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F1 must start fighting back

Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle explains why he enjoyed the Austrian GP - and he believes F1 needs to put out a positive message

During each race I’m commentating on there’s always been a tell-tale internal gauge which reveals what l thought about it: I’m occasionally struggling to think of what to say next, or I can be caught by surprise when I see the on screen graphic ‘final lap’ and have to shut up because Crofty needs to do the grand finale as they cross the line.

I wouldn’t pretend that Sunday’s Austrian GP was an all-time great or a classic, but I found it entertaining and the race seemed to pass quickly.

People are going to say ‘well, you would say that, you’re an insider’, but I enjoyed the race and I’m not shy to say so.

Up front, the fight for victory was pretty so-so and one-sided. I received a tweet after the race complaining that the TV coverage was focused on the midfield but, if it was, that was because much of the action there was just brilliant. In particular, the overtakes into turn two and turn five because they were being made without the assistance of DRS. We saw lots of skilful side-by-side racing and to watch them all attacking so hard was fun. 

Sure, it would have been nice if some of those fights were for the lead, and it wasn’t a race that we will be talking about for years to come, but some of the reactions about the Austrian GP on social media was about a race l just didn’t recognise.

Martin Brundle with one-time F1 rivals Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi on the Austrian GP grid
Image: Martin Brundle with one-time F1 rivals Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi on the Austrian GP grid

I saw comments about ‘boring fuel saving’. That’s nonsense because it’s not an especially tough track on fuel and the early safety car meant they could run flat out. Massa v Vettel was full throttle, as was the scary battle between Verstappen and Maldonado.

More from Austrian Gp 2015

There was even a big shunt, in which thankfully nobody was hurt. l did find it somewhat ironic that it featured Kimi Raikkonen after he, quite reasonably, complained that the F1 wasn’t “dangerous” enough. Yet there he was sliding along the wall complete with a McLaren trying to join him in the cockpit.

It was an incident very reminiscent of the accident a couple of years ago in Spa when Romain Grosjean’s Lotus flew over the top of Fernando’s Ferrari, albeit at far greater speed.

Unfortunately, it has become a mantra at the moment to put F1 down – especially from within. Red Bull are great marketeers and so I can only assume that there is an end-goal to what they are very publicly saying about Renault and F1. 

But the problem is that we have let the genie out of the bottle and everyone – the fans, the press, social media – are now ready to bash F1 because we’ve given it a bash ourselves. I just don’t understand why we have done that because the result is that everyone is now looking at F1 from a negative perspective.

In the distant past I’ve been called to the diminutive headmaster’s office to have my collar felt for being even mildly negative about F1. How things change.

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During the build-up to the Austrian GP, Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle is accosted by a fan in the pitlane, unaware that the cameras were live

Silverstone will be a full house next week, but the crowds were significantly down at the Red Bull Ring last weekend and this current spiral of negativity will be very difficult to reverse. 

What it would need is a successful overhaul of the regulations and event format (and we have to open back up the engine regulations to let Renault and Honda catch up, if they know how) and l don’t see that occurring in the foreseeable future unless something happens like Red Bull quit or a couple of teams fold. Only then will everyone focus on the big picture again. 

On the flip side, we’ve been here before with F1 and it’s generally the case that two or three great races on the bounce will quieten everyone down. 

Amid all this doom and gloom it seems to have gone almost unnoticed that heading into round nine of the championship Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are separated by just 10 points – the equivalent of a fifth-place finish – at the top of the world championship. As l said to Nico after the race, I felt that other than for one lap in qualifying he had the weekend covered.

The only shame was that it didn’t rain because l genuinely believe that either of the two Toro Rosso boys, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz, could have finished on the podium. They were extraordinary in the wet in practice and looked like they were in a different category.

As for the under-pressure Raikkonen, Ferrari must now be seriously thinking about what the future holds for him. He just dropped it under power, spinning the rear wheels and then careering into the McLaren and barriers. It was very odd because we saw this issue with his start/launch map mode time after time last season, and now it seems to have returned, as it did in Canada too.

Ferrari must be pondering what they are going to do because there are any number of younger, cheaper, more compliant and possibly better alternatives around. Think of Romain Grosjean, or Nico Hulkenberg, or Valtteri Bottas, while Felipe Nasr is also doing a good job at Sauber.

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McLaren's Fernando Alonso and the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen crash on the opening lap of the Austrian GP, leaving one car on top of the other

There’s a lot of great talent in the sport right now. I went around the track on Friday afternoon to do my piece for commentary and l ended up staying there for another 20 minutes until the end of the session for my own pleasure watching the cars. It was quite thrilling – and that’s the message we need to be spreading. 

Sticking the boss of Honda at the back of the goldfish bowl in the McLaren garage instead of taking him out on track to watch and enjoy the cars on the limit summed up what a poor job we are currently doing of selling F1. I never see a key person trackside.

So now to Silverstone, a venue where they are clever enough to sweat the asset. Silverstone gives something to British motorsport and the industry all day, every day. We’ve lost the French GP, the German GP and now we’re hearing there’s a doubt around the Italian GP.

Silverstone needs more credit for what it brings to F1, but no doubt it will take a hiding at some point over the next two weeks. I’ve been to over 500 GPs and it’s one of the better venues to say the least.

See you there, or ‘from there’ on Sky F1.


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