Motorsport: World Superbikes series kicks off
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Bernie Ecclestone mischievous.... surely not, writes Bob McMurray
One of the many series starting off the 2018 season last week was the World Superbikes (WSBK).
A superbike is a highly tuned version of a normal road motorbike, compared to the MotoGP bikes that are individually and purpose-built racing machines.
Think World Touring Cars as opposed to Formula 1 cars.
It is an extreme form of racing populated by up-and-coming riders pitting themselves with others who are on the cusp of racing in MotoGP or have just stepped down a rung on the ladder.
The season’s first event was at the wonderful, scenic and challenging circuit of Phillip Island, Victoria — a superb, flowing circuit that brings out the best of MotoGP and WSBK on two wheels as well as the Supercars on four.
For some reason, the Pirelli tyres used for the WSBK championship showed a dangerous amount of wear during the practice and qualifying days. So much so that the first of the two WSBK races was shortened and the second was made a flag-to-flag race, meaning there was a mandatory pit stop to change the tyres for new.
It was an interesting, if unintended, development that resulted in close racing as the riders did not have the need to take care of the tyres as they would if the race was uninterrupted.
Two short but exciting races for the price of one.
Back in 2016, the “master manipulator” of the sport at the time, one B. Ecclestone, put forward a suggestion that instead of one long Grand Prix, the F1 weekend would be more attractive to today’s audience if it were split up to take into account the shorter attention span of the modern young viewer.
He was quoted as saying: “We need to look at the traditional concept of one long race. Two 40-minute races with a 40-minute break in the middle when the drivers could be interviewed, cars worked on, would be attractive to viewers and the TV companies. The sponsors and advertisers would love it”.
Ecclestone was seen as being his normal mischievous self by throwing one of his famous verbal hand grenades out there and seeing what havoc it could cause.
Double points, gold medals, grids spots drawn by lottery and short cuts as a “joker” lap were other notable suggestions.
Perhaps however, as Liberty Media searches for ways to make its vision for the sport into popular reality, it is time to consider Ecclestone’s hand grenade more seriously.
Certainly it would go against all tradition, but Formula 1 traditions have changed regularly.
In the early days of the sport, the races were run over huge distances — and even from the start of the “modern” era races regularly took three hours or more. The limit now is two hours.
It was traditional that cars raced in their national colours and the long-accepted race start time of 2pm UK time has now gone.
Times change, sports change. Just look at the rules for rugby, the surge in popularity of “big bash” style cricket and any number of other sports that, year on year, tweak the way the sport is played.
So, is it time for the tradition of one single Grand Prix race over the weekend to fade away and the sport become more “user friendly” for the gaming age, the “eSports” age or to attract those with the attention span of a goldfish? I hope not.
It is not a tradition that a Formula 1 race takes best part of two hours, it is a necessity.
Despite the occasional tedium of a couple of hours of follow-the-leader racing, the nature of the sport demands that strategy, tactics and planning are integral parts of a Grand Prix and should remain so.
Sprint races have their place but real Grands Prix is what the sport is founded on and should never be given up.