“If they are afraid, they should race tour­ing cars”

F1 Racing - - F1 20 -

Dur­ing his time in F1, Jac­ques Vil­leneuve more than once ex­pressed an­noy­ance over at­tempts to make mo­tor rac­ing safer by in­tro­duc­ing longer runoff ar­eas and other measures.

He fa­mously crit­i­cised safety im­prove­ments at Spa-Fran­cor­champs, say­ing that F1 was be­ing sani­tised and grad­u­ally be­ing stripped of what he saw as an es­sen­tial part of the sport, the el­e­ment of dan­ger. It was a stance he main­tained con­sis­tently through­out his ca­reer and beyond, in spite of the fact that his fa­mous fa­ther, Gilles, met a vi­o­lent death at the wheel of an F1 car.

No prizes for guess­ing what Jac­ques thinks about the Halo, then.

“If they are afraid, they should go and race tour­ing cars,” the 1997 world cham­pion told French news­pa­per Le Fi­garo ear­lier this year when quizzed about the Halo con­cept. “Yes, we must strive for safety, but there are lim­its we should not ex­ceed. Risk-tak­ing is in­her­ent in F1. It’s part of the beauty of the sport…

“I see it that th­ese driv­ers earn mil­lions and yet they do not want to take any chances. Too bad.

“Do the Mo­toGP rid­ers ask to ride in­side a bub­ble? This is why they are in­creas­ingly re­spected and ad­mired com­pared to For­mula One driv­ers.”

Re­move the el­e­ment of dan­ger from mo­tor rac­ing, ac­cord­ing to the likes of Vil­leneuve, and you are left with noth­ing. It’s the no­tion that the chal­lenge of fac­ing up to real dan­ger is fun­da­men­tal to be­ing a rac­ing driver – to be not merely the fastest and most skil­ful, but also the bravest. It’s this as­pect that sets motorsport apart from most other sports: the idea that a rac­ing driver is closer in na­ture to, say, an air­craft fighter pi­lot than a par­tic­i­pant in a sport.

It’s a ro­man­tic, old-world view of the sport which was given expression by lit­er­ary gi­ant Ernest Hem­ming­way in this fa­mous quote: “There are only three sports: bull­fight­ing, mo­tor rac­ing, and moun­taineer­ing; all the rest are merely games.”

Per­haps the ques­tion mo­tor rac­ing needs to ask it­self is this: should there be an ac­cept­able level of risk? And if so, what is it? And does it mat­ter whether mo­tor rac­ing to­day is a sport, ac­cord­ing to Hem­ming­way’s def­i­ni­tion, or ‘merely’ a game?

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