Will Gray

Gray Matter: Shortcut to success?

Will Gray

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When Bernie Ecclestone announced his latest idea to spice up Grand Prix racing earlier this week it made a few jaws drop - but are shortcuts a crazy concept or could they be the future of Formula One?

Many different ideas have been put forward over the years to try and make motorsport more exciting; and, while many fans feel the chess-like strategic contemplation on the pit wall is as much part of the sport as the high-speed wheel-to-wheel action, there remains a focus on finding a way to create more overtaking.

The concept of KERS, which offered a high-speed boost for drivers with the system on their cars, was a step too far for some. It was seen as a contrived way for drivers to power past less fortunate rivals who did not have the system onboard.

Even before that boost button, though, there were similar systems designed to give drivers some extra speed when they needed it most, including dials in the cockpit to change the fuel mix and launch control buttons on the steering wheel paddles to ensure a perfect jump off the start line.

Ecclestone's latest ideas were brushed off by some, but the did cause the kind of reaction he was hoping for from others.

"This is not a game," exclaimed Lotus driver Jarno Trulli. "This is a sport."

Indeed, it does smack a bit of Super Mario Kart or a Scalextric set. But, like Scalextric, the real F1 cars seem to run on rails - so why not throw something in to add a bit of uncertainty, a bit of excitement?

Sport in general seems to be doing this more and more each year. Tennis took a step towards the contrived when it introduced its appeals system, where if the player did not like the umpire's decision they can contest it.

New technology has allowed accurate measurement of whether the ball is in or out, and when a player launches a challenge the replay is viewed in the stadium to a great "ooooooooooohhhh!" from the crowd.

Win, and the decision is overturned; but lose too many times and the challenges are all out, there is no way left to dispute.

Cricket followed suit with a similar solution that allows batsmen to contest their dismissal.

This appeal is much more private, aimed less at getting the crowd going and more at getting the decision right, and once again there are limited opportunities to use this system if you get it wrong.

Football, too, is inevitably going to introduce goal-line cameras sooner rather than later.

Yet Ecclestone's suggestion is very different.

All the aforementioned systems give competitors the chance to see justice done when a wrong decision has been made. They may be new ideas, but they are aiming to make pure performance a greater factor than luck and judgement.

Ecclestone's shortcuts seem to do the opposite, adding in a luck factor that makes things more exciting but takes away from the skill of the driver.

That said, it could be argued that offering drivers a certain number of shortcuts per race would add to the strategy that many people like in the sport.

Yes, it seems contrived, but so were fuel stops, so are tyre stops and so, some argue, are the penalties handed out at races on some occasions.

Fundamentally, though, the shortcut idea won't happen; and that's because it is merely the latest example of the cunning negotiating technique used by Max Mosley and the FIA in the past.

Just as Mosley did with his budget cap, Ecclestone has put forward "a number" of proposals along with his outrageous shortcuts idea.

By offering a completely ridiculous suggestion in the mix, he hopes the rulemakers will feel his other ideas are more sensible to vote in, even if they are still at the outrageous end of the scale.

Trulli's reaction proved it works. Let's just hope Ecclestone's other ideas are not so crazy...

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