As we move to Bahrain, our correspondent isn’t enjoying this season much…

BahrainWe don’t expect any of you come to’s Sunday Afternoon Club looking for hard news, so when we post after practice, qualifying or a race, we’re looking for a theme, a story, a pattern that will get us all thinking and talking. Nonetheless, the rules of journalism dictate that we post something vaguely sentient as quickly as possible. So sometimes stuff gets written about which, on reflection, we change our minds.

But not today, four days after Fernando Alonso won the Chinese Grand Prix. At the time I wrote: “Was that a good race or a slightly strange spectacle with a predetermined result largely calculated on various team laptops some time on Saturday night?” At the time I was struggling. The race had been exciting,  yet it was also oddly anaemic.

And a lot of you agreed (here are the comments), so let’s return to the topic and ask once again. Is F1 losing its mojo? It matters, especially to me. I have been watching Grands Prix since 1976.

On Monday a younger chum (at my age most people are younger) and I had a few pints, and spoke about the race. I expressed my reservations. His response was that it was still more exciting than Schumacher’s Ferrari era, ten years ago. If he’d been any older he might have been able to recall other eras when each race’s outcome was similarly predictable; between 1984 and 1993 only those driving a Williams or a McLaren won the title… in 1998 McLaren cars won 15 of the seasons’ 16 races. And I could bore on. My early passion was severely tested by Mario Andretti’s Lotus 79, for one.

And of course, over nearly 40 years, a passion will ebb and flow, and its range will, at least in part, depend on who’s doing the winning. Nigel Mansell’s nine wins in 1992 took some swallowing. But not once did it feel like it does right now. Don’t get me wrong, unresolved anxieties around racing in Bahrain aside, I am looking forward to this weekend. It is still Formula One. I just think a line has been crossed, and the sooner F1 retreats back behind it the better because its soul is at stake.

Personally – and this is just my own strictly unofficial view – I would rather F1 wasn’t racing in Bahrain. But the human rights debate only compounds the fact that F1 feels like a show, not a sport, when the curtain goes up in Bahrain. As it does in China, and Korea, and Abu Dhabi (yeah, even with that scenery), and as it did in Valencia. Singapore and the Circuit of the Americas somehow manage to feel the real deal, like a show that’s been transferred to Broadway. But the others are more like a franchise show on a cruise ship.

Which brings us back to the real issue, the show itself. The Sunday Afternoon Club was not alone in finding the Chinese race overtly synthetic. In what has proven to be compelling diversion from the Bahrain issue it’s been on everyone’s lips this week. F1 insiders like McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh were obliged to step up and to defend the show, albeit unconvincingly.

While I’m certain Whitmarsh has no idea right now which team will win on Sunday (and probably not his own), I didn’t believe him when he claimed that before Sunday’s race started nobody knew Alonso would cruise to victory. Which was the point I made last Sunday.

Come this Saturday, even with Pirelli’s move away from offering the ‘guilty’ soft option this weekend, I bet every team will know exactly what its car is capable of across the race distance and on the obligatory mix of option and prime and also have a pretty good idea of what each competing car will manage. Then it’s just up to the drivers to follow the plan, with double DRS zones ensuring there’s no chance of actually getting stuck behind someone.

Which of course they will all do with ease, as most at the front are driving well within the car’s capabilities, which is maybe why we see the likes of Nico Rosberg so close to Lewis Hamilton and why all hell breaks lose, as it did in Malaysia, when one driver unilaterally opts to tear up the pre-arranged plan.

My young buddy asked me why I still bothered and I speculated it was maybe like cueing up a Bond movie for the umpteenth time, a comforting low level buzz of something unobtainable, something exotic. Then again in 50 years there have been just 23 Bond movies — just over a season worth of F1 races at the current schedule. But Bernie still has time to sign up some plenty more soulless venues like this weekend’s one. Assuming that is, they will still want the show.

Comments are now closed

I have to agree. Bring back Brands Hatch. Surely the home of motorsport can manage 2 races. Hell, Spain does…

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3 different winners from 3 races. Similar start to the season as last year.

I don’t think F1 has lost it’s mojo yet but i’m not sure i like where it is heading. I hate how false overtaking seems to be, either a result of DRS, fuel saving or wildly different tyre wear.

If mojo is to be retained, restrictions on aerodynamics need to be tightened, high aerorestricts how close following cars can get. Encourage overtaking with harder tyres and greatly reduced overall downforce.

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Try following the text-update news (, lap by lap, and it is exciting. Some don’t like Bahrain (good thing you are keeping it unofficial). I, officially, am not a big fan of Monaco GP – those text-updates are really dull.

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no one will read this, but i still wanted to get my thoughts down. i’m fairly new to f1. being american and young, i didn’t have much exposure to the sport growing up. but this is my third season, and second to follow closely. i thought the chinese race was very good. so what if everyone knew alonso was going to win? i did get that impression, but then what happened to massa, who had essentially the same car? he got stuck behind car 1 in the pits, didn’t he? he got shafted out of a potential podium. that, to me, was the untold story of the race. furthermore, kimi maintained the pre-ordained plan and drove his nearly broken car to 2nd place. i thought that was quite good. seb’s run at the end was quite good. so, despite this depressing and poorly written article, i am still an f1 faithful. and in case the author forgot, it is a show. the massive expenses involved shut this sport off from almost even the imagination; definitely from understanding. and that is the spectacle that i download every sunday afternoon. watching impossible people drive impossible cars. i may not be privy to the heritage that the f1 name evokes, but i think it’s pretty good now; as a show and as a race.

