FIA President Jean Todt has delivered his clearest message yet that the governing body is serious indeed about spicing up the spectacle in the top flight and making races more exciting, by arguing that monotonous and processional grands prix such as the 2010 finale in Abu Dhabi are turning fans away and as such are 'unacceptable'.
Todt has expressed his fears in the light of the revelation that the sport's global television audience figures are in decline. As he embarks upon seemingly yet another collision course with F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone, the Frenchman pointed the finger for that slump at the overtaking-limiting design characteristics of some of the modern circuits, singling out Yas Marina in particular, after Ferrari's Fernando Alonso spent the best part of 40 laps trying and failing to find a way past Renault rival Vitaly Petrov back in November.
“Races like Abu Dhabi in 2010, where you cannot overtake, are unacceptable,” he told German magazine Auto Motor und Sport
. “Recent data indicates a fall in the numbers of spectators. People have many choices in how to spend their leisure, and every day we must ask ourselves how we can improve the entertainment.”
Ecclestone has been a persistent champion of Abu Dhabi's state-of-the-art street circuit, one that joined the F1 calendar in 2009, and Yas Marina chief executive Richard Cregan contends that the FIA should be examining the older venues on the schedule as well as the frequently-criticised newer additions.
“We are looking at various track modifications that we have to do for MotoGP, and also what impact they would have on F1,” underlined the former Toyota team manager. “We want to be active in terms of increasing the spectacle.”
Another item on Todt's agenda of late has been the lack of visibility of the drivers in grands prix, explaining: “On television, I can hardly tell who is at the wheel of each car. Only the experts know the helmets, and many drivers change their design race-to-race. NASCAR does a good job – a driver, getting a starting number that he keeps for all his career, is immediately identifiable by the fans.”
Meanwhile, the erstwhile Ferrari team principal has defended the move towards 'greener' technology from 2013 onwards – another initiative for which Ecclestone has betrayed little enthusiasm, readily conceding that he is 'anti, anti, anti, anti moving into this small turbo four formula' since 'we don't need it' and 'it's nothing in the world to do with F1' [see separate story – click here
“One day, governments will prohibit certain types of cars or engines,” Todt reasoned. “The FIA needs to demonstrate that it is moving forward, even if it brings us no new fans. The bigger you are, the greater the role model you have to be.”