Gimmick’s introduced to ignite sparks into television ratings- going too far?



Since the dominance of Red Bull Racing began arduously chipping away at the television ratings of Formula One last year, it appears that each week we have seen a new “quick fix” in an attempt to improve television ratings.
The fact is viewings have dropped due to the somewhat monotonous results, despite all the hope surrounding this year’s dramatic power unit rule changes, Red Bull’s dominance has simply transferred to Mercedes with seven of the last eight races having been won by the dynamic duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.
A new attempt to enthral the viewing public was introduced during the last race at the Austrian grand prix with the inclusion of titanium blocks attached to the bottom of the two Mercedes and one Ferrari, designed to recreate the ‘Golden Age’ of grand prix racing by artificially producing sparks as the block contacts with the tarmac.
The concept of returning to the Golden Age of racing is what most Formula One fans are dying for these days, but the clue is in the title, the fans want racing not artificially constructed devices that make it appear as if the cars are racing.
Yes, sparks flying from the bottom of the cars is exciting, but only because it illustrates that the cars are flying so close to the limit and low to the ground. It is not simply the presence of bright sparks that elevates the adrenaline of Formula One fans – it is the on-track action, of which the last few seasons have at times failed to produce.
Evidence of this was shown during last week’s Austrian Grand Prix. I, personally, did not notice the sparks at all as I was focused upon the spectacle the race itself was providing. The fight between Williams and Mercedes was just what the doctor ordered as Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas provided the first non Mercedes one-two of the season in qualifying on Saturday.
The joy experienced as Williams locked out the front row highlighted more than just the delight at seeing a change of faces on the podium. As one of the oldest and most respected teams in Formula One history only die hard Mercedes fans could begrudge their success.
One of the most contentious rule changes this season has to be the introduction of double points for the final race in Abu Dhabi, introduced to prevent the championship being wrapped up several races before the end of the season, as we saw last year with Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing.
Arguably this makes sense, but it hits to the very core of the issue of balancing entertainment and the integrity of sporting endeavour which every sport has to deal with. The fact of the matter is if there is interference with the results of the championship then it undermines the very nature of this highly demanding sport.
The concept of a driver being faultless all season and then losing the championship due to an unforeseeable or unavoidable incident in the final race, while his competitor gained double the amount of points, is uncomfortable for most fans.
Luck has always played a part in world championships, but this is bad luck doubled by bad timing. Everyone will have an unlucky moment during the season but the person who suffers bad luck on the only race which has double importance will have suffered a double whammy.
Double points for one race throws up other issues as well such as why Abu Dhabi? Why not the “classic circuits” such as Monaco, Silverstone or Belgium which are considered by most to be some of the most challenging races for drivers.
It’s the concept of one race win being worth more than another that baffles, all wins should be considered equal as each driver has fought to be the best of the field that day and the rule has been universally unpopular with fans and drivers alike.
The intrusion of commercially motivated gimmicks is uncomfortable for a sport like Formula One, give the fans racing it’s what they sign up for.