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Saturday 2 August 2014

Sparks fly in latest Formula One's stunt to lure fans

Daniel Johnson

Published 21/06/2014|02:30

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Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso of Spain smiles during a press conference in Spielberg. The Austria Formula One Grand Prix will be held on Sunday. Photo credit: AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson
Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso of Spain smiles during a press conference in Spielberg. The Austria Formula One Grand Prix will be held on Sunday. Photo credit: AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson

For a minority, sparks have flown on and off the track on Formula One's return to Austria. But for most, the mood has been a bit like the weather in the Styrian mountains yesterday: drizzly, confused and with big clouds hanging overhead.

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F1 trialled its latest quick-fix idea in practice yesterday, installing titanium skid blocks underneath one Mercedes and one Ferrari to try to bring sparks back to the sport for the first time since the early 1990s.

With the sport's chiefs alarmed by falls in TV audiences in Germany, Italy and South America, it is all part of an attempt to improve the show.

If the results from Nico Rosberg's car were underwhelming, then the reaction of most watching could be characterised as: "Why?"

Decades ago the cars produced sparks because they were running extremely close to the ground. Here they were making bright lights because the F1 Commission decided it was a good idea.

Another suggestion is to dramatically alter the safety-car procedure and introduce standing restarts. No one seems to know which way to look next for the latest knee-jerk proposal.

REDUCED

Two weeks ago the compression of the race weekend into three days, with significantly reduced practice time, seemed a dead cert. Now that plan is for the shredder.

Ever since the debate around the new engine noise began – the latest idea is a double exhaust, with a built-in 'megaphone' – the sport has got itself into a state of perpetual self-flagellation.

The fundamental problem is that the dominance of one team (Red Bull) has simply been replaced with the dominance of another (Mercedes).

Fernando Alonso agreed with this sentiment: "The show that we've put on this year is not good enough in some of the races. Also, when one team is dominating as much as Mercedes, the spectators prefer some more action."

One thing F1 does seem to have got right is its return to Austria and the resplendent Red Bull Ring. Despite all the corporate branding, the enormous bull statue in the centre of the circuit, and the renaming of the Niki Lauda curve after a German tool company, there is something about this charming little venue which marks a reconnection with the sport's more relaxed roots.

But even a new track can't change the pecking order this year: while Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton continued to dominate, Sebastian Vettel got the closest he has done all year to a victory 'doughnut', only this time with a 720-degree spin on the pit straight. Red Bull will struggle to challenge at their homecoming. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

AUSTRIAN GRAND PRIX, LIVE, TOMORROW, SETANTA IRE/SKY SPTS F1, 12.00pm

Irish Independent

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