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. Well, this is not a black&answer. If you look at any newspaper, web site, pretty much anywhere, all car/motorcycle/speedboats stuff is grouped under “motorsports”. So, no one argues that these are all sports, just different kinds of sports, where not just athletic abilities play a key role, but also car, racing strategy, mechanics changing tires (yeah, recent Alonso and Hamilton incidents) play critical role. Remove one block and all falls apart. I remember dumb discussions: would Schumacher, win in Minardi, or Alex Yoong (or Badoer for recent example) win in Ferrari? been there, seen this.
    Yes, all motorsports ARE SPORTS, just different. And by the way, ALL sports ARE shows and entertainments. And if any one argues otherwise, well, that’s stupid politics and even more stupid politicians who serve their agenda (did I mention that we elect them :-)?) Well, next time you have elections in your country/province/state/county, whatever.. ask politician if motorsports are sports or not. Then make your vote accordingly. (Just joking)!

    And for the next race: GO RUBINHO GO!!!!!

    1. Igor! when will you post your next set of vintage photographs? :)

      1. Hi there
        Thanks for remembering those. check my online galleries: http://picasaweb.google.com/Igor.Entin2
        I keep adding new stuff. Recently I received photos from Mansell and Forghieri (Ferrari Chief designer 1963 – 1985) – will add them by weekend; there are new photos from “El Cabezon” – Froilan Gonzalez, Stirling Moss, Robert Manzon, Giannino Marzotto, Mario Andretti and Jackie Stewart. Now 1968 Spanish GP is double signed by Brabham and Stewart and 1976 British GP – by Lauda and Andretti. Also, check the first gallery – new autographed photos of Ascari and Farina. Some good stuff.

  2. I think that Keith hit the nail on the head when he said that the sports ministry was just offering a lame excuse when it said that F1 is not just a sport.
    The fact of the matter is that an F1 track requires a huge amount of investment which the Government is not ready to dole out, nor should it imo.
    India is a developing country after all with a huge population that needs feeding and massive improvements in infrastructure required. I see people blaming the Government’s support for cricket but you have to consider that the BCCI (Board of Cricket Control of India) is one of the biggest earners for sports team in the world.
    Even I as an F1 fan think that that money can be used for much better purposes (you only have to drive on Delhi roads for about 2 hrs to come to that conclusion).

    It is not a question of whether F1 is a sport or not rather whether F1 is a sport worth investing so much time and money for a developing country.

    Imo F1 is only worth investing in for developed economies or for economies with a lot of oil money ;).
    Sadly, India doesn’t fall under either category!

    1. Then why the hell does India want to send man to the moon?

      Why the hell does it want to develop supersonic intercontinental ballistic missiles?

      Why the hell does it falsely declare the 1998 Nuclear tests a failure & go ahead with more nuclear tests?

      Why the hell does it want a permanent membership at the UNSC?

      Why the hell is it a part of G-20?

      Why the hell is it hosting the commonwealth games in 2010?

      Why the hell does it falsely declare its economy is growing at 9.8%, when it isn’t ?

      Its high time India stops behaving like a quack nation, & gets itself a formula one track.

      N.B. Rio isn’t such a rich place after all, its surrounded by probably the biggest slum in south america, yet brazil has some of the finest racing tracks in the world, not to mention the finest ever driver(rip).

      1. Most of the things you mentioned above are major steps to becoming a developed nation. Sadly, hosting a formula 1 race has no bearing on a nation’s status at all.
        And do you honestly think that if India did have an F1 track we would be able to fill the stands with the ticket prices being the way they are? I went to Germany this year and watched the German GP live and I dream of the day I can do that in India. It isn’t a question of 5-10,000 die-hard fans shelling out 10,000-20,000 Rupees for race tickets, its whether a 100,000 people are willing to spend a lot of money to watch a sport some of them do not understand.
        Owning an F1 track is not a profitable business (as demonstrated by Fuji and Hockenheim) even in countries that have a long history in motorsport. For this reason an industrialist would not want to invest in it except if they have passion for the sport. The only Indian industrialist with that kind of money and passion is Vijay Mallya and I think he gets his fix for F1 through Force India.
        The Govt. on the other hand doesn’t have the resources or even the interest/inclination to invest in the sport (demonstrated by the lame excuse given by the sports minister).

        Trust me I would love to see the day India can boast of a state-of-the art F1 circuit, but, I’d rather see it after India can drastically reduce the poverty levels and create a healthier education system.

      2. I also believe that if the Indian Sports Ministry wants to promote F1 as a sport and take it seriously they should start by establishing top-class karting tracks and young driver programmes as that is the only way we can see top-class Indian drivers in Formula 1 in the future.

      3. Maybe the reason they gave was wrong but clearly the govt. is right in refusing the race promoters. There is no reason to spend taxpayer money on building a circuit that will be used just once a a year.

        And who’s to say Bernie won’t dump India after 5 years and move on to the next country that he can sucker out of their cash. What then?

        As much as I would like to see an F1 race in India, I think is really unfair for India to even be considered as an F1 venue when Montreal & Silverstone are not on the calender.

        And for the record, I think F1 is a sport.

  3. Falls short on the ‘degree of physical exertion’ test, doesn’t it? Unless the pieces are really big.

  4. Max should resign now!!!
    27th August 2009, 19:47

    Hi Keith yes F1 IS a sport and the greatest of all in my opinion, but when you find out that there are teams who are being favoured such as Ferrari with their secret veto, which was clearly done because it’s the team that attracts more viewers then yes its stops being a pure sport or at least it gets tainted.

