200mph attempt to beat London traffic

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2012, 12:00am


You can tell it's the British Grand Prix this weekend because there are lots of news articles in the UK press about the possibility of a Grand Prix in London. It's long been a topic of discussion, and the idea got legs a while back when nigh on half a million people came to watch F1 cars strut their stuff down Regent Street.

This year's commotion started as a publicity stunt. McLaren sponsors Santander came up with a video of a virtual track around the capital dreamt up by the team's drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. The idea is certainly eye-catching, a track of just under three and a half miles taking in such global landmarks as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, The Mall and Piccadilly.

Remarkably, given it's a street circuit in the middle of one of the world's busiest cities, it's estimated that three-quarters of the lap would be at full throttle. At the launch, Button mused: 'There have been times when I've been sitting in the back of a black taxi and idly thought to myself, 'This would make a pretty good corner on a racetrack.' '

The boy obviously never switches off from the day job. It could, of course, have been frustration at the speed at which London's traffic normally moves. It's estimated that a lap of this fantasy track would take about one minute, 43 seconds. In Jenson's black cab it would be more like one hour and seven minutes. And you might need to be a grand-prix driver to afford the fare.

F1's boss, Bernie Ecclestone, was quick to back the idea (no doubt to the glee of Santander's executives). He said he would pay the GBP30 million (HK$365 million) costs of organising the grand prix each year. This is a good measure of his enthusiasm, given that's how much people normally pay him each year to stage a race.

Mind you, Bernie being Bernie, it's not all altruism, as he would more than likely make three times that amount from 120,000 spectators and advertising around the track.

So will the grand prix be anything more solid than a video game? There is a tendency for Bernie to get what Bernie wants in this world, so maybe. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, hasn't laughed the idea out of court. Silverstone will be relieved that it would be an additional grand prix in Britain rather than a replacement.

However, there is a great deal of scepticism too. One national newspaper decried it as vulgar and not becoming of London. 'Leave that sort of thing to Monaco,' it said rather sniffily, 'the home of super-wealthy bad taste.'

As Monaco can attest, there is one problem that may put the mockers on this plan. Some of the busiest roads in London would have to be closed for 10 days. That may not go down too well with your average Londoner.

How much Formula One coverage on TV is too much coverage? I suppose it depends on how much of a petrolhead you are. Still, even as an ardent fan there has to be too much of a good thing. As a former presenter of Formula One in Asia for Star Sports, I know how important good coverage of the sport is.

The channel did, and still does, provide preview and review programmes around the race itself, with the brief to explain all that is happening in the sport and in that particular race.

But imagine having a dedicated F1 channel. It is some people's idea of heaven and others' idea of hell (my wife included). As the British Grand Prix looms, Brits have just that. Satellite channel Sky Sports is covering the sport for the first time this year (in a sharing deal with the BBC), and has its own F1 channel.

Technically, it's brilliant. It's poached some of the best talent and there are some great archive programmes and in-depth interviews with greats of the sport. There are some excellent magazine programmes, too. But I wonder how much of the live stuff gets watched.

How much of an anorak do you have to be to watch Thursday practice, the driver conferences and the like? Hell, I love my F1, I've presented enough of these programmes, but how many people do you think tune in just in time for the presenters' grid walk 10 minutes before the red lights go out? Probably the majority.