Change Alley

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F1. FU.

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I promised myself I’d ignore it, but I failed. The grotesque circus that is Formula 1 motor racing is on the move again. The 2008 season has kicked off in Australia, with Britain’s golden boy Lewis Hamilton winning the Melbourne Grand Prix. Now everyone’s off to Malaysia for Round 2, the juggernauts and executive jets spewing out even more CO2 on top of what’s generated by the actual racing.

I hate motor racing. I hate the waste, of time, money, energy, resources. I hate the way it glamourises speed. I hate the way it turns a practical activity, getting from A to B for a purpose, into a mindless sideshow involving driving round in a circle for hours on end. I hate the way the drivers are idolised as super-heroes, when they’re really just overpaid, obsessive, prima donna control freaks. I hate their chav baseball caps and overalls covered with decals and logos for their sponsors and whoever else can afford to buy space on them and their cars for whatever products it’s legal to advertise wherever we are this week. I hate the way they waste perfectly good champagne.

Some might say that racing drivers are highly skilled athletes, and I wouldn’t argue. I’m sure they’re tough as nuts, what with the heat and the G-forces, and being able to drive at such speeds with such small error margins is admirable in its way, I suppose. What I find so depressing is the sheer banal pointlessness of the whole thing. Take that fitness and stamina and do something useful with it; join the army or a conservation group. Use those skills for the good of all; drive an ambulance or a police pursuit vehicle. Or a bus.

You might argue that motor racing benefits us all because technical innovations developed for the F1 circuit eventually show up in production vehicles. I’d be more impressed by that point of view if Grand Prix were contested by family hatchbacks, powered by hybrid engines, using regenerative braking, backed up by roof-mounted solar panels. I’m aware there are species of motor sport where the vehicles look a bit like the car on next door’s drive, apart from the fins, spoilers, internal roll cages and what’s under the bonnet. They are, however, as different from your bank manager’s Nissan as Lewis Hamilton’s McClaren.

2006 Spa 2CV 24 Hour raceThe idea of racing ordinary cars does have a certain vicarious appeal, as it obviously does for the Hamilton-worshipping oiks who stage suburban street races on Friday nights. Citroen 2CVs are still raced in France, although as this photo of the 2006 2CV 24 Hour race at Spa shows, they’ve been modified a little! The excitement generated by Top Gear’s regular slot Star In A Reasonably Priced Car shows there has to be mileage in this. Funnily enough, this season’s rule changes banning exotic gizmos like traction control and electronic driver aids made Melbourne one of the most entertaining races in years (so I’m told), with tonks galore and less than a third of entrants finishing.

Perhaps, if motor racing did reflect the real world, with identical Toyota Prius‘s chasing each other round a simulated urban circuit, I’d start watching. Better still, have half the entrants driving the other way. Even Lewis Hamilton might find that challenging.

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Written by Pete Smith

March 17, 2008 at 1:05 pm

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