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Canada Saves Formula One’s Bacon

The on again-off again saga of the Bahrain Grand Prix has raised many questions about the future of Formula One racing. Tom Midwood argues that the recent Canadian Grand Prix has served as a reminder of all that’s good about F1.

The controversial reinstatement of the Bahrain Grand Prix, its subsequent re-cancellation, claims of a dull one-horse championship race, ‘out of touch’ allegations against the formula one boss, and one of the finest races in the last decade… It’s been one of those months for F1.

When McLaren’s Jenson Button outdrove Championship leader Sebastian Vettel to clinch victory on the last lap of the Canadian Grand Prix, it served as a timely reminder to the F1 critics that while it may have its issues, it is still one of the most exciting shows on earth.

Canada’s Grand Prix literally had everything. Set in the middle of regular downpours, the drama started early when McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton collided with Red Bull’s Mark Webber on lap 5, before trying to get past his own teammate (Button) and making considerable contact again, this time damaging his car so severely that he was forced to pull out.

Due to the bad weather, the race was suspended several times and the safety car was being made to do plenty of work, with crashes happening throughout the field. The pit crews were also being made to work hard, as drivers were being forced to change tires constantly in order to adjust tactics and gain as much of an advantage as possible.

But come the last lap there was a familiar sight in Vettel leading the way, with Button sitting a second further behind. However, at turn 6 Vettel nearly spun himself out after drifting off line on to the wetter part of the track, and Button pounced with a superb overtake to snatch a stunning victory.

While this race didn’t fix some of the more pressing issues within the sport that have been drawn to public attention recently, it was able take some media heat off and more importantly, give fans some hope for the future.

Formula One is one of the most publicly scrutinised sports and is used to criticism from areas of the general public, particularly those keen on the environment. And they have a fair point, as in this modern world of resource saving and omission reducing, a sport where thousands of litres of petrol is burnt up within the space of a few hours over a weekend just to see whose machine goes fastest does seem like a massive waste.

It’s also insanely dangerous. In the battle against science, many safety measures are sacrificed in the name of speed and whilst no-one has died since Aryton Senna’s tragic accident in 1994, someone sitting on a flimsy piece of metal flying around a heavily barricaded track at speeds of 350kmph is hardly a leisurely cruise, and drivers constantly walk the line between life and death.

But Formula One has, more or less, managed to keep enough people happy to be seen as one of the premier sporting competitions in the world. That is until recently, when the Bahrain fiasco came to the media’s attention.

After months of civil unrest and some very serious breaches in human rights, the Bahrain Grand Prix was logically removed from the 2011 season. However, in what has turned out to be a commercial disaster, it was reinstated much to the disbelief of just about everyone.

It could only be seen as the F1 chiefs looking for yet another way to add to their millions, squeezing out another, completely unnecessary event to the already crowded 2011 calendar. On top of that, the political and social ramifications for giving support to a country breaching so many human rights laws were extremely damaging, with the morality of the sport being more heavily scrutinised than ever. Thankfully, Head Chief Bernie Eccelstone and his board of directors came to their senses and withdrew the event once again, but the reputation of the sport has definitely been tarnished.

However, Canada did serve to ease some of those issues and, perhaps most importantly, got fans back onto the same side. The background issues are still a cause for concern, especially for the long term future, but F1 proved it was able to take those criticisms and fire back with something better.

Yes, there are insane amounts of money being thrown around foolishly, yes, there are no environmental benefits and yes, it is one of the most dangerous sports on the planet.

But it’s not trying to be sensible and constructive, it’s purely there as a means of fantastic entertainment. And if it is able to frequently recreate the sort of drama, tension and edge-of-your-seat action that keeps you glued to your TV in a state of wonder and exhilaration for three and a half hours, then who the hell cares about the negatives? Not me, for one.

Tom Midwood is a first year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.


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