in identical cars at that. And even these battles have become tainted: for a third of them Hamilton hasn’t even needed to put his back into it.
For another, the “British interest” that has reliably attracted local audiences is in rapid retreat. Those with longish memories will never forget the mass appeal and huge audiences generated by “our Nige”, but there’s nothing like that now.
Despite his third championship, Lewis Hamilton’s following is in decline. For all the he’s-finding-himself excuses used to account for his increasingly weird dalliances with dogs, haircuts, earrings, tattoos, funny hats and woeful rap music, it is clear he has lost the interest of the public; the Beeb’s own Sports Personality voting made that clear.
Jenson Button still does a great job (and ironically, might still become a programme-saving element of the new BBC Top Gear), but listening to him putting a brave face on finishing 12th - again - has become a sad part of Sunday afternoon, not entertainment or enjoyment.
Worst of all are the worries most of us lifelong devotees harbour about the direction of the sport itself. The racing isn’t a pure contest. The noise still isn’t right. Efforts to control costs have worked in reverse, which makes it a particular disaster that many sponsors are in reverse. F1’s unintelligible collection of rules, penalties and general bureaucracy would do credit to the civil service of a banana republic. And it’s not even a given that the best drivers find their way to the F1 grid, because as far as teams are concerned, money is a much more of a winning element than skill.
Will future drivers be heroes just for having wealthy sponsors? Sounds like it.
Do you know what’s worst of all? It’s the fact that the sport is governed and run by men of great age, with vested interests every bit as old as they are. People only leave when they die. F1 may have a reputation for immaculate organisation, but it hasn’t seen a new broom in decades. And it needs one every bit as badly as FIFA.
All of which brands poor old Bernie Ecclestone’s lame observation that “the world of Formula One have moved on” as he announced that Channel 4 would henceforth carry the BBC’s ragbag of direct telecasts and highlights shows, as one of his most ironic utterances ever.