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FORMULA ONE - A SPORT OR WHAT?
Oct 31 1998 - UPDATED 23 11 2000
When you suddenly find yourself in your 30's (early I might add, very early!) and realise you can remember something like 25 years of Grands Prix racing, both live and televised, it makes you wonder what on earth has happened in that time.
Frankly it isn't the same thing you watched with your dad, sat on a home made grandstand constructed from step ladders and planks, amid the smell of frying bacon and the mesmerising presence of leggy JPS girls (even at 5 or 6 you can't help wondering how their legs can get that long...). When the fans clamoured for Ronnie Peterson and James Hunt without the possibility of world war three breaking out between the rival factions and you could look at a grid lined up, know every driver by his crash helmet design and not actually HATE any of them, as such.
Mansell Mania was in the future, Schumi-hysteria was unthinkable unless it related to a footballer but on that immortal and very wet day at Silverstone in 1975 when for a few moments the patrioticly liveried Hesketh of James Hunt took the lead, the place went berserk in a fashion that hasn't really changed. Hesketh hats, badges, stickers, flags and teddy bears were everywhere - pity the great man did what most of the rest did and spun! But the enthusiasm was there - fortunately it lacked that over-the-top hatred of "the other guy"who had just been passed. It was, I think, despite all the cigarette coloured cars and everything, still a sport!
I pity the 7 year old fan of today, for he no doubt aleady hates two thirds of the drivers and adores one or maybe two at most. Where 25 years ago any real fan could sit back and appreciate the skill and artistry involved and even if his/her favourite was already out, applaud the winner with genuine enthusiasm, whoever he was. Now it's switch-off time if your driver goes out, kick the telly if the wrong one wins - and that is very sad indeed.
Then you think of the sight you saw before you when a Grand Prix car, all shining and bright sreamed past at full tilt. For a start it was closer, you could see it move about over a sligtly uneven track surface, it drifted as if on ice, the driver obviously having to work at his job and the line of sight was, in most cases,uninterrupted by debris fences. Today the car is probably twice as far away, going faster but looking slower, still screaming(thank heaven for that!) but the surface is a billiard table, the car a skateboard that does not move at all, there is no drift, no deft flick of correction, no poetry in it's motion. It sits there on the track as if attatched by a magnet and if it moves around it's about to crash!
Where is the artistry today? It's inside the head of Ross Brawn or Adrian Newey.
What we have now is a super-effective year-long TV show with good guys, bad guys, rich guys and idiots (you pick who is who in that line up,I am saying nothing!).It runs like a soap opera - think of the all-powerful ring master who controls everything with an apparent midas touch,the crippled ex racer-now mega successful team owner , the good-guy national hero and the bad boy adored by millions - loathed by just as many millions , the kooky, rebelious son of an old-time hero , the billionaires son trying to be taken seriously, the chirpy chap that everyone likes, who's cheated death but STILL never gets much luck ,and so it goes on. It's rivetting and getting perhaps ever more so as the stakes get higher and the elitism knows no bounds.
Like I said it isn't what I watched 25 years ago as a besotted kid, but it doesn't stop me watching today - maybe a litle less besotted, rather more cynical of the whole thing but like an addict who just has to have that next fix.
What a crazy thing is Grand Prix racing - but don't you just love it,despite everyhting?
.text copyright Simon Lewis 1998 photos copyright Simon Lewis 1998
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