Alexei Sayle: Formula 1 is plain awful

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The question I am most often asked (second only to "Oi you! What are you doing in my garden?") is "Why does an author with your descriptive powers choose to write about something as tedious as silly old cars?"

The question I am most often asked (second only to "Oi you! What are you doing in my garden?") is "Why does an author with your descriptive powers choose to write about something as tedious as silly old cars?"

Many literary people don't see anything the least bit interesting in motor vehicles, but to me there is so much in cars and also in the landscape of driving that is fascinating. I'm particularly drawn to what J G Ballard (author of Crash, one of the finest stories ever to evoke the sensual allure of driving) called "the Interzone".

The Interzone is the forgotten, ignored space: the polluted rivers in concrete culverts beneath flyovers, the motorway verges untrodden by human foot from one year to the next and redolent with plants and animals that are extinct in more populous places, the bleak access roads of shopping malls, the stinking corners of multi-storey car parks, suburban intersections in the middle of the night. To me these places are as fascinating, romantic and intriguing as the centres of Paris, New York or Rome.

What I do not like about cars is motor racing. Rallying is bad and pointless enough, but Formula 1 motor racing is genuinely awful. If you're a fan of Grand Prix what exactly are you a fan of? If you're a supporter of Ferrari or BMW or Honda aren't you just supporting a brand? It seems to me it's a bit like paying to sit in a branch of Comet waving flags and really, really hoping that the Hitachi microwaves are going to outsell the Panasonics.

Then there's the decadence, the sexism, the links with tobacco, the tedium of the same cars winning everything, the corruption. There's the fact that anything that Nigel Mansell's good at has got to be garbage, and F1 with its massive burning of fuel and rubber has got to be the only other sport -- along with golf -- that also doubles as an environmental disaster.

I was invited to Silverstone a couple of years ago and it reminded me of the aesthete's description of the Second World War: "The noise, my dear! The people!" If I want to hear ear-shattering screaming I'll walk naked through the gym changing rooms and if I want to hang around with a load of badly dressed people I'll become friends with Damien Hirst.

No, cycle racing is the motor sport that beats all others. Now you might say to me: "That's ridiculous, Alexei -- racing bikes don't have a motor and I still want to know what you're doing in my garden." But they do: the motive power in bike racing comes from the rider, the rider is the motor so it's as if the engine of the F1 car has a soul, has feelings, is not a machine but a human being affected by all kinds of factors and this is what makes the Tour de France and the other great bike races such majestic spectacles. In Formula 1 it's hard to believe that most of the people have souls, never mind engines.

Right now we are in week three of the the Tour de France and it's been as wonderful as ever. Mind you, the sponsorship of cycle teams seems a bit pointless: the greatest modern bike rider (possibly the best of all time) Lance Armstrong rides for the US Postal team. What is the point of that? What do they think I'm going to do -- go to the United States to post all my letters? I don't think so.

Finally what also makes cycling superior is it is a sport where the amateur can experience almost the same sensations as the professional. Unlike racing cars, a racing bike to all intents and purposes identical to those on the Tour can be bought from a cycle shop for little over £1,000 and I myself possess a couple of such machines.

Plus, cycle racing is so demanding that the average Tour de France rider needs to consume 8,000 calories a day. I've already got that part off to a T -- now all I need to do is to cycle the 250km up a mountain and I'll be set.

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