Formula 1 celebrates achievement
we put him there, all of us, or, at least, we are ‘extras’ in the most extraordinary epic movie of all time. Whichever way, that is how we do it. We put a man on a pedestal. Like a deity.
And, if we are honest, some of them behave like they are a deity too – your columnist excepted, of course. Or did I get a little ‘pumped up’? Perhaps I did. But perhaps that’s what you wanted, a man who could y, slay dragons, defeat the foe? Well, condence is a wonderful thing. You have to have some condence, and also a sense that you belong there, even that this place is rightfully yours.
My point is this. Before we get lost in engine tokens and virtual Safety Car rights and wrongs, and ticket prices and the lack of volume or the ugly-is-the-newbeautiful noses, and who-saidwhat-about-whose-girlfriend… why do we even care?
By way of an answer to this, I want to propose a statement: F1 is about which driver becomes Formula 1 world champion. Not who has the best car.
Now, I can feel the hierarchy twitching. ‘They’d be nothing without us’; ‘They’re like busses – another one will be along in a minute’; ‘They’re spoilt overpaid selsh playboys’; ‘We, the teams, built this show. The driver is an employee of the team, pure and simple.’
And yes, the drivers have an awful lot of people to thank and things to be thankful for. But, like I said, the people need a hero, a ‘person’, a personality, someone with whom they can identify; someone to talk to, to interview, to photograph, to worship, a kind of ‘famous friend’.
Christian Horner said recently that the drivers were the stars of the show. But what does this mean? Does it mean the show wants them to perform on demand, like mindless puppets, for the glorication of the sport and its other agendas? Or does it mean that he recognises this fundamental point: that nobody cares about a product, whether it is a car or a man. We care only about the people we care about and, in the context of F1, this overwhelmingly means the drivers. If F1 were a ballet, it would be the drivers doing the dancing. On ice, a lot of the time. Last year Lewis Hamilton was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year. This means that (in the UK at least) his personality, coupled with his achievements – ‘The Hamilton Story’ if you will – was the most compelling and successful sporting saga of the year.
And there is something very special about Formula 1 drivers. Just ask Frank, Ron, Bernie or Christian. Drivers are special people when they’re at the top of their game (and hell to be around when it’s going badly). They glow; they exude some special gift, almost seeming to hold magical powers over us. And only they know what it is like to have that power, to feel those feelings, to experience the pure sense of satisfaction that comes from winning a Formula 1 grand prix.
They have another rare insight, too. They know what it is like to actually wring every last ounce of performance out of the car, this multi-million dollar investment, this 21stcentury arrowhead. And that, I can assure you, is one of the best things about being a Formula 1 driver. We get to drive the car – as fast as we can. We’re lucky and we know it. Clap your hands.
“When we celebrate the driver we are acknowledging something deeply human. Indirectly we put him there”