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. Bernard said on 27th August 2009, 14:12

    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.

  2. GP4 Carl said on 27th August 2009, 14:26

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


    • Alex Tan said on 27th August 2009, 16:42

      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

  3. Jay Menon said on 27th August 2009, 14:29

    “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!!!

  4. 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…

  5. mp4-19b said on 27th August 2009, 14:50

    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.


    • sumedh said on 27th August 2009, 15:33

      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.

      • mp4-19b said on 27th August 2009, 15:53

        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!!!

        • 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…

  6. Chris said on 27th August 2009, 15:18

    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.

  7. Alex Tan said on 27th August 2009, 16:36

    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

  8. MacademiaNut said on 27th August 2009, 17:02

    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.

  9. 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.

  10. David said on 27th August 2009, 18:17

    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.

  11. 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!!!!!

    • mp4-19b said on 27th August 2009, 18:30

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

      • 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.

  12. JSingh said on 27th August 2009, 18:46

    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!

    • mp4-19b said on 27th August 2009, 19:04

      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).

      • JSingh said on 27th August 2009, 19:25

        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.

      • JSingh said on 27th August 2009, 19:28

        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.

      • Varun said on 27th August 2009, 22:15

        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.

  13. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th August 2009, 19:02

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

  14. Max should resign now!!! said on 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)???

    • 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.

  15. 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!

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