A tale of two countries
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