F1: not just a sport

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India is supposed to hold its first F1 race in 2011

India is supposed to hold its first F1 race in 2011

The Indian government has waded into F1’s dumbest argument: whether it’s a sport or not. The ministry of sports told JPSK Sports, the promoters of the proposed 2011 Indian Grand Prix:

F1 is not purely sports. It is entertainment and this venture by JPSK is a commercial initiative. [...] The proposed F1 race does not satisfy conditions which focus on human endeavour for excelling in competition with others, keeping in view the whole sports movement from Olympics downwards.

This is probably a political tactic rather than a statement of sporting ideology. But even here in Britain, where F1 is much better understood, I often hear people telling me F1 ‘isn’t a sport’. Why is this? Do they have a point?

Politics

We should be wary of taking the above quote too seriously. Clearly, the idea that sport and entertainment are mutually exclusive is ridiculous.

Cricket, a firm favourite of many British and Indian sports fans, does nothing for me, but I wouldn’t try to make the case it isn’t a sport just because other people find it entertaining.

It doesn’t take a cynic to conclude that, for some reason, this government department doesn’t want to fund an Indian Grand Prix and is reaching for a flimsy argument to get out of coughing up the cash. GP2 driver Karun Chandhok had this to say:

Unfortunately in India, if it’s not cricket and it’s not an Olympic sport then it’s classified as a non-sport. Formula One is one of the biggest sporting events in the world. It’s sad that our ministers and officials don’t think so.
Karun Chandhok, GP2 driver

‘It’s all down to the car’

Early this year the F1 world was rocked by the speed of the Brawn cars, which transformed Jenson Button from back marker to championship leader in a matter of months.

This provoked some complaints – mainly in the mainstream press – that F1 is simply a question of who has the best equipment.

There’s no doubt you aren’t going to win a world championship unless you have a decent car. The fortunes this year of the other British driver, Lewis Hamilton, are a pretty good case in point. Football blog Soccerlens recently put the case against Formula 1 on these grounds:

Lewis Hamilton was the youngest Champion in F1 history last year, shining with his aggressive driving style, tactical nous and cool temperament. He still possesses all those attributes this season too. But what he also possesses is a car that he has at various times this season described as ??dead slow??.

But this overlooks the role a driver plays in developing the car. McLaren started the year with a slow car, but thanks to the efforts of the team and drivers in improving it, it is now a race winner. The same happened with Renault last year.

Athleticism

The dictionary definition of sport is “an activity, pastime, competition, etc that usually involves a degree of physical exertion”.

There’s no disputing the serious demands F1 racing makes on the strength and fitness of drivers. Their training regimes are notoriously rigorous.

So much so that we increasingly see top F1 drivers competing in athletic events, even during a racing season. Jenson Button ran an excellent triathlon time earlier this year, Mark Webber has run his very tough Pure Tasmania Challenge (where he broke a leg last year) and Jarno Trulli has contested marathons.

In a Grand Prix lasting up to two hours F1 drivers face constant, punishing physical demands while also maintaining unrelenting concentration and razor-sharp reactions

Something more

F1 not a sport? Hardly. Perhaps what India’s sports ministry meant to say is F1 is not just a sport.

The fact that F1 is more than just a sport is a fundamental part of its attraction to me – and, I suspect, many F1 Fanatic readers.

It’s not just a case of having a driver who can drive quickly, race hard, and and physically tough enough to get the job done.

It’s also a question of competitive engineering – who can build the best car and keep on developing it throughout a season.

Yes, the great days of outrageous innovation in F1 may be behind us – six-wheelers, ground effects, turbos and the rest. But F1 is still at the bleeding edge of technological development and it’s that which makes it a cut above other motor sports.

And, as far as I’m concerned, any other sport you care to mention.

Thanks to Dinesh Ciyanam on Twitter for the tip.

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114 comments on F1: not just a sport

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  1. John H said on 27th August 2009, 9:14

    The dictionary definition of sport is “an activity, pastime, competition, etc that usually involves a degree of physical exertion”.

