F1: not just a sport


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

  1. Hakka said on 27th August 2009, 11:33

    Circus vs. Gymnastics should draw out similar arguments. Is a circus a sport?

  2. Hell$torm said on 27th August 2009, 11:35

    f1 is a sport, its competitive and physical,

    F1 is a team sport, like soccef if you are a good player and you end up in a **** team, you are not going to make much of an influence, untill you work your was up to a better team.

    The exact same thing happenes in f1 the best drivers will end up in the best team. F1 is a team sport and you have to depend on other aspects not just yourself, like the car

  3. Damon said on 27th August 2009, 11:50

    But this overlooks the role a driver plays in developing the car.

    Because it has nothing to do with how the competition is conducted.
    Also, it is not even the basis for evaluating drivers. And the drivers influence on the car’s development cannot even be measured. We may often give the driver more credit than it’s due. What else does the driver give his mechanics besides a driver’s feedback anyway…

    Think about it:
    Let’s say Button was faster than Sutil in Australia by 2 seconds. We imply this was only due to the Brawn being a faster car than Force India.
    Now, during the season the Force India car has impoved a whole lot more than the Brawn. At the last GP of the season the Brawn is a faster car than it was at the first GP by half a second, the India car is 2 sec faster than it was. So the India car is now only 0,5 sec behind Brawn, yet still a slower car.

    Now, we may say that Sutil has made a far better job at developing the car (his car improved 4 times more than Button’s) – but will he (or the team) be rewarded for it, relative to Button’s reward for his car development?
    No. Neither the efforts, nor the succes at developing the car will be rewarded.
    So you see, that’s not part of the competition.


    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

    There’s plenty of activities like that. Construction work on large heights requires the same, for even bigger amounts of time. But that doesn’t make it a sport.

    • Ronman said on 27th August 2009, 12:15

      At the last GP of the season the Brawn is a faster car than it was at the first GP by half a second, the India car is 2 sec faster than it was. So the India car is now only 0,5 sec behind Brawn, yet still a slower car.

      well that’s because the Force India, with all due respect was a worst car than the brawn at the beginning of the season. the same would apply for Hamilton which had an even worse McLaren. driver feedback is an art similar to how a sprinter explains how he wants his shoes to be designed, it contributes to his performance.

    • Damon, c’mon. Car development has everything to do with the competition because it is the car and the driver on the track. The reason Force India is not being rewarded is because although they have improved their car, they have not improved it enough. And Sutil, he had chances to score, spun into the wall and failed. I don’t think that should be rewarded. The bottom line is that F1 is more complex than some other sports because you’re dealing with high dollar cars that have loads of development. A good driver will be rewarded for better development (Alonso and Shumacher most recently).

      You’re construction argument is beyond weak.

    • Sport involves competition. Construction workers don’t compete against each other in an organized way.

  4. Prisoner Monkeys said on 27th August 2009, 11:52

    I think a lot of the decision arises from the rumours that Force India is in trouble. Vijay Mallya denies it, but the suggestion is that Dave Richards and Prodrive could buy them out and run the team in their stead – kind of like when Spyker purchased Midland and became known as Spyker MF1 – and then take full control for 2010. Even with the grid vacancies being opened up, it’s looking less and less likely that an Indian will be in the sport any time soon. Narain Karthikeyan had his chance and disappointed, while there’s a whole host of GP2 and Formula Two drivers like Hulkenberg, Soucek, Petrov and so on who would likely step up before Karun Chandhok is even considered. If there are no Indian drivers and no Indian team in Formula One, the Indian government is going to be very hard-pressed to make a case for funding an Indian Grand Prix.

    • mp4-19b said on 27th August 2009, 12:07

      Vijay Mallya is one rich SOaB!!! He’ll never pull-out of F1 in the near future. The man’s a juggler. He has stepped foot everywhere. From politics to airlines, from alcohol to IPL(a useless cricket league). He’s involved in almost everything. I have never personally liked him though, with all those riches, he can do some charity, but he doesn’t. He’s an Indian version of Flavio to say the least. I’m sure Force India will stay on in F1 for some more time.

      • Prisoner Monkeys said on 27th August 2009, 12:45

        I wouldn’t go crediting him with too much. Sure, he owns an airliner, but it is notoriously difficult to run an airliner at a profit. And I’m told he’s been trying to sell off large parts of the booze business, bu he hasn’t had any takers. Nor is it likely he can rely on financial institutions like ICICI given the worldwide financial situation.

        Sure, he’d like Force India to stay in the spot. Be he supposedly owes both Ferrari and Mercedes massive amounts of money left overfrom their engine suply deals.

  5. In the same article you can read this:

    Sanjay Sharma, head of motorsports JK Tyres, was also surprised by the comments made by ministry officials. “This sport has always been patronized by the government. In the 1980s, in the Himalayan Rally, some of the world’s top teams participated and the President used to flag off the rally. The FMSCI is recognized by the government. So what exactly is the issue at hand is a bit unclear,” remarked Sharma.

    I’m afraid the minister declarations have not been very fortunate but, at the end, I think he was trying to send a clear message to JPSK Sports: “This goverment is not going to subsidize the event”

    I don’t see anything wrong on this.

  6. mp4-19b said on 27th August 2009, 12:12

    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.

    • Ronman said on 27th August 2009, 12:23

      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.

      • 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.

        • mp4-19b said on 27th August 2009, 15:39

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

    • Nirupam said on 27th August 2009, 13:31

      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

    • beneboy said on 27th August 2009, 20:12

      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.

      • Fer no.65 said on 28th August 2009, 0:27

        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!.

        • beneboy said on 29th August 2009, 11:47

          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.

  7. 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.

  8. Fer no.65 said on 27th August 2009, 12:51

    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?

    • John H said on 27th August 2009, 14:14

      Completely agree with this analogy.

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

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th August 2009, 19:01

      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.

      • Fer no.65 said on 28th August 2009, 0:21

        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.

  9. 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.

  10. mp4-19b said on 27th August 2009, 13:01

    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.

  11. BennyM said on 27th August 2009, 13:24

    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.

  12. Texas Tony said on 27th August 2009, 13:27

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

    • AlexT said on 27th August 2009, 16:31

      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..

  13. F1Outsider said on 27th August 2009, 13:27

    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.

  14. DGR-F1 said on 27th August 2009, 13:33

    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.

  15. pSynrg said on 27th August 2009, 13:48

    It’s whatever you want it to be…

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