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. Grace Lovvorn said on 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.

  2. Rob R. said on 27th August 2009, 22:10

    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.

  3. Rob R. said on 27th August 2009, 22:14

    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.

  4. Clay said on 28th August 2009, 0:01

    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?

    • Jay Menon said on 28th August 2009, 4:11

      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?

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

  5. Bhudi said on 28th August 2009, 7:22

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

  6. GooddayBruce said on 28th August 2009, 13:08

    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.

  7. manatcna said on 28th August 2009, 15:31

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

  8. 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!

  9. 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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