European Grand Prix 26/08/08

It is often said in F1 journalism that the television viewer can only grasp a certain amount of the big picture when it comes to any particular Grand Prix weekend. There are of course a multitude of websites and publications that allow the more interested viewer the benefit of an experienced journalist or analyst's insight on the weekend's events. However if you are strictly a Sunday afternoon viewer, what would you have seen of the European Grand Prix in Valencia?

First of all, you would have been greeted by lavish praise being heaped on the brand new Valencia circuit by the drivers, teams and ITV team. The location is of course breathtaking, and the unique features of the track such as the bridge make it a special event. The aerial shots of the track were impressive, no doubt. The track itself has some superb high-speed sections which were enjoyable when viewed from in-car cameras. However, most of the race was at track level and from that level the racetrack looked incredibly dull. Just rumble strips, fencing, featureless walls and run-off areas. It was very reminiscent of Champ Car races on temporary street circuits. Viewers may have been quite disappointed that the whole event wasn't slightly more visually appealing and as breathtaking as they were led to believe it would be. Monte Carlo can certainly spoil a person's visual perception of how a street event can be presented.

Unfortunately, the racing did not make up for the lack of visual stimulus. There were of course mighty impressive performances to be witnessed, such as Sebastian Vettel's 6th place for Toro Rosso (formerly Minardi let's not forget), Felipe Massa's domination of the event from lights to flag, Lewis Hamilton's solid drive to 2nd while suffering the after effects of illness and Timo Glock's rise to 7th by virtue of a good 1-stop strategy. However, when you compare the top finishing positions to each driver's starting position, it makes for grim reading…

Felipe Massa, Started 1st, Finished 1st
Lewis Hamilton, Started 2nd, Finished 2nd
Robert Kubica, Started 3rd, Finished 3rd
Heikki Kovalainen, Started 5th, Finished 4th
Jarno Trulli, Started 7th, Finished 5th
Sebastian Vettel, Started 6th, Finished 6th
Timo Glock, Started 13th, Finished 7th
Nico Rosberg, Started 9th, Finished 8th
Nick Heidfeld, Started 8th, Finished 9th
S├ębastien Bourdais, Started 10th, Finished 10th

Out of the above, five drivers (half) finished where they started. The only reason Heikki and Nico finished one place above their starting slot is because of Kimi's retirement. Obviously these details have been manipulated to suit my point, but you get the picture. The TV viewer would not have seen any interesting top 10 passing moves…because there weren't any. There was a terrible case of field spread and therefore the much vaunted three main overtaking opportunities provided no passing of note. Raikkonen's aforementioned retirement and Ferrari's dodgy pit work were the closest we got to any sort of drama or interest. It makes you wonder how many viewers were lost to the closing ceremony of the 2008 Olympics.

This was a wonderful opportunity for Formula 1 to net a whole new selection of viewers who may or may not have been aware of a brand spanking new event on the marina-lined streets of sunny Valencia. What they received sadly was a very dull spectacle on a track that only really showed its beauty from high in the sky, and even the eventual winner was not clear! Felipe Massa, having been released into Adrian Sutil's path after his second pitstop, came under investigation by the Valencia stewards. The rules are pretty clear; if a driver is released into the path of another driver in a manner deemed to be unsafe then there must be a penalty. It was not close enough to the end of the race to warrant waiting for proceedings to come to an end before deciding the punishment. So not only did viewers not know for sure if Massa and Ferrari would keep the victory, they were confused further by the fact that the letter of the law was not exactly followed with Ferrari not being punished there and then with a drive-through penalty.
Later on, Ferrari and Massa were allowed to keep the victory but were fined 10,000 Euros for their misdemeanour. You could argue that had Ferrari been penalised, the letter of the law would have been used to defeat the spirit of the law, as they thoroughly deserved their victory. But rules are rules, and Formula 1 has enough complicated rules that viewers are unaware of, let alone ones that aren't even being followed.

As for the spectators who actually attended the event, well their interest would have dive-bombed before the first lap was even completed. This was due to the fact that Kazuki Nakajima's collision with Fernando Alonso lead almost immediately to Alonso's retirement from effectively 2008's second Spanish Grand Prix on lap 1. Considering that the only reason Spain has two annual F1 events is Alonso's immense popularity in Spain, the guaranteed ticket sales and fever his success has generated for F1, those spectators will have felt hard done by having spent their hard-earned cash only to see their hero involved in a first lap collision. That however is what they call a racing incident, which is also a very suitable analysis of the European Grand Prix of Valencia. Not so much an 'event', just more of a 'racing incident'.

Incidentally, there wasn't much racing after lap 1…

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