Although bereft of a Grand Prix, there was no shortage of motorsport action last weekend. In Spain Sebastien Loeb inched closer to his fifth WRC driver’s title; one of the most compelling DTM races in recent history took place at Le Mans; while after 10 hours’ running at Road Atlanta, the winning Audi snatched a victory by less than five seconds in the American Le Mans Series.
There were WTCC, FIA GT and A1 GP races, too. And you could have watched, at the very least, highlights of them all from an armchair in Britain.
Prefer football? There was plenty, and it was good. High points included FC Barcelona destroying Atletico Madrid by six goals to one, Newcastle’s remarkable comeback against Everton and Hull moving to third place in the Premier League with a victory over Spurs. But what about a bit of both? Football and racing?
Superleague Formula is, according to the organisers, “the fusion of the two of the world’s [sic] most popular sports – capturing the passion of football with the thrill and the excitement of motor racing.”
In short, it’s eighteen mechanically identical, 750bhp V12 single-seaters battling it out on the race circuits of Europe in the name of football clubs whose names adorn the sides.
The racing sounds – and is – fine. The cars are fast, the drivers are far from shabby and the racing (there are two 45 minute races per event, a bit like the two halves of a football match, see) is close: in Sunday’s second race at Zolder, only 13 seconds covered the top 10 at the finish.
So why the football sponsorship? Superleague Formula’s ideal is to latch on to the mania surrounding football. It’s not a novel idea and is an optimistic one at best. In general, football supporters care about the performance of their club’s first team; and that’s it.
On average 36,000 people turn out to watch an English top flight side play. Yet attendances at womens’ or reserve team games – competitions with far more relevance to a club’s success – are measured in the hundreds.
So if Superleague Formula is expecting tens of thousands of fans to pop along to a race track on their club’s day off, I suspect they’ll be sorely disappointed. Especially if, as will happen when SF visits Italy in November, the two Italian clubs supporting the series – AC Milan and Roma – both have proper games the very same afternoon.
The big question is who is paying for all this? It’s not the clubs, with so little spare money in football any finance director who directs resources at racing might as well be signing his own resignation.
Liverpool FC’s commercial director Ian Ayre is expecting the club to make money from the venture. "There is a good financial gain there but at the same time it also gets our LFC message out there in front of new markets and new people,” he said.
There is also Superleague Formula’s promise of a million Euro prize fund every race weekend. So exactly where, if not football’s sponsorship, is the money coming from? If there’s a sport with less spare money than football, it is motor racing. The drivers might pay their way a bit but that won’t support a series like Superleague Formula and I’ll be amazed if the TV coverage will.
So is the money coming from the fans? Superleague Formula has declined to answer our questions on this or any other subject but their website suggests punters aren’t propping up the series either.
That may have been the original idea: fans were charged to watch the first three race meetings this season, but tickets have since been made free for the three remaining rounds. It may be the only way to ensure a decent turnout in an already saturated motorsport calendar.
But even if that does answer the question of who is watching it when there’s so much decent motorsport (and football) already out there, it doesn’t answer the question of who is picking up the tab, if even people walking through the gate don’t have to part with any money. Some people expect football’s bubble to burst soon enough, but my bet is that it’ll outlive Superleague Formula’s.