On the Wednesday before the British Grand Prix, eight Formula One cars took to the streets of central London in the early evening. Juan Pablo Montoya turned up in a Williams, Jenson Button appeared in a BAR, Christiano da Matta pedaled a Toyota and even Nigel Mansell was tempted out of retirement to drive a Jordan.
It was a public relations triumph and prompted widespread mutterings about whether there should be a Grand Prix of London in 2007, when Silverstone's contract runs out. All the drivers and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone declared their support and the idea was even supported by London's loony-left Mayor, Ken Livingstone. Great fun was had planning a route that would take cars down the Mall and up past Trafalgar Square.
It's all complete nonsense, of course. A parade is one thing, a fully fledged race quite another. Even assuming that London's crumbling infrastructure could support such an event, it is incredible to think that a London street circuit would ever be safe enough to satisfy F1's stringent regulations. One can only imagine the reaction of Her Majesty if part of a McLaren landed in the Buckingham Palace gardens
But while you're more likely to see a Baghdad Grand Prix than a race in London, the whole PR shebang was hugely revealing. No fewer than half a million people turned out to watch on a Wednesday evening and the event had to be curtailed because of crowd congestion. The numbers were wildly more than even the most optimistic estimate and served to confirm, once again, the extraordinary popularity of motorsport's premier category.
At the best estimate, more than 300 million people watch each race on television and these figures show little sign of diminishing. As one of Renault's senior marketing boffins told me recently, "You just can't achieve that sort of exposure through advertising. Formula One takes us into markets that haven't even heard of Renault. People start dreaming of a Megane before they even know what one is."
His logic was undisputable-Bernie's empire remains one of the world's great superpowers-but the question is, "Why?" As a racing spectacle, Formula One stopped being entertaining about a decade ago. The dominance of aerodynamic over mechanical grip, coupled with electronic aids such as traction control, has murdered the spirit of sporting endeavor.
Towards the end of the recent British Grand Prix, McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen found himself behind the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher. The over-excited TV commentator declared that this would be a titanic battle to the finish, but regular viewers new that this was tosh. Unless Michael made a horrendous mistake-about as likely as meeting Elvis-then there was no way that the personality-free Finn was going to get past. And so it proved-Schuey won his 10th race of the season by 2 sec.