Formula 1 may be flawed – but it’s still fantastic. As much as I gripe about the FIA’s dodgy decisions and Kimi Raikkonen’s unwaveringly tedious monotone, I’d sooner chew my arm off than miss a Grand Prix.
Because not only is F1 a superb sport – it is a lot more than that.
And so, with tomorrow being Valentine’s Day and all, here is why I love Formula One.
We are too hesitant to call Formula 1 a ‘sport’, and its participants ‘sportsmen’. I can be unabashedly cynical about its excesses of money and endless political bickering – but fundamentally it is a test of the athleticism, stamina, endurance and skill of a racing driver.
And it is also a technical exercise and a test of team work – but I’ll come to those later.
The essential attraction of F1 for me is that it pits racer against racer in a battle of extremes – extreme speed, extreme effort, extreme technology. Formula One is not about half-measures: it is expensive and seductive and damn difficult to win.
F1 appears deceptively easy to the unenlightened. Excess aerodynamic grip plants the cars so firmly on the tracks that they seem merely to plot smooth trajectories from corner to corner. Only the occasional in-car shot reveals the dramatic effort required to achieve this illusion of effortless travel.
But nothing rams home to the television viewer the weight of effort a driver must exert to brake the car, the pounding he gets from G-forces straining his body from side to side, and the mesmerising, hypnotic concentration needed to navigate 78 laps of Monte-Carlo.
It’s a difficult sport to love, but an enormously rewarding one.
The experienced viewer, who understands the harsh physical demands placed upon a driver, is best placed to appreciate a fierce contest between two bitter rivals on the track – such as we saw with Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher last year.
These great rivalries are the making of Formula 1 for me. A pity they come along so rarely. Since the notorious days of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna we’ve had the Schumacher-Damon Hill rivalry (too one-sided), Schumacher-Jacques Villeneuve (too brief) and Schumacher-Mika Hakkinen (too polite – Spa ’00 aside).
The arrival of Alonso spiced things up no end. Right from the start something about the Spaniard unruffled the German. Was it that prodigious drive at Barcelona in 2003? Remember Schumacher’s shocking over-reaction to Alonso’s presence on the Hangar straight at Silverstone that year? And how Ferrari unleashed their dirty war against Michelin following Alonso’s victory at Hungary…
Last year’s tussle between the two was one of the greatest seen for years – perhaps since Senna set about taking his revenge on Prost in 1990.
These are the big reasons why F1 is great – the headline-grabbers. But for the real enthusiast there are a million and one little reasons to love the sport.
A race is a race – there will be a winner. There aren’t any ‘no score draws’ in motor sport.
Formula 1 is a sport for individuals but, contradictorily, one in which teamwork plays an enormous part. Not as in the murky world of ‘team orders’ – but in the camaraderie between mechanics and driver. Or how a strategic masterstroke from the pit wall can turn a race on its head.
Not only is F1 a sport, but a technical endeavour pushing back the boundaries of automotive technology. Turbos, aerodynamics, advanced electronics and countless other innovations have shaped the history of the sport – just as an environmentally-friendly revolution will surely shape its future.
Above all, Formula 1 is drama. Yes, some races settle into lifeless processions. That has always been the case in F1 – regardless of what we often misremember in a warm, nostalgic, rose-tinted glow.
The greatest F1 races are works of pure, unpredictable, unscriptable sporting drama to rival the greatest chapters of any sport from football to the Olympics.
Perhaps it’s time to give the sport as much praise as it gets criticism.
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