    For F1 to be considered a sport it has to remain clean and transparent, nobody should try to mix things up so that the star of the “show” gets more airtime or whatever (stewards anyone???). The definition by itself doesn’t matter, would anyone dare to say the WWF (wrestling) is a sport? It’s just a sopa opera, there’s
    physical activity and they do wrestle but I can’t consider that a sport.

    So well just to finish up. Does anyone remember what Fernando Alonso said when he got penalized for “blocking” Massa during his hot lap in quali in Monza (2006)???

    1. I thought that the veto wasn’t ‘secret’, I thought the other teams were informed and it was discusses. Anyway, the veto thing is still stupid.

  5. For what its worth, the toxic dwarf would scare the biggies out of any self respecting government flunky, just look at the fangs on him! Willing ready and able to hold any country to ransom for the sport? balls! its the money! Greedy buggers are destroying my favorite sport!

  6. Grace Lovvorn
    27th August 2009, 21:39

    F1 is still a sport, even if it’s a motorsport. You have to have an immense strategy to drive the car…it’s no walk in the park. I also consider the drivers as athletes. They can’t be sitting in their living room every day eating ice cream and cake, can they? They wouldn’t be able to finish a race in that shape. Plus, I don’t think cricket players go do triathlons in their spare time, do they?
    In conclusion, F1 has every right to be considered a sport. And what does the Indian government have to do with it, anyways? They need to keep their noses out of the business of F1, and keep watching their boring cricket.

  7. These discussions about whether F1 is a “real sport” or not, are insipid, and boring and old.

    I absolutely hate all those inexplicably smug British sports fans, the vast majority of whom are slavishly devoted to football, who say crap like “Oh, but when one car’s faster than the other, it’s not a real contest is it?”.

    But when faceless foreign billionaires buy all the world’s best players and put them in three or four clubs, they’ve got no problem with that.

    Last year’s Belgian Grand Prix was far more exciting than anything that’s happened in the world of football in the last few seasons – even taking into consideration the fact that it was needlessly overshadowed by the trumped up “controversy” afterwards.

  8. Oh, and another thing. In F1, you won’t have your afternoon ruined by some annoying dork with a trumpet. Even if he did show up, you wouldn’t be able to hear him over the engines.

  9. It depends alot on your point of view as to whether F1, my favourite sport, is really a sport.

    Despite being an Aussie I watch premier league football and one could argue that it is not a ‘sport’ in the purest sense, since the teams with the biggest budgets win all the time. You get the odd upset – like Burnley beating Manchester Utd – but the status quo rarely changes.

    F1 is the same. The biggest budgets invariably win, keeping the same four or five teams at the top. The big change this year was in the regulation shake up combined with Ferrari and McLaren racing in ’08 down to the final round.

    But 2009 has shown F1 to be more a test of car than driver to the general public. F1 fans knew this for years. In this way, the Indians have a point. They may produce the greatest racing driver the world has ever seen but unless he/she is in a top car, they would not ever have a chance of winning their home GP (unless it rains). Why spend all the money required to host a GP when there is a back marker team from India (sort of) and no Indian drivers, certainly none who stand a chance of winning?

    1. How is F1 different from lets say football? In F1, the team with the best package usually wins the chamipionship. By best package, I mean car, driver, team boss, resources and facilities. In football, the BPL for example, its exactly the same. The team that ends up champion, usually has the best players, best manager, deep coffers and the top class training facilities.

      Lets draw parallels between F1 and the BPL in 08. Mclaren, arguably one of the most well equiped teams in driver(Lewis) , car (last year’s car was brilliant), team boss (Ron Dennis, 30 years in the sport!), deep coffers (can’t deny this) and facilities (arguably the best in F1 behind Ferrari). Man Utd have always had the best package as well. They had Ronaldo, best player in the world along with Messi and Iniesta, willy team boss in Sir Alex, loads of money and of course, they have the best training facilities in England…so whats the difference? When you look at both sports over the last 10 years or so, when has an outsider won the championship?

      You could have considered Renault as an outsider in 05 and 06, but you can’t deny the backing a manufacturer has. Same can be said about Chelsea in 05 and 06, Roman Abromovich’s millions got the them the best package.

      If F1 is 2 hours on Sunday afternoon…football is 90 minutes on Saturday afternoon…am I the only one who sees this?

    2. Clay, Toyota has the biggest budget in F1, so it’s clearly not 100% budget driven.

  10. To me, drivers are like the gladiators or the Knights of our modern age. Sport for the populations enjoyment. Sport.

  11. My friend has a theory that the difference between a sport and a game is that in a sport the physical action of perfmoring the game requires skill. For example, snooker is a sport because the physical action of playing a shot is a skill whilst chess is not because the physical action of moving a piece (not on deciding which move to make) requires no skill. Interestingly tiddlewinks is a sport by his metric ;)

    The “football vs F1” is interesting* in that it appears to think of F1 very much as an individual sport rather than a team sport. This seems to be the view taken by most casual fans and, really is the basis for all complaints along the lines of “it’s just depends on what car you get”.

    I can see how the confusion occurs but for me this is a fundamental part of the sport’s appeal. Motor racing is as much about cars as it is about drivers and people who do not like that are watching the wrong sport. Try telling Bernie though, the views of the harcore fan are generally the ones to be ignore when maximising profit is the aim.

    *I also couldn’t help but chuckle at the assertion that Hamilton won the world championship thanks to his ‘cool temperament.’ I would say he won it despite.

  12. When all’s said and done, does it really matter whether it’s called a sport or a show?

  13. Hello
    If f1 or motorsport is not a sport then why is it that i get really exhausted when i do 30 – 40 laps in a gokart and not soo tired or exhausted when i play a cricket match?

    I am from India and i belive indian goverment is retarded!

  14. Excellent post. It makes me realize the energy of words and pictures. I learn a lot, Wish you make a further progress in the future. thank you!

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