James Lawton: Forces of greed reduce spectacle to a procession
Friday 11 October 2002
There has never been much accounting for sporting taste. Mick "Jumpin' Jack Flash" Jagger loves a mellow afternoon at Lord's. The late, mystical George Harrison admitted to a "tremendous buzz" along the pit lane of a Formula One track.
But would George have lapsed, like most of us, into near coma at the prospect of watching another processional win by Michael Schumacher and his all-conquering Ferrari team?
The question has never had a sharper edge as the motor racing chiefs Bernie Ecclestone, who has owned and manipulated the sport for so long, and Max Mosley, head of the ruling FIA, wrestle desperately with ideas that might just halt a catastrophic slump in television ratings.
Some of the more absurd proposals reflect the sense of crisis. The booby prize goes to the suggestion that Schumacher should swap his Ferrari for one of the chasing pack at each grand prix, right down to the hapless Minardi. Here we are hitting the practicality level of giving Frankie Dettori a leg-up on a donkey for the 3.15 at Torquay or Blackpool.
What those outside motor racing may not understand is the obsessive need for power and victory of some of the team leaders. Formula One is not so much a test of Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya as a commercial platform for the makers of Ferrari and Mercedes and BMW cars and tyre manufacturers such as Michelin and Bridgestone. All the rulers of the "sport" can do is try to limit the means by which one team can dominate another, but the idea of imposing a handicapping system of weights, as in horse racing, is surely to create a falsity of competition that would make nonsense of the strivings of the engineers and the aerodynamists.
Motor racing at the grand prix level will always be an industry and an "experience" rather than a sport. The once hugely successful Sir Frank Williams, who currently can do no more than peer disconsolately at the disappearing rear end of Schumacher's Ferrari, said a few years ago that choosing his star driver was like "pinning the tail on the donkey". Any assessment of a driver's ability had to be conditioned by the question: "How fast is his car?"
The more the money, the better the engineers, the further Formula One moves away from the duels of great men such as Fangio and Moss, Clark and Hill.
One thing is certain. Frankie Dettori will never ride a donkey, not professionally anyway – and nor will Michael Schumacher ever slip into the cockpit of a Minardi. Formula One has been shaped by the forces of greed and power that dominate the real world. It is simply too late for it to try to make a new one.
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