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GP Week : Issue 121
GPWEEK OPINION >> So I started to wonder: who is MotoGP’s Senna? Rossi is the obvious candidate. He has done more for bike racing than anybody else past and present – both by personality and achievement, and inside racing by working with the safety commission. Also, he has raised the level of earnings, by leading the field by miles. Which is how he likes things, in general. Rossi has more charm than Senna, but does not wax philosophical. He’s witty too. But he’s no altruist: he’s looking after number one. And in any case, Rossi is Rossi. Too big a personality to wear the mantle of another. There’s another interesting current candidate. Jorge Lorenzo has the speed, and something of the spirituality. Although Jorge’s is perhaps a little heavy-handed and self-conscious. But Jorge is only 24, and only starting his top-class career. He seems this year to have reverted somewhat to his more petulant teenage persona. Wait and see. Looking back, there are other candidates. Wayne Rainey brought a Senna-like dedication to the task of racing, but he was even more inspiring after his injury, when he returned in a wheelchair to run the factory Yamaha team. Whereas Mick Doohan, Freddie Spencer and Eddie Lawson were always busy with themselves, and fun-loving Kevin Schwantz had the talent but lacked the intellectual rigour. Barry Sheene, in his time, had the charisma; and like Senna made great contributions to safety awareness. Sheenie however was a highly political animal, and his interests were more corporeal than spiritual. And he wasn’t that blindingly fast. Maybe then it’s his vanquisher Kenny Roberts. He did more than Sheene to change racing: as co-plotter in the abortive but game-changing World Series of 1980. Kenny also raised the bar on speed, was scientific, and a visionary. The best candidate so far. There is one other difference. Senna’s reputation is forever gilded by the James Dean factor. He was 34 and racing hard in the lead when he died. Happily however all but one of these motorcyclists is still alive, and Sheene died years after retirement of natural causes. Speed pundit Steve Matchett was on hand to educate viewers about what lies under the skin of an F1 car. For many, both huddled for warmth in the stands or watching at home, this will have been their first exposure to what F1 is all about – and an introduction to the 2008 MVP. On the subject of TV, there have been rumours for some time now – which were raised yesterday by the Sunday Times – that BBC cost cutting could force the corporation to cull Formula One, and the £60 million it spends broadcasting it each season, at the end of 2013. This sum is more than the entire annual budget of digital arts and current affairs channel BBC4 (£53.5 million). It’s worth mentioning that the Sunday Times is owned by News International, which is interested in purchasing the commercial rights to Formula One. If the BBC pull out, the price should come down. Williams’ chairman Adam Parr has suggested that FOTA will look to challenge Bernie Ecclestone’s hold on TV contracts when the current Concorde Agreement ends in 2013. “ The problem is that our total TV revenues as a sport are less than $500 million. By comparison, the NFL is $4.2 billion and Turkish soccer is a little bit more than us,” he explained at Montreal’s FOTA Fan’s Forum. “I think it's time that we challenge him.” Ecclestone currently offers broadcasters exclusive rights to show F1 on a country- by-countr y basis, meaning internet streaming and other F1 videos are restricted to the country of broadcast. Easy-access broadcasting does not appeal to Mr E. The entire image of F1 is based on exclusivity and rarity. The traditional white-collar European market has always lapped that up. In America, audiences have struggled to embrace this approach. The future of TV – as most of us web- savvy users understand – is internet based. More so in America than anywhere else. The BBC has raised the bar when it comes to F1 programming, and that includes online. If the Beeb dumps the contract, Speed should take their whole production crew and make our curious open-wheel sport a cross-platform media experience that US audiences won’t miss. And they already know which driver they’re cheering for. MotoGP's Senna? To America, Hamilton is the new Beckham 21