    But I thought Chess was a sport?

    It’s all just semantics really, but the real problem lies in what drives the sport (or whatever it is!) forward.

    In cricket, people talk about Twenty20 as a ‘product’ to be ‘marketed.’ Such talk drives me mad – but unfortunately we have people in charge and with power (Flavio and Bernie) that are getting more and more interested in the same language… the ‘show’ for example.

    It’s inevitable in capitalism to have competition marketed… it’s just when they tinker with the rules to suit the ‘market’ that’s when it becomes less of a ‘sport’… – and wanting shorter races is the classic example (F1’s version of twenty20 I guess).

    Make me a little sad to be honest… Now what happened to that Marx chap!!?? :)

  2. Hakka said on 27th August 2009, 9:26

    I’ve pointed out before, and John H brings it up above, that compared to other sports, the insiders of F1 definitely talk about putting up a “show” much more often. Even the drivers say things along the lines of “the important thing is for the fans to enjoy the show.”

    Quoting Alonso:

    But above all, Monaco is about the show for the fans and spectators who can get really close to the cars.

    “Above all,” really? What other principals in a sport have come close to saying something like that?

    I think a good filter for a sport is this: Would it exist or continue to survive without a large fan following? Sports like fencing aren’t exactly very popular, but they keep going. Often at the grassroots level.

    Would Formula 1 continue to exist without such a large fan following?

    • Hakka said on 27th August 2009, 9:33

      On those lines, I think Rallying is much closer to being a sport than F1 is.

    • Your filter’s a good one. But the following question might be improved by drawing less of a distinction between Formula One and open-wheel racing generally. The top-flight series is actually just one iteration of a much wider sport.

      We’d argue that there will always be amateur racers keen to get out on track at the weekends in the best equipment they can afford – and there are a large number of open-wheel formulas that allow them to do just that.

      Therefore open-wheel racing would undoubtedly continue to exist without a fan following and at grassroots level. But the sheer scale of the budget needed to race an F1 car – well that’s another matter entirely.

      On the other hand, we do remember reading some speculation over the last year or two that Ecclestone might dispense with the trouble of throwing open the gates to the paying public and hold a ‘closed’ event for F1 insiders only…

      • Hakka said on 27th August 2009, 12:27

        Yeah, good points.

        If someone wanted to argue that F1 is indeed a sport, the best way to go about is to first argue that motorsport in general is clearly a sport (easy to do*), and then argue that F1 (and as you say, open wheel racing) is a specialized form of motorsport.

        * You could go from: Running is a sport => Bicycling is a sport => Motorbikes are a sport => car racing is a sport.

  3. “F1 is not purely sports. It is entertainment and… a commercial initiative.”
    Isn’t that any proffessional sport these days? the first part of this article annoys me like crazy. How is F1 not a sport in the slightest? to me, that statement has the implication that swimming isn’t a sport now due to the advance in that controversial suit. i can’t understand how such ignorance can be within the ministry of sports! keith, you should invite them to an ‘F1 Education session’.

    • John H said on 27th August 2009, 12:59

      As I said above, In my opinion F1 becomes less of a sport when the rule changes are purely to put on a show (such as the two tyre compounds).

      Swimming authorities have taken the step to ban the special suits for other reasons – namely to keep it as a fair contest between athletes.

      The difficulty comes by thinking that in F1, part of the competition IS developing the car/swimsuit. This is what makes it different from other open wheeled formulae.

      • todd said on 28th August 2009, 3:14

        you have to admit that it’s entertainment more than sport.

        the teams and bernie etc even weigh in and remind themselves that they are in the entertainment business.

        for the drivers and teams it’s a sport, but for everyone else it’s more entertainment than sport.

        comparing it to football, anyone can go outside and play football, but no one can go outside and play f1.

        india is looking at it from a ‘how can we help the people with the money we are spending’ point of view, and comparing it to football it doesn’t make the cut.

        motorsport as a whole is sporting, anyone can go out and get into karting, and work their way up to small and mid engine open racing and what not. lots of low cost ways to be in motorsport – but f1 alone i’d rate higher as entertainment than sport.

        imo anyway.

