Rain on Ecclestone's parade
It was March 1 but it could have been April 1, a date known as "April Fool's Day" in some parts of the world, a silly spot on the calendar when pranks and hoaxes and merry japery are to be expected.
Bernie Ecclestone, the chief executive of Formula One, was quoted on the organisation's website as suggesting F1 could boost excitement at its races by "making rain".
Go on, Bernie. You love to wind us up!
No, really. F1's 80-year-old boss apparently believes that into every race a little rain must fall.
Essentially conceding that some F1 races turn into parades, he said: "Overtaking is almost impossible because in the dry there is only one line good for maximum speed because of the rubber on the track.
"You have a completely different picture when it is wet. We always had the most exciting races in the wet so let's think of making rain."
Making rain? Ecclestone continued: "Yes. There are race tracks you can make artificially wet and it would be easy to have such systems at a number of tracks. Why not let it 'rain' in the middle of a race? For 20 minutes or the last 10 laps? Maybe with a two-minute warning ahead of it. Suspense would be guaranteed and it would be the same for all."
Mark Webber, the Red Bull-Renault driver, a day later was asked if the sport needed rain and whether he was in favour of it. "No and no," he said, and added that two former masters of wet driving, Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna, "would be turning in their graves if they thought we'd have sprinklers lined up around the track".
That was followed, however, by expressions of approval by several F1 figures for what came to be called "the rain button".
Paul Hembery, the motorsport director for the tyre-maker Pirelli, told The Daily Telegraph: "The idea is not as daft as it sounds. You could argue that running at night under lights is a gimmick. But Singapore has turned out to be one of the most spectacular races of the season."
Johnny Herbert, the former F1 driver and columnist for The National, told The Sun: "Many of the best races the past few years have been when it has rained."
And John Watson, another former driver, said: "I proposed this to Bernie in 1994! Fans want to see exciting races where drivers are made to work."
Sorry, but artificial rain? We got stuck back on "daft".
If Ecclestone believes gimmicks are the way to go, we have some ideas that hardly seem to register any higher on the Daftometer.
• Two-way traffic. With, perhaps, a two-minute warning, teams and drivers would be told that they will double back on the track, creating traffic in both directions. Think that wouldn't be exciting? Half the field coming back at the other half? And when the race is in a left-side-of-the-road country like England or Australia, drivers would follow local custom and adjust accordingly. Quick, Mark Webber: is this race in Singapore or Germany? Left side or right?
• Traffic lights. Tracks could be required to erect two or three traffic signals around the course. For perhaps the last 10 laps, the lights would be activated, and anyone "running a red" would get a drive-through penalty. Imagine the panic stops by some drivers and the accelerator-jamming "I can make this light!" by others. Riveting.
• Fans on the track. Pull five ticket stubs out of a hat before every race and invite the winners to return from the grandstand to the vehicles they left in the car park. After they fetch their SUVs and Camrys, they would queue at the end of the pit lane and at a signal drive on to the track. Imagine the F1 drivers manoeuvring around the civilian interlopers. That would require skill.
• Junctions. No stop signs. Just junctions. Drivers would have a clear field of vision to their left and right as they approach, allowing them to choose to speed up (or slow down) - to avoid spectacular wrecks. Also known as the "figure 8" or "game of chicken" gambit.
• "Drag" racing. But in this case, the F1 cars are towing caravans. How does one pilot a Ferarri through a hairpin while hauling a mobile home? This should separate the best from the rest. Especially if it begins to "rain".
• Let nature take its course. Under this option, F1 races would be left open to the vagaries of weather fronts and downpours. Rather like the real world. Who knows which races might be interrupted by a summer squall? Imagine the tension as teams study the Doppler radar, hoping to deduce when rain might douse the track.
Wait. That last one is the current situation, is it not? And F1 just had, by acclamation, one of the most exciting seasons in its history. Perhaps, then, the status quo is the way to go. With the added benefit of leaving Jim Clark and Aryton Senna to rest in their graves.
Updated: March 7, 2011 04:00 AM