James Lawton: Mosley's spectacle of self-interest does no justice to Fangio, Ascari or Silverstone
Politics in F1 will rage on to the point when saying sorry might just be too late
Tuesday 23 June 2009
Sooner or later, you had to hope against all available evidence somebody would say something vital at Silverstone. Something that smacked of a little bit of humility, a sense that he wasn't playing his own game of ego or power but one of responsibility for what many believe to be a great sport.
It had to be someone of authority who would look at the great army of fans who had once again visited the old logistical hell on earth, expressing without even the hint of a reservation their passion for the "sport" that for some years now has been publicly tearing itself apart, and utter the two words that have thus far had even less contact with each other than the principal antagonists in Formula One's civil war.
The magic phrase was "I'm sorry", or even "we're sorry", but it didn't come. Of course it didn't come, not when there was posing and self-aggrandising to do.
Instead we had all the weary old posturing and it reached a preposterous climax when the Formula One rights holder Bernie Ecclestone, who has waxed so strong and wealthy and celebrated on the back of the business which is now threatening to split apart, stepped forward to say that perhaps because of circumstances at Donington Park, and who knows maybe the lack of a more lucrative bid from somewhere like Outer Mongolia, there may well be a British Grand Prix next year and, who knows, it might just be staged in Silverstone.
If this doesn't happen it is quite hard to imagine a more gratuitous insult to the 120,000 fans who once again poured into Northamptonshire. What will it say to them? Only that all those years of pilgrimage, of vile weather and inconvenience which other people would no doubt have judged quite insufferable, were donated and received with thanks but not a hint of accumulated reward – not the whisper of the sentiment that when the authorities and the right holders and the teams had all had their say, there was another voice to be heard. It was the voice of those petrolhead people who underwrite the whole damned circus, one way or another.
Ecclestone says that he will be exploring the possibility of remaining in Silverstone. What a gift from Mr Motor Racing. Silverstone, if the sport could just get its head out of the trough for a moment or too, might be seen not as some discardable venue but a symbol of all that it has been fought for, mortgaged for, sacrificed for down the years.
Nigel Mansell is just one of the old heroes who made clear his commitment to the sport when he sold his house and gambled on his ability to drive faster than anyone on earth. He won, as so many risk-takers did out of their determination to do the thing that excited them more than anything else.
You might have thought that on the weekend of crisis there would have have been a deeper sense that this sport doesn't belong to the multi-millionaire bankrollers and their advanced engineering and their sales targets but the people, on and off the track, who have given it a life and endurance that seems proofed against almost any betrayal.
Yet we waited in vain for such a concession.
This is a pity because it would have been a wonderful starting point to what seems to be an eleventh hour understanding that any day now even the most fervent petrolheads may conclude that for some time now they have been investing not in a sport that once gave us deathless figures like [Juan Manuel] Fangio and [Alberto] Ascari, [Stirling] Moss and [Mike] Hawthorn, but something terminally riven by self-interest and, even more killingly it seemed at the weekend, self-regard.
Consider for a moment the in-built arrogance represented by the behaviour of Max Mosley and Ecclestone, the men best placed to drive through the current chaos and on to the firm ground of intelligent compromise.
Many have recently been going out of their way to stress the sheer intellectual weight of the FIA president Mosley, a barrister of dazzling powers – yet one who when faced with the thorny question of a breakaway by the only teams whose prestige and power can preserve for the sport a viable future coolly dismissed their leaders as "loonies". The situation has deteriorated to such a point that hardly anyone had the energy to voice a serious objection. Just as well, as it happened, because he later agreed that loonies is a relative term and that in most respects someone like Flavio Briatore, head of the Renault team, is perfectly sane and civilised individual, indeed one whose offer of a helicopter ride to the course was gratefully accepted.
There you have, if you like, a telling little reflection of what is happening in Formula One – what has been happening ever since it became principally about money and power.
The people who are locked together in a battle which could effectively see off the sport that at 9pm on Sunday night was still causing some of the worst traffic jams since Napoleon retreated from Moscow cheerfully share such conveniences of life as the company helicopter.
Sharing a willingness to steer the sport into a sane and responsible state is apparently a far more difficult challenge. The rulers of Formula One do not seem to spare too much thought for all those loyalists who made the pilgrimage to Silverstone and on Sunday conveyed such love of the sport that the German winner, Sebastian Vettel, admitted to the extraordinary, if perhaps fleeting, ambition to become an Englishman.
He said that he sensed the meaning of the place as never before; he felt its passion and its value, as did Felipe Massa, who said that Silverstone was such a wonderful track, with such a tremendous ambience, that it was inconceivable that anyone would dream of turning it into a relic of those great days when the sport was so close to the people who provided its most vital support.
Why would anyone want to do that? Because maybe it fitted an argument, a commercial position, a whim of a man of great influence.
No doubt we will continue to be bombarded by a 100 separate interests – and be told that the fight is for a new and brighter future. Meanwhile, the politics will rage on right up to the point when saying sorry might just be too late. That will be when quite a lot of devoted people have ceased to care.
It's time cricket fans waved goodbye to the Mexican wave
I haven't consulted him yet but my colleague Dom Joly might soon be invited to be the figurehead of a small, heavily despised but defiant group to be known as the League Against Twenty20 – and other desecrations of a once noble game.
The clinching moment in his candidacy came when he sat down to write his lacerating account of a visit to Lord's to watch the Pakistanis, glorious world champions, produce in their group game against Sri Lanka what he described as the worst first over he has ever seen in international cricket – three wides, two no balls – and 18 runs.
Most devastating, though, was his account of the Mexican wave that swept around Lord's but for the outraged punctuation provided by the members in the pavilion.
Twenty20 may be as much fun as so many of its advocates declare so endlessly and jubilantly but it should not, in any circumstances, be described as cricket. You cannot have Mexican waves in cricket. Mexican waves are evidence of one of two basic situations. The first is that the game has become so soporific the need for a diversion is overwhelming. The second is that most of the stadium is occupied by morons. The Mexican wave has no place in serious sport because it is guaranteed to break a spell, which the best of the games, when played properly, inevitably create.
The president also wrote about another diversion – which came when a boundary was greeted by "refugees from Fame School" leaping up in strategically placed blue boxes and dancing rather terribly.
We are told that Twenty20 is the future of cricket. It is not, It is today's whim, a waft of dry ice across the realities of sport – and what constitutes truly significant and absorbing sport. If you doubt that, count the Mexican waves sweeping through the Ashes.
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