We are living in truly unique times. The country is baking beneath wall-to-wall sun, a giant ‘Donald Trump Baby’ balloon is set to fly over London, Atomic Kitten is belting out on every street corner, oh, and England are in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
Unbelievable scenes, as the kids would say, and these will continue tomorrow at three o’clock when the eyes of the nation will be transfixed on Gareth Southgate’s team. They meet Sweden in Samara for a place in the semi-finals, something not achieved since the halcyon days of Italia ’90 and plans to watch it, alongside nerves, are forming across the land. The only strip of England where it may be a struggle to see the game will be at an old airfield in Northamptonshire where qualifying for the British Grand Prix clashes with the start of the match and, ridiculously, nothing has been done to accommodate for this.
Normally I would oppose any altering of the schedule for a sporting event as major as the British Grand Prix, but these are unique circumstances – not only a World Cup, but an England quarter-final. Formula One does not exist in a bubble and so it would be naïve for Formula One Management (FOM) to not have realised how thoughts will quickly turn elsewhere during even the early stages of qualifying on Saturday.
The magnitude of a major World Cup match will so obviously affect viewing figures and evidence from the Austrian Grand Prix shows as much. The second half of the race directly clashed with Spain versus Russia, a last-16 match with less importance and home significance than the impending England game, and the results were stark even then. Channel 4’s average audience was their worst for a European race since Belgium last year while Sky’s was their worst European audience since Abu Dhabi in 2015.
Moving everything forward on the day by just 30 minutes to an hour would make a huge difference for those watching on television who will be impacted much more than those already in attendance at Silverstone but, for some reason, this has not been implemented.
England may have a poor recent record of progressing in major tournaments, but the impact of the World Cup is huge in the UK even for non-England games and, with a major European country in the 3pm time slot on Saturday likely no matter what, the knock-on effects will have been the same. World Cups do not just suddenly appear, kick-off times are known about for years even if the F1 calendar was finalised long in advance of the tournament draw in December.
In the modern ‘on demand’ world there are other viewing options, but live is still king and a simple bit of foresight would have prevented the entire issue from arising.
For petrol-heads everywhere the clash may mean that it will be a while until they can feel whole again.