  4. GP4 Carl said on 27th August 2009, 9:45

    This may sound a bit wieird. But I’ll chip in my 2ps worth.

    I grew up in a military family, and as such, we went to lots of Airshows. And for my own personal part, I see F1 as similar to an Airshow.

    I am more interested in the amazing machines than the drivers and teams. When I see “Fanboys” and people kissing and praying over the cars as I saw in Monaco, I realise I am not a real “fan”……

    So for me, the race days, and practice sessions are more about hearing and seeing the cars, than following any “sport”…

    Though I DO get cought up in the excitment and sporting elements too. Its just not my main reason for watching.

    Weird huh……lol.

    • Random Chimp said on 27th August 2009, 15:29

      I’m the same :)

    • Luigismen said on 27th August 2009, 18:36

      Well, It’s different for you, you are clearly not a fan of the sport… just a fan of the cars, which are really cool, but in other hand, I do follow practices, driver switches and winter developments, etc…

  5. Lustigson said on 27th August 2009, 9:53

    There’s no doubt in my mind that Formula One, or motor racing in general, is a sport. In fact, according to E.M. Hemingway, it is one of only three sports. ;-)

    However, F1 is also a business, as well as a political arena, as is any business of a certain size, and with certain (financial) interests.

    The same goes for sports (or games, to stick with Hemingway) like top league football all across the globe, Major League Baseball, athletics, et cetera.

  6. Ronman said on 27th August 2009, 10:10

    I dont know about you guys, I got in it to see those massive crashes, with bits and tyres flying all over the place. I was 12 at the time, and didnt care much who won, but eventually like Senna and carried on supporting him until that day. from then on i supported the innovations in F1, and now i’m kind of bummed out that they have dumbed down the whole point of the Formula. but still i was bitten and now an infect and contagious fan.

    F1 is as much about money as it is about sports. if you look at it from a driving point of view it’s physical sports and endurance no doubt. from a team’s perspective, it’s more crucial for the team to be on the ball than a football squad. as a show, it definitely is a show as well, after all the Olympics is all about the show, the world athletics championship are where the best of the best race, and records are set.

    I was a sprinter in my school track team, and appreciate all sorts of athletic sport, but then i drove a track car around a track for 6 laps, and there i gained a greater respect for the endurance race drivers have, not to mention skill and consistency.

    I say put that politician in a proper race car and send him off for a few laps, and he will then change his mind, and India will probably have gov support for its race, although i believe India has enough private money to help fund a racetrack, but that is a different discussion.

  7. I don’t think anyone here would not describe F1 as a sport.

    You often see debates on sports pages about what is a sport, people will bring up Motorsport because of the machinery and things such as Darts and Snooker which some describe as pub games.

    You could argue that events such as synchronized swimming and other ones where points are decided by judges, rather than who crossed the line first or had the quickest time, have more in common with the arts such as dancing than other sports.

    I think in the end the term sport could probably be used to describe a lot of things from the World Tiddlywinks Championships to the Olympics.

    When people describe putting on a show in relation to F1 it might just be a catch all term for practice, qualifying, the race itself and all the other extras such as autograph sessions.

    Sometimes someone starts using a phrase and it then becomes commonplace in that group, you just have to look at ‘for sure’ in F1 or phrases such as ‘at the end of the day ‘ in English Football.

  8. Good article.

    With all these cost cuttings though, I expect it to become more of a sport. Less money means less research, which also means less innovations. I partially understand that some stance was needed, but I fear it’s too much now.

  9. Sush Meerkat said on 27th August 2009, 10:48

    Of course we all know Football is a sport, no doubt about that, aye? you barbarians. There’s no better way to gauge a sporting activity then to see its fans bottle each other.

