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