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GP Week : Issue 231
The 2015 F1 Drivers’ Championship came to its relatively predictable conclusion in Texas, but once more it was a few drops of water which provided the ingredient for a really entertaining and unpredictable race and an upbeat environment for Lewis Hamilton’s crowning. As Formula 1 wrestles with its issues – from engine supply to spiralling costs and public reaction to its latest hi-tech spec – another world championship concluding at the weekend provides a stark contrast in so many ways, although it also provided a British champion. A week after one of the best MotoGPs for some time at nearby Phillip Island, Melbournians were treated to the final round of the World Speedway GP series, at a superb temporary oval laid out in the city’s second-biggest sports stadium. For the second time in a fortnight, the best in their craft provided edge-of-seat action that had just about everything: excellence, controversy, elbow-to- elbow action, and even a post-race punch-up after one particularly robust heat. The top three riders in this year ’s Speedway championship are an interesting trio: champion Tai Woffinden, an enigmatic young star, who takes Lewis’ adoption of body art and ear-wear a fair bit further; Greg Hancock, the 45 year-old American good-guy legend, who cleaned up on this occasion with a seven-win ‘maximum’; and Nicki Petersen, the seasoned Danish bad-guy, subject of several post-race clashes this year as a result of his penchant for ignoring the ‘racing room’ philosophy and riding rivals into the fence! The contrasts between the event structure and machinery of World Speedway and F1 couldn’t be more stark: the speedway provides 20 heats, two semis and a final, all of four laps, each lasting less than 90 seconds. The governing body has resisted the high- tech push that characterises much of motorsport – other than some minor tweaks, speedway bikes are pretty much as they were 50 years ago, with single-cylinder 500cc four- stroke engine, hand clutch, and, er, of course, no brakes. Combine that with a specially-laid dirt track which changes character through a three- hour programme and you have a spectacular recipe. Among the crowd in Melbourne was serial bike speedway fan Mark Webber (who proudly has one of Aussie Jason Crump’s championship-winning bikes in his garage). What is it that attracts him? “It is true competition at its best. Every rider goes up against each of the others through the heats, the races are short and sharp, and these top-level guys are ... brilliant. “They’re so good that to some degree it disguises just how difficult it actually is to ride and race in the way they do. There’s a few nasty moments anyway, but if this was, shall we say, riders of a lower league trying to ride at this level, there’d be crashes all over the place ... “The fact that the bikes have stayed true to their original concept and, on dirt, they’re dealing with a grip level that’s changing, all adds up. I love it.” It’s true. When a rider is all crossed up at the apex of a corner, and his left elbow is grazing the front tyre of the rival trying to get inside ... that’s spectacular. Is there anything each – Speedway and F1 – can learn from the other? Speedway has, like sports such as soccer and tennis, kept it simple, with no significant deviation from its basic framework, both of bikes and regulation, thus maintaining great stability. Air fences have been the single major advance in safety – but there’s no massive run-offs as in circuit racing. Screw up and you’re in the (slightly softer) wall. Is it time for F1 to draw a line under some sensible tech areas, literally freeze much of the spec of F1 cars and concentrate on ‘the show’? Or is it, as F1 says, the tech development that attracts the manufacturers (and thus the money) to F1? Do we care? Certainly, there are no major ‘headline’ or household brand manufacturers in speedway and its economy is correspondingly modest by comparison. What is the key thing that Speedway, and MotoGP for that matter, have in contrast to F1? Actually, I believe it’s the relatively low grip level. That’s why, when it rains at an F1 GP, you generally get a great race. Maybe it’s time for the big, fat, lower-grip tyres that served F1 in the 70s/80s to return? Or maybe Bernie’s seemingly wild idea for sprinklers ain’t so crazy after all! Anyway, congrats to Lewis. I don’t necessarily ‘get’ Lewis – the bling and changing hair colouring and all that ... it must be a generational thing – but the young man deserves full respect for joining the elite triple world champion’s club. Yes, for two years he has been in the best car, but so were many other former champs, and, like his idol Ayrton, he’s had a competent team-mate or two to deal with along the way. OPINION chRiS LamBDEn BRITISH WORLD cHAMPIONS GALORE (PS DON'T MENTION THE RUGBy ...) ABOVE: Top pair – Greg Hancock, 45 year-old Speedway legend (left and in action right) and 2105 world champion Tai Woffinden 13 GPWEEK.com // 13 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION