One thing is baffling me. Actually, many things are baffling me, but this ‘one thing’ is particularly pertinent to F1. It is: why would life create myriad forms and then put them into competition with one another?
It don’t make no sense. I mean, I could be wiped out by a tiny single-cell critter when, clearly, I am the superior being. And they call that evolution? We both want to live, but one could die, just to satisfy the other, and a possible outcome is that we both die and become just mud. I’m confused. And yet… If a human gets bored but has a eureka moment and suggests to the other, “I know! Why don’t we have a race?” the likely response will be: “Yeah! Okay!” Because we love to compete. The most unlikely response will be: ‘Er, why?’ To which the only reply should be: ‘Because, dear fellow, if we don’t compete, we will wither away and die from an ennui.’
The theory, articulated by Darwin in his On the Origin of Species, which I, like most, have never read but feel at liberty to quote from as if I had a PHD in natural sciences, suggests that it is nature’s way to compete. Indeed, it shows that it is necessary to compete to survive. He called this: ‘survival of the fittest’.
No he didn’t. Herbert Spencer, a libertarian philosopher, called it that, and the rest, as we say, is the 20th century’s history of wholesale slaughter of millions of humans, ostensibly licensed by Darwin’s theory of nature.
In fact, what Darwin was trying to show was that in order to survive, organisms had to find a space for themselves that was not occupied by anything else. He was in fact showing that many organisms avoid competition by going for the gap. In such a way, there are more myriad varieties of species until there are precious few new places left for life. And that’s when the fun starts!
The cuckoo in the nest was, in Herbert’s term, the ‘fittest’. This was taken to mean that the best and the strongest had a right to survive, and the weak should perish. It was what nature intended. No hard feelings. In fact, what was meant was that the ‘best fit’ species for a niche would prevail in that niche, and the rest would have to move along and find their own home… or die. Subtle difference, see? No intent to kill.
If we think of Formula 1 as an environment able to support many life forms (some of them almost human), with the overall competitive culture being what makes the whole stronger, then F1 is a healthy environment, with each finding their niche in the constantly fluctuating hierarchy. Competition is like exercise. The more you do it, the stronger and healthier you get. And we are all naturally competitive creatures. Be honest… everyone feels a little frisson when we set out to compete. It’s life affirming. It’s fun! Or it should be, at least.
However, ‘bad’ competition can be unhealthy. If, by sporting competition, we mean total annihilation of the opposition, we are confusing sport with war and are missing the point. The ‘winner takes all’ philosophy leaves ‘naught but grief an’ pain for promised joy’, for what doth it profit a man if he gains the world championship, but loses his competition? For instance, I needed Michael Schumacher to sharpen my blade, raise my game. His problem was, I wasn’t as good as him. He was bored with me. I must have bored him into submission then! (It’s just a thought.)
What he felt he needed was Mika Häkkinen. The point is, Michael could never have been Michael on his own. Like Senna, he needed his Prost. Michael’s brilliance was bestowed upon him by the rest of us, however worthy or not we might have been. This is Socrates’ point, that the low begets the high. It’s all relative to the opponent. “I needed Michael Schumacher to raise my game. His problem was, I wasn’t as good as him. He felt he needed Mika Häkkinen”
But racers are always on the edge of unhealthy competition. They hate losing! Hate it. They’d rather be dead. This is the problem we have. It’s not winning that’s hard, it’s losing. Our problem in F1 is that we can’t take losing. We have no strategy, no words, no philosophy to cope with the inevitability of failure. We tend to forget that this is not a real life-or-death struggle; it’s much more serious than that, to steal a gag from Bill Shankly.
Orwell called professional sport “war minus the shooting” and an “unfailing cause of illwill”. But if conducted with malice, it is not sport. Fuelling hatred of the opponent is the precursor to war. Nelson Mandela perceived something better, saying, “Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”
But he obviously never lost an F1 race.
“Michael could never have been Michael on his own. Like Ayrton Senna, he needed his Prost”