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Spectator sport

Running on empty

To the casual follower, Formula 1 Grand Prix motor racing has just about vanished from the radar

2 August 2006

6:28 PM

2 August 2006

6:28 PM

It may be fast and noisy still, but it has become drearily predictable, uncompetitive and even, you might say, totally un-hairy. Even obsessive vroom-vroomers, I fancy, are completely cheesed off with their sport. Certainly to the casual follower, Formula 1 Grand Prix motor racing has just about vanished from the radar. Yet on it drones in the background, pitching its same candy-striped executive marquees in various of the world’s seemingly romantic spots a couple of times a month. Britain, once so fascinated, is now oblivious — except for the corporate fat-cat sponsors and, I suppose, ITV, which covers the ersatz, so-called races. Schumacher or Alonso? Ferrari or Renault? Who cares? Grands Prix not so grand — the unmerry-go-round, last week Germany, tomorrow Hungary; at the end of the month it’s Turkey …racetracks, cars, drivers, spectators all pretty much indistinguishable and as each procession follows the next you will be lucky to see a single thrilling overtaking manoeuvre except one achieved, accidentally or on purpose, when a rival driver is making a pit-stop. Infuriating, too, is that, by the month, the regulators seem to break off from counting the sponsors’ loot to tweak the rules in a harebrained search for phoney excitement.

The most grievous charge of all is that Formula 1 has blown its heritage, sold its soul. No game is worth the candle that does not nod occasionally, and with a grateful warmth, back to prehistory and its founding fathers. Motor racing has forsaken such verities. For instance, this summer was celebrated the notable centenary of the sport’s first Grand Prix — Hungarian Ferenc Szisz winning the two-day 64-miler in a big red, boneshaking 90hp Renault AK 90CV at Le Mans (average speed 62.9mph). Yet have the Formula 1 bigwigs, 100 years on, remotely bothered with any balloons or birthday bunting to signal the event? Not a peep of recognition, say my friends in the know. Sole interest is in modern riches; not rich lore and legend. This Monday, 7 August, nicely, is the precise 80th anniversary of the first British Grand Prix, but I’m told there was not so much as a sniff of a birthday cake at the 2006 event at Silverstone in June. The very essence of their sport is being wantonly tossed away by the narrow-eyed bottom-liners who now control it. What a pity.

Not that the romance of motor sports — ah, the din, the oily rag and the whiff of kerosene — has really been my bag. And danger and speed most assuredly have not. As a driver, I’m perfectly content at being overtaken by lolloping Herefordshire tractors. Down the years, nevertheless, I know how Formula 1’s devotees care with a passion and vigour about their sport and its inescapably significant heritage in both technology and personality. I relished looking up details of that first British Grand Prix on 7 August 1926 at the Brooklands track near Weybridge. A French driver, Robert Shénécal, won in a Delage (av. speed 71.6mph) and two Brits with names still to conjure with when it comes to intrepid dash, Capt. Malcolm Campbell (Bugatti) and Maj. Henry Segrave (Talbot) were respectively runner-up and logger of the fastest lap (85.9mph) — and the un-bylined Daily Telegraph motoring correspondent whooped with patriotic pride the fundamental story of the day: ‘It was a tribute to England that even the French cars all used Dunlop tyres, which well withstood the gruelling treatment of constant and severe braking to negotiate the 880 hairpin bends.’ Already the sponsors were coming.


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