    That’s why F1 isn’t a sport, I’ve never been punched in the face by a Kimi fan.

    • ROFL!

      In my opinion, people who don’t watch the sport are just too blind to see it. Just because it is the driver who appears in the television, they think it is a one-individual sport, and that it is just the driver and his machinery who makes things happen.

      What they do forget is that Formula One is a team sport, and that the car does not build up by itself. There are a lot of engineers and mechanics who makes things happen, working hard as a team to make a race winning car, but it does not drive around the track by itself, so they need a good driver.

      A grand prix is won by a team, not by a individual driver, and maybe when they realize it and the competition between the teams, they will consider it as a sport.

      Anyway, it is more down to a philosophical interpretation, and those who dislike motorsport in genereal tends to think it is not a sport.

      • Exactly, I was getting ready to post something similar. To add to your post and to comment on the Football blog, all team sports are won by a team, not a person. The reason Lewis isn’t what he was last year is because of his TEAM. The same thing happens in sports like football, American football, baseball, and so on….
        I can remember when the Chicago Bulls didn’t win championships even when they had Michael Jordon, just like McLaren is not going to win, even with Hamilton.

        I think the Football blog argument is even worse than the Indian governments argument.

  10. mp4-19b said on 27th August 2009, 10:49

    Indian politicians are amongst the most corrupt organisms that dregs this earth. This country is being held back by dirty corrupt politicians who don’t give a damn to anything, except to gobble up public wealth. Politicians are just one face of the coin.

    Cricket, its a god damned sport played by a bunch of weirdos, who dropped out of school or college. Its the most frustrating,over-hyped, good for nothing sport i’ve ever come across. This effing cricket has destroyed all other sport in India.

    I purely blame the colonial Britishers for having taught indians how to play this useless cricket. its destoyed every other sport in india. Prior to the rise of this cricket, India were 7 time Olympic gold medalists in hockey ,but india didn’t even qualify for the 2008 olympics. india is ranked some 150 odd in football, shameful. for a nation of 1,147,995,904 people, thats a disgrace.

    Are they good at cricket? no, they are not!!! they are ranked 3or 4th!! And only 8 proper nations play this cursed sport.

    I blame the Indian politician & cricket for this appalling decision.

    P.S. India well never host a grand-prix, not until these good-for-nothing politicians are puked ;)

  11. sumedh said on 27th August 2009, 11:11

    I was expecting an article on this issue from you, Keith.

    As an Indian, this statement hurts. Formula1 is a sport as much as cricket or football is. And for avid followers, it is more than that.

    However, when an Indian politician answers any question posed to him, he doesn’t look up the dictionary to qualify his / her statements (like Keith). The Indian politician only speaks to please his / her voters.

    And the 1 billion strong Indian population is ignorant about Formula1. A member of parliament who says he wants F1 in his constituency is likely to get 100 extra votes. A politician who says he wants a cricket ground in his constituency is likely to get atleast 10,000 extra votes.

    The current Congress Government is also pro-poor. It would rather distribute the F1 money to peasants who are suffering due to the errant monsoon this year. Or as the latest trend goes, build more and more IITs and IIMs, and dilute a great brand. Reason: It gets the votes!!

    India’s best chance of getting a F1 race was back in 2004, when the BJP was in power. And a certain Chandrababu Naidu, the then chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, the 2nd largest state, was enthusiastic for a Formula 1 race. Sadly, he is now the leade of opposition.

    Unless, this vote-bank politics is eradicated, India can kiss F1 goodbye.

    • mp4-19b said on 27th August 2009, 11:24

      I think there is a need for a Third Reich in India, not the NAZI way though.

      • anirudh said on 27th August 2009, 13:59

        In India, politician go behind “common man” stuff… Say conman man’s transport – autorikshaw, common man’s sport – cricket(can be played with wooden bat(selfmade) and ball made up of rubber bands).. and F1 is clearly not common man’s sport…

        The spokesperson of ministry of sports ws like –

        And i think it makes sense… apart from that glamour part, F1 in India is not worth the money. They better invest that money in infrastructure.