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Keith, you have only watched 3 season of F1. I have been around since the Mika Hakkinen days, and even then, which was not an exciting spectacle, it was better than now. I am priveleged to have downloaded a few of the races from the 1980’s and 1990’s, and believe me these men have skill as a result of technical achievements in the cars. The 90’s were about the drivers skill. The teams were good coz they had the money to buy the drivers that suited thier intentions best. I will explain what I mean in these terms. Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Gilles Villeneuve, that was an exciting period. No traction control, no ABS, no driver assists in any way. They drove like champions, 2 of the above mentioned names drove to thier death, fighting to make a name for themselves. Todays F1 has become a little bit of a whiny sport. The drivers complain about almost everything. Granted they are impeccable drivers, but I feel they should get back to the insane days of F1. When a driver complains about the car not being good enough, put him in a car from a lesser team and let him see how priveledged he is in the first place. It has become a little boring.

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I agree with you Jay, its getting dull lately. But instead of restricting things down, Why not encourage teams to go faster than every before? In spirit of the 80s, lets all make cars that are TOO FAST for their drivers. Increase bhp output efficiency instead of consumption efficiency. Unlimited DRS for both front and rear drivers, that’ll spark a chicken race on who’s going to disable it first upon cornering and who’ll put it back on again the soonest. Increase downforce so you’ll see drivers tackling corners at ridiculous speeds, heck we might even see them going too cocky and make a mistake. And of course, with no ABS and assists.

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I think that the actual racing is better than ever, but the tracks that are being chosen by Bernie are getting worse and worse.

The DRS and tires have finally solved the overtaking problem and made it unpredictable. I for one would not have been so confident as to the result in China. Yes, Alonso dominated, but in every position behind him I would not have wanted to place a bet. Vettel and Hamilton is a perfect example, and was one of my favourite moments in F1. Australia was a cracker too. Who would have guessed Raikkonen would win? I didn’t.

But yes, Bernie is slowly ruining things. We are losing the tracks that are actually interesting. The old Hockenheim, Istanbul, Nurburgring, Imola… Tracks that we the viewers, and more importantly, the drivers enjoy, taken because Bernie wants to keep funding his vulgar daughters. I’ve heard that Spa is being considered to be replaced, and if that happens, I might stop watching.

However, there are some interesting tracks being considered. London 2014 is one that I for one am very excited about! He just needs to be more careful and considerate towards the fans. I went to Valencia and hated it. I went to Spa and loved it.

I think that at the moment, we are near the climax of F1. We just need to make sure that we can keep it at this level. New engines next year is something I am really not looking forward to, and if Spa is taken away, with other classics following, I might have to give up my favourite sport. I’m praying for F1!

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being an american who has only been watching the sport for around a year, I like F1, and I have no preconcieved notions of what F1 can and has been. I feel that while overtakes are given rather than earned, the sugary, energised cream always has risen to the top. Even though Red Bull has won the last 3 constructors chapionships, it hasnt been an outright domination like Ferrari and his Schumacherness had, and there is more parity across the board which makes it generally more interesting to watch. I read an interesting article in AUTOWEEK about the buisness behind F1 and the moving to new markets in Korea, Bahrain, and other new tracks. While this is a big money maker for Eccelstone and F1 teams at the end of the season, i cant help but feel sorry for austrian and french F1 fans that have had grand prix taken from them to give to a bunch of people who know nothing about the sport and treat it like a sideshow.

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it hard to know, what happening with F1 as Their
really no competition that can match it on a global scale.
All Amercian motorsports, are domestic based and are
equally boring to watch.

I grew up, in Northern Ireland were Motorbike racing
and Rallying were king.
I was told, that Rally stages are to long for Television
and that why it no longer on free to air television.

it seem to me, that F1 wanted to the global racing brand
and has created this Tyre and DRS format.
TV has to take, a lot of blame for the state of Motorsport
over here as there no other show in town.

the reviewer has a point, F1 is aimed for TV this weather
than a true motorsport.

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I was in Shanghai for P3 and Qualifying and of course race day. I dont think it was quite as boring as everyone is making it out to be. Sitting in the grand stand looking at pit lane on saturday there was no way i would have picked Alonso to win. My bet would have been Kimi. We come to sunday and Kimi blows the start. I surely didnt see that in advance. Nor any of the drama with RB and Webber. I didnt expect to see a Force India on fire, smoke rising over pit lane. The thousands I was sitting amongst surely didnt react to the race as if it were boring. Sure lap 30 something to 50 were a little slow, but thats how it goes. And it seemed to my eyes and ears that after Vettel’s last pit stop, the race was quite exciting. This season also continues the multiple winners over multiple races. I guess people want neck to neck racing ever second. I have watched some old films of Ayrton Senna racing. Not every race was exciting. In fact, many times fans assumed it was going to be Prost or Senna winning. We are only 3 races into the season. Lets give it some time before we say F1 as a whole is getting old.

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I think you’ve made a small mistake: “in 1998 McLaren cars won 15 of the seasons’ 16 races.” I think that should be 1988.

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