F1: not just a sport

CommentPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

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?


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.


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. If the Indian Government does decide to host a grand prix in 2011, i sincerely hope they do not hire the mass formula one circuit rapist HERMANN TILKE. He’s raped enough tracks around the world. Please this is a plea from an F1 fan.

    1. I second that motion, but one sec, i see a lot of people insinuating that governments should help, i don’t think they should.

      F1 is a major undertaking with a heap of benefits, if done right, any private rich SOB can finance a race in India, why are they reaching to the government? i still don’t get it…. Vijay himself can undertake this and pull it off if he truly wants, but what he wants is the Gov to put some cash in because if the business is a looser, he wont loose much…. nope no it doesn’t make sense, i tried at least.

      1. Ronman, I think that government money are needed due to Bernie’s greed. He charges just too much to host a F1 event. Then the ticket prices goes as high as the stratosphere and there is just no crowd with enough money to watch it: just look at the grandstands at the Turkish GP and the hell lot of people outside the track because they just couldn’t afford the tickets!

        So, if there is no crowd, there is no revenue and the promoters loose a hell lot of money. Then they ask help from the government, which instead of funding schools, hospitals, police stations and medical researches, spend money in a F1 event. In the end, those who paid $1.500 for a ticket may have paid $1.700, because it public money is used to fund the event, and we are talk about millions of money.

        I think the indian government is absolutely right in not funding it (as well as any other government that does not fund it), because if Bernie were less greedy, everyone could make money from it. Shame.

        1. I think keith must write an article on the greediest people in F1. bet bernie would figure on the top.

    2. But does the Indian Government has anything to say regarding who wiill design the circuit? I guess it would still be Tilke even if the government opposes him

    3. the mass formula one circuit rapist HERMANN TILKE

      Do you honestly believe he has a free hand at designing and remodelling tracks ?
      If you do then you’re either very young, very naive or both.

      He is given a very strict set of rules to follow from the FIA and is then given a specific design brief from the owners of the circuit.

      It’s easy to sit at your PC criticising but I’d like to see you, or anyone else for that matter, do a better job under such conditions.

      He showed some of his own designs in an interview he did a few years ago (I think it was with F1 racing magazine but I can’t find a link) and the tracks had loads of elevation changes, banked corners and all of the other ingredients you’d want in a dream circuit. He also had a design for a track in the Alps where the start/finish was a few hundred meters above the back-straight with some unbelievable gradients in between. Unfortunately he doesn’t get to build tracks like these because that’s not what the FIA and the track owners want.

      If you want to vent your pseudo-outrage at someone then you’d be better off directing it towards the FIA and the people who write the track design regulations as they’re the ones who have made exciting track design against the rules due to the banking, gradient, run-off and other limitations that have been imposed on new tracks.
      The best corners & best tracks throughout the history of F1 would now be illegal due to these rules and that’s the real reason modern tracks are so boring.

      1. It’s his job, isn’t it?.

        Some people had to build the Titanic and they did it, even if the technoligies didn’t help at the time.

        If he signs a contract to build a new race track and it ends up being as rubbish as the Valencia Street Circuit, then he really is doing his job badly!

        A doctor has to cure people successfully. An engineer has to design a great engine. And Herman Tilke has to build a great race track, and bear with me, he’s failing!.

        1. If he’s doing such a bad job then why is he still doing it after so many years and several tracks ?

          The FIA want him to build safe tracks with enough space for grandstands, pit-lanes, TV camera stations, marshalling posts, medical facilities, paddock club facilities, media facilities, transport links, merchandise stalls, heliports and lots of other things too but at no point have they ever told him to build a great track.

          I may want him too, you may want him too but we don’t sign the contracts, the FIA, FOM and track owners do and they couldn’t care less as good racing is not their number one priority, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if the quality of racing isn’t even a design brief requirement.

          For example, the Chinese GP, the owners wanted a track layout that was inspired from the Chinese character shang the first character in the name of the city Shanghai. How good a track can you design when the owners give you such a specific brief, considering the already stringent FIA regulations and other requirements ?

          If you wanted a chocolate cake for your birthday but the person who ordered it ordered a banana cake then it wouldn’t make the baker bad at his job just because you got a flavour you didn’t want, equally just because we want tracks that provide good racing it doesn’t make Tilke a bad designer when the FIA etc order a track with different characteristics.

          There are many things about current F1 cars that I hate but I don’t blame the designers as they’re just working within the regulations they’ve been given, the same is true for the tracks, in my opinion.