        • anirudh said on 27th August 2009, 14:03

          what spokesperson of ministry of sports was telling was –

          It was not one where sporting excellence or development of sports was involved. This project is absolutely beyond the realm of common man. We express our inability to consider it

          • anirudh said on 27th August 2009, 14:14

            there is only one solution to this…. Bernie should meet the sports minister with a little bag with “something” in it….

  12. Well, Keith, the Indian Ministry of Sport has got a d–d cheek, sir, given what the Indian Premier League has done to the game of cricket worldwide in its bid introduce superfluous entertainment into what was already a perfectly good sport.

    Hypocrisy is a bitch, isn’t it?

    • AlexT said on 27th August 2009, 16:25

      given what the Indian Premier League has done to the game of cricket worldwide in its bid introduce superfluous entertainment into what was already a perfectly good sport.

      Hypocrisy is a bitch, isn’t it?

      I think the Local Governing Body for Cricket BCCI in conjunction with Internation Governing Body ICC has done that. Blamining Indian Govt for that is barking on the wrong door isn’t it.

      I for one should congratulate Indian Govt for not falling in for Bernie’s trick and ending up with White Elephant of Track complex dumped on to them and then continuously get black mailed by Bernie that he will take event else where if they don’t come up with monies he want

      • I think we could certainly agree on the fact that the current model being proposed by Ecclestone for countries wishing to stage races is unsound. Don’t forget that the future of the British Grand Prix is very uncertain just now. And one of the possible venues, Donington Park, has got itself into a right old mess trying to meet his requirements.

        Still can’t bear Twenty20, however :D

        • Alex Tan said on 27th August 2009, 18:06

          I love test cricket, T20 and One Day are both bad vistas not showcasing beauty of cricket. So for that I agree with you that T20 is indeed irritating. Do you know I have seen in India Insect repellent brand called Tick20 ( and the brand has been around for ages) :P

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th August 2009, 18:59

      given what the Indian Premier League has done to the game of cricket worldwide

      Sorry, you’ll have to fill me in on the details. Is this that cricket premier league thing?

  13. Alex Cooper said on 27th August 2009, 11:18

    Well here’s sitting on the fence but can F1 not be all of these things? There is the sporting action, there is the politics, there is technological prowess, there is the entertainment.

    Fans of the sport can follow all or a handful of the different aspects as their interest dictates.

    I love F1 primarily because I like seeing the most advanced drivers in the most advanced cars taking corners on the edge of adhesion in a bid to beat the other guy. Equally I keep on top of the politics between races because of the personalities involved; the Bernies, Maxs, Rons, etc. of this world.

    I don’t see why F1 can’t tick all the boxes.

  14. Bhudi said on 27th August 2009, 11:24

    The only true sports are car racing, bull figthing and mountain climbing, all others are mere games” -Ernest Hemningway

    • I’ve always modified that one to be sports car racing, boxing and mountain climbing. Bullfighting is a ******** coward’s game, a circus put on for more cowards.

  15. steph90 said on 27th August 2009, 11:26

    That’s why F1 isn’t a sport, I’ve never been punched in the face by a Kimi fan.

    Lol that’s why f1s better;)
    F1 is always going to be a business and have politics thanks ti the manufacturers and the teams that’s how it’s run with the big personalities in control but that’s how it still exists but it exists because it’s a sport and the races are watched because that is the sport in action.
    I think the only reason why people would say something like cricket or football is more of a sport (cricket for India because it’s also a big part of culture) is because behind of a wheel of a car it doesn’t look as physical, a remote driver behind a wheel even though we know there is a lot more to it than that. I’d rather watch f1 than seeing a portuguese dive everywhere. The critique of it being car dominated well that’s just part of the sport too with each team against each other, just another dimension.

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