Formula One is in danger of dying unless it respects its traditional circuits by keeping them on the calendar. That was the stark warning from the former world champion Damon Hill as he arrived at Monaco for the most glamorous, most celebrated race of all.
Hill said: “The hardcore that has fuelled the sport since its inception is Europe and it’s being pulled out by its roots. If you pull something out by its roots it will die. That’s my fear. Places like Monza and Spa are part of the sport’s fabric.”
F1 is exploring new tracks and a new grand prix is being planned beside the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan next summer. “I don’t accept the idea that you can drop the sport from a great height into places that are just trying to buy into a more up to date lifestyle,” Hill said
“F1 has gone to China but compared with golf it hasn’t made much of an impression there. It’s so exclusive and expensive and people are asking: ‘How can I play this game?’”
There will be no German Grand Prix this year and serious doubts have been voiced about Monza’s place on the calendar when the Italian circuit’s contract runs out in 2016. There has also been concern about the future of Spa in Belgium in recent years, while the French and Portuguese grands prix are fading in the memory as F1 places money-making ahead of cherished traditions.
The danger of losing some of motor racing’s most historic homes is only one of Hill’s concerns. He has not been impressed by the statement from F1’s strategy group, which has discussed a return to refuelling in 2017, even though it would make the racing more predictable as well as raise safety concerns.
“I don’t think refuelling is a good idea because it’s going back,” said Hill, the world champion with Williams in 1996. “They got rid of it for a reason. For me the big area where they can improve is to make it possible for cars to get past each other on corners. Barcelona was a killer because it’s so difficult to overtake.”
Hill, an analyst for Sky Sports, was speaking at the circuit where his father, Graham, won five times – second only to Ayrton Senna’s six – including a hat-trick of victories in 1963, 1964 and 1965.
Television ratings have declined and strategy group talks to revamp the rules ended in farce, with none of the major issues affecting F1, such as fairer prize money, being resolved.
Hill, whose comments come in the wake of the drivers launching an online survey asking fans how they would improve F1, was scathing in his criticism of the FIA and would like to see the governing body show more of a lead in fashioning a more exciting spectacle. “It would be nice if Formula One gave off more of an impression they cared more for the people who are paying for it. The FIA appear to have had their balls cut off, basically, because they don’t seem to be able to impose any governance on the sport.”
Lewis Hamilton will start Sunday’s grand prix on pole, the first at Monaco of his career, after his Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg blew his hopes of a qualifying hat-trick. Rosberg, winner from pole for the past two years here, qualified in second in an overcast final session with rain threatening. “It’s been a long time,” said an elated Hamilton, whose only win in Monaco came in his 2008 championship year with McLaren from third place on the grid.
The Monaco Grand Prix will be shown exclusively live on Sky Sports F1 12.30
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