  2. If horse racing or boat racing is a sport, F1 clearly is. Surely even events such as archery and shooting put some emphasis on the equipment used as much as the competitor.

  3. I always compare it with Yatching. There, the “machinery” is essencial. You can’t win with a dreadful little boat. You have to have a top shelf yatch.

    And it’s considered a sport (it’s even an Olympic sport).

    This is it’s not about F1 only. The whole motorsports world is often said not to be a sport. I’ve always wondered if the people that say that have ever got in a car and tried to drive as fast as they could. I’m quite sure they haven’t.

    You push yourself and the machinery to the limit. You try to go beyond the limit. Just like Usain Bolt does when he tries to run 100 meters in 9.5 seconds, or just like Amstrong tried to win the Tour of France. And you wouldn’t say: “it’s only the bike”, would you?

    1. Completely agree with this analogy.

      But would you specify 2 types of sail throughout the race to improve the show?

    2. I always compare it with Yatching. There, the “machinery” is essencial. You can’t win with a dreadful little boat. You have to have a top shelf yatch.

      That’s a really good point of comparison, I think.

      1. I honestly think the people that says Motorsport is not an sport think: “well, it’s 4 wheels and an engine, isn’t it?”.

        It’s still and endless discussion.

  4. Anything that is on Eurosport is a sport to me. I don’t hold with the “can you do it holding a beer” line of argument, I once scored a double hattrick in an admittedly casual game of football with a can in one hand throughout.

  5. F1 is not purely sports. It is entertainment and this venture by JKSP is a commercial initiative. […]

    tell me which sport in this world is not viewed as entertainment? All entertaining sports are commercial in nature.Such a stupid remark by the noob indian minister.

    The proposed F1 race does not satisfy conditions which focus on human endeavour for excelling in competition with others

    endeavour: earnest and conscientious activity intended to do or accomplish something.

    Tell me what is cricket accomplishing? Cricket was a pass time in imperial britian,probably the longest & most boring sport played only by former british colonies & there exists a world cup for this!!! & only 8 nations participate!! yet the indian govt rejoices when its nation finishes runner-up!! muahaha.

    A man almost lost his life trying to reach the very peak of human endeavour barely a month ago, yet this indian govt calls cricket the pinnacle of human endeavour, when its players wear a protection to cover their ballz!!

    keeping in view the whole sports movement from Olympics downwards.

    Who is this bloody indian minister making these statements?? i would stuff his mouth with the dirt from the un-asphalted indian roads! Since when has cricket been an olympic sport? These Indian ministers are a bunch of hypocrites, they never fund Olympic sports. instead, the sport minister will use up that money for managing his various wives.

    corrupt politicians destroying the image of the nation.

  6. I think Luca Badoer is a prime example of how it’s not just the car. If it was just the car wouldn’t he be next to Kimi. It takes skill to even drive these cars let alone race them so how is it not a sport?
    Also on the equipment side of things we have the new swimming suits and better bike tech for cycling, both of which can give advantages, yet they are still considered sports.

    1. I concur.

    2. I too concur.

  7. And I thought it was Soap Opera…….perhaps better suited to Bollywood?……..perhaps they can get grant from the Indian Government for a film!!!!!!!!!

    1. Well Said .. they should go to Govt and get it approved as Entertainment
      After F1 is all the happens between the racing weekends and then a dull procession on Sunday Afternoon..

  8. If Foosball and Billiards are enough of a sport to be shown on channels like ESPN and Versus (ESPN’s competition), then they need to shut up about F1.

    And in virtually any sport if you don’t have the latest and greatest in equipment, your competition will crush you! Cycling is a perfect example of one such sport. Swimming is another recent example where some swimmers had a new more hydrodynamically efficient suit and were beating the ones who didn’t.

  9. From my point of view soccer and cricket seem to as political and as technological as F1, with all these ‘third umpires’ and cameras in the stumps.
    Soccer certainly is run as a business and wouldn’t survive in this country without sponsorship deals and TV money – and the teams fight over that just as much as the F1 teams do.

  10. It’s whatever you want it to be…

  11. Organsised teams engaged in competition with each other for prizes in front of millions of people around the world under a structured set of rules?

    Of course it’s a sport.

