Oct 6, 2008
Desperate Times, Desperate MeasuresBy JR Nerad
In the Great Depression, Major League Baseball turned to night games to renew the flagging popularity of the sport and allow hardworking Americans to continue to sample the National Pastime. Now with the world gripped by economic uncertainty, fueled by the housing collapse and ensuing credit crisis here in the United States, Formula One has turned to similar measures to try to prop up its flagging economic fortunes.
Yesterday, Formula One held its first night race in history. The Singapore Grand Prix started at 8 p.m. local time, a schedule meant to ensure that the race could be shown live in Europe on Sunday afternoon, its accustomed spot. The drivers were wary of the safety implications of driving under improvised floodlights at a track designed for daytime racing. And Singapore’s constant threat of rain added to the trepidation. But in this instance, money trumped safety concerns.
Now, Formula One honcho Bernie Ecclestone is trying to persuade the organizers of the Japan Grand Prix to move their race into a similar evening time slot, again to accommodate European TV. (The relatively tiny number of American F1 TV viewers isn’t even a consideration.) Since Ecclestone quite often gets his way on such matters, you can expect the change to a night race will happen. To Ecclestone, it doesn’t matter much if Japanese F1 fans are inconvenienced by having to attend the race on a Sunday night, as long as it helps retain television revenue.
The lingering economic fears have F1 teams worried about future funding. As we have reported in this space about the climate for American racing, a downward dip in the economy -- or even the fear of it -- will send reverberations throughout the racing scene.
“I think it is going to affect all of us,” Toro Rosso’s co-owner and former driver Gerhard Berger told BBC. “If you look at new sponsors coming into Formula One, it is very seldom, especially the big ones. As I see it, it is not going to be easy for the next two years.”
We wonder if Ecclestone has ever thought about the fact that nighttime television viewing is generally larger than viewing on Sunday afternoons. If he has, do you think a nighttime Monaco Grand Prix is in our future?
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