Sport Comment: Predictability of F1 makes US expansion plan look risky

John Inverdale
SOMETIMES being too good just isn’t good for a sport. I dutifully switched on the television for the Korean Grand Prix yesterday morning, glanced at the leaderboard to see that Sebastian Vettel was in front yet again, and duly switched it off.

In fact for 209 of the last 213 laps of this year’s Formula One campaign, it’s been the same story: the indefatigable and engaging German taking part in one race, while everyone else competes in another.

It’s like going to the theatre to see a whodunit, except that in the opening scene someone stands up and admits it was them what dun it, so you can all go home now.

We have returned to the era of Schumacher in F1 terms. Or the days when Pete Sampras used to win Wimbledon with such regularity. In the end, the floating voter floats off to other forms of entertainment until such time as the word “competitive” returns to that particular sport’s vocabulary.

So this is perhaps not the best time for F1 to be extending its portfolio yet further. The provisional list of 22 races for next year includes the so-called dream race in New Jersey.

But is this really the time to be expanding into the traditionally ambivalent American market, when so many teams are struggling financially and the races are so predictable? Shouldn’t more energy be expended into making the sport a more egalitarian spectacle? Will a motor racing public fuelled by the cut and thrust of NASCAR really feel engaged by a Vettel-led procession even if the backdrop is the magnificence of Manhattan?

At a time when millions of non-grand prix fans are flocking to the cinema to see Rush, a film about James Hunt and Niki Lauda, it’s worth remembering the old American music-hall saying that “show-business without the show is just a business”. That’s where F1 sits at the moment to those of us who get tired of tyre-changing.

Barring a plague of locusts enveloping his car, Vettel will be crowned world champion next week, and there is a rather dispiriting inevitability about it. Which is unfair on all his team who should be lauded for just being better than the rest. Of course, if Bernie Ecclestone could arrange some locusts, then we really would have a show. And then we might all watch for more than a lap.