Formula fucking One. Sorry to start with such profanity, but those three words neatly sum up my views on the subject. Every year, right about now, I get reminded about the never-ending sequence of non-events that is the F1 racing calendar.
It annoys me for so, so many reasons that I feel the need to list them numerically rather than simply rant about it free-form:
1. It is boring as fuck. You can’t escape this fact when considering motor-racing. As far as I’m concerned, it is little more than a high-speed parade of funny shapes covered in corporate messages. The majority of the time, they aren’t even racing. They’re practicing, or taking part in time trials, or actually parading around behind a safety car. There is very limited “action” on the track over the course of a weekend, and it says an awful lot about any sport when the spectators wish for crashes and fireballs – sacrificing their idols simply to create something worth looking at.
And can you imagine actually being a spectator at the race track, instead of watching on TV? It is my idea of hell on earth. Petrol fumes burning the inside of your nostrils, your bald spot exposed to the whims of the weather, ending up either sunburnt or soaked in torrential rain (sometimes both!). All suffered through so that you can wave a giant flag declaring your allegiance to something as soul-less as a car manufacturer, and in the end, you get to see precisely jack-shit. The cars speed past the grandstands at such velocity that you can’t even discern which car is which. Did Vettel crash somewhere round the back or is he in the pits? Is that guy in the lead or is he being lapped? You don’t know and you’re pretending that you don’t care.
Curiously enough, most other forms of racing aren’t this unenjoyable. I must confess that I don’t really see the point in the 100m sprint during the Olympics or athletics meets, but at least it is over quickly. There is little nuance to it, just 8 guys going for it full throttle. But whatever. I’m happy to watch Mo Farah run around in a circle 25 times because, hey, human beings get tired. They sprint, slow down, catch people up all the time. Things happen. Cars go as fast as possible all the time, until they finish the race or end up in a ditch.
2. The BBC have completely sold out for F1. I like the BBC. I feel incredibly proud that I contribute directly to the largest independent broadcaster in the world, and I feel sad when I hear that they are cutting back something or other in light of lost funding or similar. It makes me even more sad that, in light of this, someone in charge agrees to spend a metric assload of cash securing the rights to a single sport. The main channels rightfully try to show a diverse selection of programming, so we can’t expect to see live sport all day and all night, and yet try to name another sport which gets 6 hours of weekend airtime on BBC1 for 3 quarters of the year? Every now and then Wimbledon takes over the station, and the 6 nations makes a cameo this time every year, but aside from special events like the World Cup or Olympics, there is almost nothing that can compete. Even football is (joke alert!) relegated to late night Match of Day showings, unless the FA cup has thrown up an interesting match-up.
The BBC have decided to throw all their eggs in this one, rotten basket, and are now making a huge deal out of the perceived success. They’ve even fired the children’s presenter who anchored the shows last year so that Suzy Perry can chase Eddie Jordan and “the JAW” around the pitlane. Poor Suzy Perry. She is, I understand, a genuine enthusiast for this sport, but she has been hired specifically because she has better legs than Jake Humphries and your dad fancies her.
3. There isn’t a single likeable personality involved in the sport. I’ve always thought it was a pretty big conflict of interest that the OWNER of the sport (not sure how you can “own” a sport, but go on) is also the guy that makes all the rules. Are we supposed to believe that we’re watching the greatest sportsmen of our generation when the rules are constantly being tweaked to engineer results that generate ratings? It’s a bit difficult to swallow. We cheer (or you do) while some old guy, already wealthy beyond your ability to comprehend it, gets even richer from advertising cigarettes. Plus the drivers are either outwardly unpleasant, smug, sycophantic weirdos, or expressionless mannequins who seem unable to conjure up any sense of enjoyment for what they are doing. None of whom have the balls to declare their income locally, all coincidentally drawn to Monaco for reasons left unsaid This is why people cheer for fucking car companies.
4. It doesn’t feel like a celebration of human achievement. Hear me out, I realise that all Formula 1 drivers (probably all professional drivers) are insanely fit. You have to have a neck like a bull to withstand the G forces that they put themselves through for hours of training and racing. And I also get that they are driving ridiculously fast cars around winding circuits with no margin for error. They are the men with quickest reactions and the best all-round driving skills in the world, that is not up for debate. But there is something unsettling about it, somehow impure, because these great athletes are effectively being carried around by incredible machines.
I just can’t get excited about it because it feels like I’m watching the world’s greatest machine operators, and more specifically the world’s greatest machines. And I also realise that they were designed and built by other great humans, but it just isn’t the same. The drivers are not being judged on a level playing field – everyone knows that the race will be won by someone from a small subset of car manufacturers because the others can’t compete. The Force India cars are effectively obstacles for Ferrari’s drivers to overcome. There’s something unsatisfyingly sterile about that which leaves me feeling unhappy, because it’s a shit conclusion and it isn’t even funny. And this is why people worship car companies, not drivers. It’s also why i’d rather watch great human beings run around the track, because I am one of them, and I appreciate their abilities far better than those of the chief engineers.