A tale of two coun­tries

F1 Racing - - KING OF THE HILL -

lo­cals. You get used to Euro­pean re­ac­tions to the F1 cir­cus com­ing to town, but with the ex­pan­sion of the brand across the globe and cross­ing cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal bound­aries, we are in­creas­ingly ar­riv­ing in new ter­ri­to­ries with a small nu­cleus of keen fans in a sea of cu­rios­ity bor­der­ing on in­dif­fer­ence.

“No mat­ter,” they will say. “This is a global sport and we need to ven­ture into new mar­kets and tap into the vast po­ten­tial just be­neath the sur­face.” That may be so, but is there not a dan­ger of ap­pear­ing to be selling in­dul­gences? Pro­claim­ing po­lit­i­cal neutrality is a nice idea, but ev­ery­thing is pol­i­tics and sport­ing spec­tac­u­lars have long been the most cov­eted po­lit­i­cal de­vices of power.

In the UK, Sil­ver­stone gets lim­ited sup­port from the gov­ern­ment, de­spite bear­ing the nan­cial risk for pro­vid­ing a na­tional sport­ing event. This means For­mula One Man­age­ment have to de­cide how im­por­tant the Bri­tish GP is to the over­all suc­cess of F1, be­cause they will not get the greater sanc­tion fee some na­tions are pre­pared to de­liver for the ku­dos that F1 be­stows.

But you could con­vinc­ingly ar­gue that Sil­ver­stone (I’m sure this ap­plies to Monza, too) pro­duces more rev­enue for the group than all the new venues put to­gether. Not only was it the rst F1 grand prix venue, giv­ing tan­gi­ble re­al­ity to the whole con­cept, but it pro­vides a pro­mo­tional boost to F1 each time the UK’s vast army of fans show up to sup­port the race with their undy­ing en­thu­si­asm and good­will. Could it be that other coun­tries’ po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are inspired by these scenes of ju­bi­la­tion and fancy a bit of that kind of love? Which made me think: could F1 change the course of history by arous­ing anger to­wards a leader for os­ten­ta­tiously aunt­ing his priv­i­leges? Or, by in­creas­ing sup­port, en­able him to se­cure a sec­ond, third or ninth term? Nat­u­rally, I raise this ques­tion for fe­male po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, too. An­gela, get the Ger­man GP back on the cal­en­dar! You’ll be in power for two more terms. Al­ter­na­tively, the po­lit­i­cal back­lash will nish you off. Your call, gal!

Last year it was ru­moured that Putin would turn up to Sochi, and he didn’t dis­ap­point. Ev­ery­one was on edge. I was ad­vised by one pad­dock sage not to ac­ci­den­tally get in a photo with him be­cause the CIA and the Rus­sian se­cret ser­vice would check out ev­ery­one in the photo. This was high para­noia. Wasn’t it?

But none of that seemed to bother Bernie and Jean Todt one lit­tle bit, as they cud­dled up to him in the grand­stand over­look­ing the start, hav­ing a joke, and look­ing re­laxed and in power heaven. That old po­lit­i­cal neutrality card can come in handy when you need to race.

So we go from Rus­sia to their ide­o­log­i­cal op­po­site, the USA. If you had to get more Amer­i­can than Amer­ica, you’d strug­gle to beat Texas. Yet de­spite be­ing ‘deep in the heart’, Austin, host city for the US GP since 2012, is no or­di­nary Texan town. It bub­bles with re­bel­lious youth cul­ture.

Austin is a party town and prides it­self on its slo­gan ‘Keep Austin Weird’. It’s a lib­eral re­doubt against con­ser­va­tive Texan pol­i­tics: this is the home of the Bush clan, af­ter all, and Gover­nor Rick Perry’s pol­i­tics are prob­a­bly closer to those of Putin than he cares to ad­mit. But maybe I should stay neu­tral on pol­i­tics, seein’ I’m in F1 ’n’ all?

Bernie Ec­cle­stone rubs shoul­ders with Rus­sian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin at Sochi’s inau­gu­ral grand prix in 2014

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