Raise your hands if you think the championship race is over. Let’s see…yep, that’s all of them. On Sunday – and in front of a paltry 36,000 people – Jenson Button once again took the checkered flag first in the Turkish Grand Prix. There are a couple of interesting topics that come out of this race. The first being that Button is now about 98% assured of getting that lovely big trophy at the end of the year and being the second British driver in two years to win the world championship. The second thing is that that figure of 36,000 people is ridiculous and one of the worst turnouts for an F1 race in recent memory. The third is that the political struggle is continuing and the teams will find out their collective fates on June 12.
I forgot to give my predictions last week, but it wouldn’t have made any difference. Jenson Button passed Sebastian Vettel on the first lap when Vettel made a mistake, and proceeded to romp away with the victory. Vettel was then put on a three stop strategy that ended up costing him second place to his teammate. He was visibly, and vocally, disappointed in his race and the team and will be looking for a better race in two weeks. The only person in contention for the title besides Button is Rubens Barrichello, but his weekend went from good to horrible in about three laps. He ended up retiring the car after some transmission troubles. The race was a fairly typical affair with very few passing maneuvers and only Rubens causing havoc on the track.
The bigger disappointment is the paid attendance of only 36,000 people at a track that holds upwards of 150,000. Mark Webber commented that it was a horrible situation and that they should have just opened the gates up to anyone for free. In fact, the track was so desolate, that they had to cover some stands with tarps and remove camera angles so that the television audience wouldn’t notice the empty stands. But let’s face it, they did. Check out some of the pictures below to see the smattering of people in the brightly colored stands. But listen, I know that economic times are tough, but when you have a track that is perfectly usable, and is almost guaranteed to be a sellout, why wouldn’t you use it? Of course I am referring to Montreal and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. As it would be the only race on the North American continent, you can be sure that Canadians and Americans (as well as other international types) would absolutely flock to the track. It’s a shame that it still is off the calendar and Bernie had better figure out something to make it reappear.
However, it may emerge that F1 won’t even run at the track any more. This is because the current teams in F1 (with the exceptions of Force India and Williams) have put in their entries for next season as a collective. This means that the FIA cannot simply allow Ferrari or BMW to join without all of the rest of the teams joining as well. If one is out, they are all out and conversely is one is in, they are all in. The reason for this is the FIA and Max Mosley imposed budget cap that will allow smaller teams to enter the sport. Essentially, they figure that the other teams will end up diluting the championship and that they will have an unfair advantage of customer chassis, engines and transmissions that they can tune to their own specs. This is a big showdown the likes of which have never been seen before, and the FIA has to remember that, even with the big names in the sport right now, they failed to pull in even a quarter of the people it takes to fill the Istanbul circuit. Just imagine how many people are going to buy a ticket next year to see Lola and Litespeed duke it out…not too many. Both parties are taking a big gamble here, and on June 12, everyone will know exactly how they stand. If it does come down to F1 being without the current teams, you can be sure that they will start a breakaway series. I, for one, will watch that as it is more familiar and I already know the major players. The teams are all for budget restraints, but they want the budgets to be restrained over a matter of years, not simply sliced down in a matter of months. Stay tuned to the Formula One circus this week in particular as Friday is the big showdown day. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen, and I’m not even going to predict it as I can see it going either way.