THE big question is this: did you stay up or record the first race? With the new Formula One season upon us, saying yes to the former still affords you an elevated status within the clique of serious F1 fans.

But answer me this: after setting numerous alarms, drinking copious cups of coffee and feeling sore for the rest of the Sunday, was it really worth it?

Sure, new boy Lewis Hamilton did well. Mind you, giving his history and past form in lesser championships, you’d be forgiven for expecting him to be rather good. After all, the race weekend wasn’t his first experience of a Formula One car. Despite his age, he’s practically an old hand.

However, for all the pre-season seat shuffling a red car won. Not only that but its performance put the once invincible Renaults in the shade, Raikonen’s display put everyone in their place. Not even ex-Renault pilot Alonso could get close.

Save for the pit stops, the Finn’s Ferrari was untouchable. And that’s a problem for me. Not the dominance of one team – that’s been done before, but the way the whole race panned out. If it weren’t for those annoying and contrived stops, compulsory in all but name, the commentators would have nothing to talk about. Their job appeared to occasionally light the candle of excitement in an otherwise dark, blustery and dull race.

And not for the first time do I find myself politely criticising Formula One. It’s a sport I used to follow passionately and, once, derive employment from. The sport no longer owes me a living, but it still has a special place in my heart. Which is why I can’t force myself to give it both barrels, although I know it deserves them.

I no longer stay up, matchsticks and coffee at the ready, in anticipation of the first race from the other side of the world. Even title deciders are now viewed when I want, thanks to my TV’s digital recorder. No amount of manufactured pre-race hype can replace the genuine drama that’s sadly missing from a modern race.

With the first race of the 2007 season turning out to be a processional affair, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the year. And when you still hear the commentators bemoan the lack of overtaking opportunities, nothing’s really changed despite the fiddling with the rules in recent years.

Yet sponsorship revenue remains healthy. More teams – not less – want to join the F1 circus and viewing figures are up there with the Olympics and football World Cup. And remember, those two events are once every four years.

So are fans around the world tuning in for the start and finish of the race and disappearing off to do something less boring instead in-between seeing the lights go out and the chequered flag drop? I don’t know, but I that’s what I find myself doing more and more these days.

And until there’s a proper overhaul of the rules, not this current tinkering with engine sizes, the introduction of a single tyre supplier and the fiddling with the qualifying and points system, I’ll continue to hit record and then skip the dull bits at my leisure. Which, ironically, should give me more leisure time to watch more interesting forms of motorsport.

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