On the road to Damascus?

I have been wondering whether Bernie Ecclestone might have travelled to Damascus of late. Admittedly, it is not a likely venue for an F1 race given that it is in the middle of what is best described as an ugly civil war, but I use the expression in relation to what appears to be a very sudden conversion to new ideas. The reference to Damascus, for those who don’t get it, is based on the celebrated conversion of Saint Paul from being a rather nasty and zealous Christian persecutor, into one of the leaders of the Christian movement, after an apparently dramatic moment “on the road to Damascus”.

Bernie said the other day that he now understands the need for F1 to be more active in social media and it is clear that things are happening in this respect, with F1 film clips popping up every day on Youtube and other activity, notably on Facebook. In the words of Saint Paul, “Amen!” This is very good news for the sport because it means that there is now a chance that new fans can be found, even if they have get their wallets out to watch the sport behind its paywalls.

Bernie has also said that, “really and truly we need at least six” races in the United States of America. Now, it is no secret that Bernie wants to push up the number of races to 25 (which is easy if you don’t attend them) and dangling the carrot of a US invasion would make this easier to achieve with the F1 team. However, it is still rather airy-fairy concept as there are not the promoters out there to do this, nor would the F1 teams countenance 25 races without a vast amount more money. So if F1 is to invade the United States, we need to lose a few of the less strategically-important events elsewhere.

At this point, I think we also should point out – and praise – Lewis Hamilton for having been named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2016. This is really quite an achievement for a Formula 1 driver and it underlines the fact that Lewis’s unusual lifestyle is good news for F1 and critics should really stop grumbling and saying that it affects his competitiveness. Lewis is a big star and we should appreciate what he does. I see no real sign that his lifestyle affects his performance. Yes, Nico Rosberg has won all three races this season, but Lewis has not been lucky and I am sure that it won’t be long before we see him fighting back.

It is also worth noting that being named by Time has been great for F1 in other respects. The subject of Hamilton came up on the CBS News This Morning show, which may be the third high-rating breakfast show in the States behind ABC’s Good Morning America (around 5.1 million) and NBC’s Today show (4.8 million), but it still attracts around four million people every day. The co-host Charlie Rose is already a huge Lewis fan and the programme wheeled in Nancy Gibbs of Time magazine to explain who was on the list and why. Obviously, there was a question about Hamilton, because F1 is not big news in the United States. Gibbs explained it thus: “Formula 1 may not be the most-watched sport in the United States, but that is not true in the rest of the world and if F1 ever becomes a big thing in the US it will be because of someone like Lewis Hamilton.”

Charlie Rose closed the segment with the words: “we need more F1 races in this country and American drivers in them.”

Amen to that as well.

To put all this into perspective, British Prime Minister David Cameron was not on the list, although France’s Francois Hollande and Germany’s Angela Merkel were, both being deemed to be more influential.

This all coincides with rumours that things are happening for F1 in California, while Ecclestone has talked (as usual) about something in Las Vegas. It is clear that no permanent circuit in the US can afford the work required to be up to F1 standards, except if one of the big circuit-owning companies were to be involved (which is unlikely given their links to NASCAR), so F1 will have to rely on temporary circuits, unless there is another Circuit of the Americas out there somewhere…