Sunday, 21 June 2009

British Grand Prix

For reasons that are not particularly important, I found myself on the road during the build-up to today's Grand Prix. When this has happened in the past, I have harnessed the power of Sky Plus and observed radio silence until I have got myself up to date. Today, however, as we were in the car for a couple of hours, I decided to listen to the pre-race nonsense and the race commentary on BBC Radio Five Live.

As it's our home Grand Prix, the BBC had pulled out all the stops and sent Eleanor Oldroyd onto the pit lane, from where she would anchor the afternoon's broadcast. I like Oldroyd – she has experience and ability, and is very well regarded – but she sounded a little overwhelmed as she mingled with the drivers and the celebrities, and presumably avoided Martin Brundle.

I lost count of the times she told us about the accreditation she had which allowed her access to "the paddock, the garages, the very grid itself." I appreciate that this is her first time down there, but when compared to the insouciant Brundle, she came over as a bit of a giddy schoolgirl.

The odd thing about Five Live’s coverage is that they are also paying lip service to other sports so, unlike the television coverage, there were occasional distracting trips to Lord’s to catch up on the women’s cricket.

When the race started, David Croft did a very good job of relating the action and keeping the audience updated with what was going on. When you consider the fantastic amount of data swirling across the screen, not to mention the action itself, it is no mean feat to keep a listener informed. I was impressed.

As was predicted during yesterday's qualifying session, this was a race dominated by Red Bull. More specifically, their young driver Sebastian Vettel bestrode the weekend with a complete performance that invited comparisons with Michael Schumacher.

Starting from pole position, he got to turn one ahead of Rubens Barrichello and led all the way to the chequered flag. His teammate Mark Webber finished second, fifteen seconds back, although he might have given Vettel more of a challenge had he not been held up by Barrichello for the first twenty laps. By the end of the race, a further twenty-six seconds separated Webber from Barrichello in third place.

Jenson Button started poorly and found himself stuck behind the heavier car of Jarno Trulli. He eventually pulled himself to a sixth pace finish but was never in contention. Despite Barrichello’s performance, there has definitely been a transfer of dominant status from Brawn to Red Bull this weekend. What will be interesting now will be Brawn’s ability to react, and, if that fails, whether or not Button has done enough in the first half of the season to hold off the challenge of Vettel.

McLaren's bad run continued as Lewis Hamilton could only finish sixteenth, and Heikki Kovalainen failed to get to the end of the race. The BBC seemed desperate to make the point that, despite the relative failure of the two British drivers, the Silverstone crowd were indefatigable. Praise was given for the standing ovation afforded to the brilliant Vettel as he completed his lap of honour.

I find this more than a little patronising, albeit unsurprising from the BBC. They expect British fans to support British sportspeople to the total exclusion of any appreciation of sporting excellence. This belief is betrayed across their sporting broadcasting – from World Cup football, where half-time of a Spain-Italy game is seen as a good opportunity to have a report from England’s training camp; to the woefully jingoistic Olympic coverage where British medal performances are looped endlessly across the network, and other astounding performances are ignored because they have no impact on our sceptred isle.

Much discussion also, across the BBC, of the imminent departure of the British Grand Prix from the historical site of Silverstone. Next year’s race is due to happen at Donington, but Ecclestone yesterday revealed that Silverstone was on stand-by, should the extensive (and expensive) renovations at Donington fail to be completed on time. The fact that he has acknowledged this so publicly suggests that his faith in Donington is on the wane. Last year, when he made the decision to move to Donington, he said very clearly that there would be no British Grand Prix if Donington weren’t ready on time.

This is a perfect example of the fluid relationship that Formula One’s bosses have with decisions. There are no such things as definites in this game. That’s why I don’t think there will be a breakaway championship next year. The teams have clearly decided that they want a bigger share of the money and are flexing their muscles, but ultimately, everyone will be better off together.

The British Grand Prix this year was a pretty one-sided affair, but from my perspective, it was a novelty. Despite my enjoyment of the radio experience, I do feel somewhat empty without getting my fix of Brundle doorstepping Chief Engineers and Heads of State. In fact, by the end of the race, I had made it to a television and enjoyed the usual back-slapping of the post-race interviews.

I observed with some interest Rubens Barrichello grinning from beneath a goatee beard. Am I the only one that thinks this gives him a disturbing similarity to David Brent?


  1. If this year has proved anything, it's that the driver is now a very small part of what makes a successful grand prix team. So why ae they still lauded as the heroes of the thing?

  2. I can't stand Brundle. Bitter old egotistical fart.

  3. I have developed a grudging affection for him.