Apply all the polish you fancy, F1 is still both dull and incomprehensible
Samsara, the Buddhist idea of cyclic existence, came to mind this week. Because as we mark the death of this column in printed form, we were drawn to the birth of something: Channel 4’s coverage of Formula One – which, serendipitously, showcases cars going round and round. Like the circle of life, innit?
Channel 4’s first foray into Formula One was a noisy birth. The first image of substance was Steve Jones, the presenter who would do well to quit saying how “cool” everything was, shouting into a headset microphone on a helicopter flown by Mark Webber, the ex-Formula One driver.
“This is incredible,” he gushed repeatedly as the Melbourne cityscape spread below him. It was the worst helicopter-based piece of commentary since that much-shared YouTube clip of Michael Owen, the ex-England striker, doing an impression of a tree while reading from a script espousing the benefits of Dubai for your property portfolio, while pretending to be in a chopper. At least Jones was actually in the air.
Then came the first of many montages, to the soundtrack of the Foo Fighters’ “All My Life”. As Dave Grohl screamed “I love it but I hate the taste”, we were treated to a high-speed run-through of the highlights of last season, including, erm, a couple of crashes and Lewis Hamilton smirking. In fairness, it was a well-produced collection of images – it wasn’t the production company’s fault that last year’s action was marginally better than witnessing your lawn flourish.
And that is the problem that will vex Channel 4, whose first live race is not until 3 April. However much elbow grease Jones, Webber and the rest of the team apply to polishing the product, Formula One itself remains a well-buffed turd. The rules keep changing, the cars are so technologically complicated they would bamboozle an astronaut and the best you can hope for as far as an unpredictable finish to a race is that the “other” Mercedes triumphs.
Webber is part of the punditry team, along with fellow former drivers David Coulthard and Susie Wolff. And the Australian could be a crucial addition. He was forthright as a driver and on Saturday he was no different – making prolific use of “mate” in the passive-aggressive way that Antipodeans do so well, with the meaning about as far from friendship as it could be. And to his additional credit he made sure to turn the conversation towards something interesting whenever the new rules over radios, tyres or qualifying were brought up.
When we got to the action, Coulthard and commentator Ben Edwards were hilarious when it came to the chaotic elimination system. “Ah, perhaps… maybe… I think Grosjean is already out of contention,” Edwards offered midway through the first session, before unsuccessfully attempting to explain the rules. Coulthard countered: “I think we’d be better off trying to explain the offside rule in football.”
They were confused. We were confused. The drivers, as Romain Grosjean admitted later, were “annoyed”. And we learnt that, just as all things are born and all things die, some things – such as unnecessary rules for a car race – need to be put down. As it came to pass.