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  Monday, 16 September, 2002, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
A failing Formula
The viewing figures for Formula One

At last there is a rival to the pace of Michael Schumacher.

Unfortunately for Formula One, it is the speed at which the sport's TV audience figures are falling and not another driver.

Since the German claimed the championship with victory in France nearly two months ago, armchair viewers have switched off in their droves.

Just as the competitive field has so regularly shrunk to a distant speck in Schumacher's rear-view mirror, ITV1's following is similarly diminishing.

A drop of 600,000 viewers on last year's total of 3.6m was recorded for the Belgian Grand Prix two weeks ago.

The outcome of the "race" goes a long way to explaining the fans' apathy.

Michael Schumacher celebrates another drivers' title
Schumacher's success is tiresome for the fans
Schumacher cruised to another victory with his Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello in second place.

It has become highly predictable - like Arsenal scoring in a League match or Anna Kournikova failing to win a singles title.

But it is the manner of the Italian manufacturer's superiority as much as their dominance which has led to the indifference.

Team orders have been evident this season, most notably in Austria when Barrichello surrendered certain race victory to Schumacher.

And it is exactly that kind of decision which has robbed Formula One fans of any last drop of excitement.

OK, so we know the Prancing Horse is going to gallop to victory, but can't we at least be allowed to make a wager on which jockey will be first past the post?

It was not always like this.

True, F1 has a history of being dominated by a single team for two or three years.

Dynamic dual

But when McLaren reigned supreme in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there remained a very real competitive edge.

And it was provided by the men who comprised the McLaren team - Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost - particularly in 1988.

That season, McLaren were victorious in 15 of the 16 Grands Prix, with eventual champion Senna winning just one more than Prost.

In effect, a riveting contest between the best drivers in the best team.

Any chance of a similar spectacle between Schumacher and Barrichello this year has been crushed by Ferrari's tactics.

And F1 has been the poorer for it.

By contrast, the Cart series appears to have all that F1 currently lacks - unpredictability, a near-level playing field, and four different winners in the last five races.

The flow of traffic departing ITV1 may well have consisted of dissatisfied fans heading for BBC TWO's coverage of the Rockingham 500, Europe's only Cart race.

Dario Franchitti is delighted after winning the Rockingham 500
Franchitti is one of the Cart stars
And if they did, they would have been rewarded by a remarkable race which was won by Scotsman Dario Franchitti in thrilling style.

He clawed his way through the field after suffering a clutch problem that dropped him from fifth to 16th place, to achieve an incredible victory.

Just how long has it been since F1 has offered comparable edge-of-the-seat action?

What is really needed is a serious challenge to Schumacher's supremacy.

If rival teams fail to provide it, then why not from within Ferrari?

In-depth guide to the 2002 Formula One season

Race statistics

On-track action

News from Monza

Analysis

Jonathan Legard

F1 2002
See also:

13 Sep 02 | Formula One
Links to more Formula One stories are at the foot of the page.


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