    1. well a fluctuating set of structured rules, you should have said LOL

  12. Cricket: One of the only games I know, which can go on FOR DAYS, scores in the 100s…and STILL end in a “Draw”…


    1. Valencia GP or for that any F1 race, no activity on track, races won on strategies(In Pits),

      So much bitching and backstabbing between drivers-teams-Organizer(FOM)-Governing Body (FIA)
      Sound more like Soap-Opera than a Sport. Of course when one driver wins his GF shaking Jugs in Team Garage is only entertaining thing of the race weekends.

      And this view comes from a Fan who loved F1 in 80-90’s the new millenium simply has made F1 a running Joke

      1. Still in there though ain’t ya, or stumbled here by accident?

  13. “There are only three sports, bullfighting, motor racing and mountaineering. The rest are merely games” – Ernest Hemingway

    That’s one of my favorite quotes of all time. I guess that sums it up.

    The Indians will never get anything apart from Cricket. If there’s a wicket, bat made of a coconut tree branch, and ball made of straw, its cricket and nothing less.

    I’ve many a person comment on F1’s credibility as a sport. Some people honestly think that racing is just about driving round in circles!!!

  14. I think the only thing required for F1 to be a sport is for the results to not be contrived. But when things like the 2006 mass damper controversy happen it makes you wonder…

  15. But people here must note that some of the most fanatical f1 fans are from India. Google trends show that Indians follow F1Fanatic very avidly, surprisingly they occupy third-spot :) .Pity this fact gets overshadowed most of the time. All the countries in that trends list, 10 in all have hosted an F1 race at some-point in time. Surely India deserves its race.


    1. Yes, F1 popularity is growing rapidly. Only in cities though. As you rightly pointed out, Indians are the third most popular set of people here.

      That explains why articles about the Indian GP have now graduated from the “F1 news in Brief column” to “Articles in full”. This is also the first article written in detail by Keith about the Indian GP, I think.

      1. The effing Indian government must scrap the mission to moon or Jupiter or where ever they want to send their satellite & man to!! The Americans never went to the moon, nor did the russians, so i’m pretty sure indians will never go to the moon. Apollo,Sputnik,chandrayaan its all a farce. general public never get to see whats happening inside nasa or isro. Its high time indians got real, get a non-hermann tilke,non-street circuit for themselves. I would rather boast of a spa like circuit in bombay or bangalore or where ever, rather than being shown moon-like rocks,convincing me to believe its from the moon, only for me to later find out that it was dug out from the mariana trench!!!

        1. The circuit location has been finalised as Greater Noida, 50 km from Delhi. The circuit will be roughly 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) and will be designed by F1 circuit designer Hermann Tilke.

          Source: Indian Grand Prix article at Wikipedia ;)

          Sorry if I did shatter your dreams, mp4…

  16. I’m a big fan, but I wouldn’t call it a sport at all either. Somebody said “It’s only a sport for about two hours on Sunday.” I can almost agree with that.

    1. It was Frank Williams.

  17. 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 have seen how Malaysian Govt is taken for hostage to maintain the Sepang Circuit and doesn’t make pittance on F1 race and for non-F1 events there is hardly any crowd attendance ( Have watched A1GP and Touring Car events from Grandstands having paid for cattle class tickets coz grand stands were empty). If Indeed Indian Govt wants to stay clear off this F1 initiative and let it be baby of JPSK Sports or whoever is wooing Bernie to get event to India, I heartily applaud Govt of India for that

  18. I do not think Indian Government should get involved in this at all. If F1 organizers wish to purchase land, they should get it for market price. NO subsidies. I only hope they will put the money that they get to good use.

    F1 should get a private sponsorship for creating and maintaining the track, not government subsidies. Let Max and Co. give money for once.

  19. My definition of sport is people competing against each other regardless of the equipment; tennis balls, soccer balls, cricket bats, or cars. Obviously the skill sets and conditioning for each may be different, not to mention the costs of competing.

    Even if F1 died motor racing would continue at the grass roots level, where it all originated. Unless the Greenies and safety Czars manage to banish the concept. Not opposed to either concept, just don’t mangle the context of my favorite sport beyond recognition.

  20. I think there are two questions.

    Firstly, is F1 a sport? I’d say it’s a mix of sport (human driver skill and endurance plus team strategy) and competition (driver technical know-how plus team engineering etc.) If we imagined the cars racing automatically without drivers, it would still be a competition, but not a sport.

    Secondly, is F1 a fair sport/competition? This is much trickier. Here there are two issues: the funds and other resources available to each team, and the administration of F1 (i.e. FIA). Personally I think this – the politics behind FIA and the team politics – is where F1 tarnishes its image as a (fair) sport.

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