The 2009 season could mark the first time a championship has only featured one British driver. From the sport’s beginnings back in 1950, the Formula One World Championship has attracted many Britons and never before have we seen only one British competitor sign up to the official entry list. Of course, we are still awaiting for Scuderia Toro Rosso to fill their final seat, and Jenson Button may still make it if Honda are purchased. But so far, the signs don’t look too optimistic.
This sorry state of affairs comes at a time when Britain should be embracing motor sport, not making fans worry about the future of the British Grand Prix, seeing two British-based teams withdraw in less than a year and potentially seeing two British drivers having to sit out due to these withdrawals. Incidentally, Super Aguri refugee Anthony Davidson was hopeful for a Honda role before they too pulled the plug.
Even if Jenson Button managed to make it to the Melbourne grid in March, only seeing two Britons in Formula One is fairly rare, an instance of which has only happened twice in the last 58 seasons (’04 and ’06). At times in the ’50s and also in 1981, the field came close to only fielding two Brits, but somebody always managed to qualify for a race to make it three-plus.
The problem with motor sport in the UK is funding, support and encouragement. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that motor sport is expensive, and with the government unwilling to put its hands its pockets for the sport, the situation is unlikely to see any real stability for a long time. Combined with Bernie Ecclestone charging extortionate fees to hosting circuits and refusing to listen to those who want revenue shared out fairly, it isn’t any surprise that Formula One could be dwindling in the UK.
Of course, the sport has plenty of British fans, and passionate they are too. The sport is on the increase in terms of viewers, but the very foundations it rests on are in trouble. Silverstone was continually slated by Ecclestone until the billionaire finally signed a deal with Donington Park (and the suspicions still rumble on about this).
Also, some former British drivers seem to be frowned upon with some regularity. Sir Jackie Stewart has been called a “certified halfwit” by the FIA president, Martin Brundle was almost sued for suggesting a McLaren “witch-hunt”, Damon Hill had the carpet pulled from under him as the British Grand Prix was moved without much warning…
Despite all this though, the 2009 reigning world champion will be a Briton, and Lewis Hamilton will proudly line himself up on the Australian grid in March with a number 1 emblazoned on the front of his McLaren. However, how far McLaren get into the campaign before the dubious penalties rear their ugly head is anyone’s guess. Hopefully, with a more transparent policy from the FIA, this can be avoided.
It would be great to say that Formula One has a bright future in the UK; circuits, drivers, teams… At the current time though, it appears to be a little overcast. The British Grand Prix is in some doubt, Prodrive are apparently unable to enter Formula One and be competitive and financially secure. As for upcoming drivers, the 2008 GP2 season fielded a couple of British hopefuls, but it will be some time before they can progress into the pinnacle series. Some may have even missed the chance entirely.
So what do you think of motor sport in the UK? The fans are certainly there, no question, but in terms of hosting events and fielding teams and drivers, is it dying out? Or do you think the turbulent times will pass to leave the British contingent stronger? The comments are open, so please have your say.
Image © Reuters/Stephen Hird.