A colleague emails. He has details of another set of races that are more exciting than Formula 1, he says. It’s quick to watch, unpredictable and close, and there’s lots of overtaking. You should give it a look, he says, so I do, and realise he’s got a point.
The protagonists are easy to identify. The lead changes many, many times. It’s fast, it’s action packed and it’s over quickly. As high-octane thrills go, it’s right up there.This magical, mythical racing series? Google ‘beach marble race video’ and you’ll get the idea.
So, no, although there’s more overtaking in five minutes of racing between small balls rolled down a channel dug into some sand on a family holiday than there is in a typical two-hour, pinnacle-of-motorsport, multi-tens-of-million-quid Sunday afternoon romp, marble runs are unlikely to have CVC Capital Partners too concerned that they’re going to be undermined by a phone video of a lazy Thursday in Marbella.
My colleague knows this, too; he knows F1 can afford to be complacent even in the face of the deadly threat of marbles being rolled down a beach – and, more seriously, other genuinely brilliant motorsport, of which there’s lots – because we’ve all invested so much of ourselves in F1 over the years.
We’ve all put so much into it – time, enthusiasm and probably money – that we feel like we own a little bit of it, so when it’s going through a bad patch, we want to see it out the other side. Plus, we’re inherently lazy. In this case, we don’t resist change because we fear it, but because it takes a lot of time to learn all there is to know about an alternative.
Some race series tried to make learning them, and wanting a winner, simple. They wanted to ease you away from F1 gently. Superleague Formula aligned its cars with football clubs, reasoning that, hey, if you like Liverpool FC, surely you’d want a Liverpool-branded car to win a race. (You didn’t.)
A1 GP cars represented nations, in the hope that national pride would make you want to cheer for something other than this shallow, flag-waving puff to all be over, please, and soon. The racing might have been brilliant in those series. I don’t remember. And more important, I – and apparently many other people – didn’t care.
And therein lies F1’s constant advantage. It may be rubbish to watch at times, but it can afford to be. It has simply been around for too long and has established itself into our psyche and consciousness too deeply for other series to pry our attention away from it. However, I do recommend the marble thing – watched between the opening laps and the first set of pit stops.