James Lawton: Slap on Renault's wrist is not enough to condemn F1 chicanery to history
Tuesday 22 September 2009
You have to wonder if there are any limits now. If it is possible to employ men you vetted, and who carry your name, who go on to rig a race, strategically smash a car into a barrier, risk lives and damnation, and yet you survive, receive a green light to continue unscathed in something ever more loosely described as sport, surely it has to be asked, what is next on the agenda?
A little bit of brake-tampering, perhaps? That would juice up events quite nicely, and so much more spectacularly than some boring old industrial espionage or getting your world champion driver to lie through his teeth in order to sneak a point or two in the championship table.
We cannot say, though, we were not warned that the ruling authority, the FIA, would produce an appalling fudge in Paris yesterday when it came to deliver its form of punitive justice on the Renault team.
Eddie Irvine, a man not famous for his altruism, had it entirely right when he said that Renault would receive a light tap on their wrists rather than a more appropriate axe on their necks. Irvine, naturally, made his judgement without a hint of moral censure.
The Ulsterman was many self- oriented things as a front-rank driver but he was never a hypocrite, as he reminded us when, after predicting Renault's escape from significant punishment he said, straight-faced, that what Renault did was "slightly on the wrong side of the cheating thing but in days past every team has done whatever they could to win".
Shocking? It is certainly not the kind of behaviour which springs to mind when you think of men of the character and the values of Juan Fangio, Sterling Moss, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda and Alain Prost.
However, optimism about the true instincts of a business which produced such great men has not exactly been on a flood tide. Damon Hill, who with the help of his adoring supporter Murray Walker became for motor racing a national celebrity almost to the point of anticipating a David Beckham, certainly might have struck a more forceful tone the other day when speaking not only as a former world champion who uniquely reproduced the feat of his father, the great combatant Graham Hill, but as president of the British Racing Drivers' Club.
Hill said: "It's not a very good episode. There are clearly a lot of issues and it [Formula One] has a lot of soul-searching to do. It's a huge sport and sometimes controversies add to the interest. But you want it to be for the right reasons."
One problem is that if you would like someone of Hill's status to be a little more indignant about the outrage committed in Singapore, there is another reality. Formula One was indeed a huge sport in his day and his father's and had never been bigger than when Michael Schumacher ruled in his own most ruthless way and you couldn't fight off the big money with a stick. But it isn't so today. It is a sport which is hanging on, imperilled in its vast budgets and declining sponsorship, and when the FIA president Max Mosley issued his ruling yesterday, it was possible to interpret his announcement in two quite separate ways.
You could say his claim that the FIA had exacted maximum punishment with their suspended two-year-sentence was a laughably complete departure from reality. Or you could read it as the veiled admission that F1 is no more equipped to make the moral stance of ejecting a financially powerful team than a drowning man to push away a piece of flotsam.
F1 clearly believes it needs Renault, even while its name represents the absolute nadir of the sporting instinct, far more than the kudos that might come with the idea that after all the years of drift – of Schumacher's ruthless, unpunished cynicism, the refusal to penalise the McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso when they benefited from the McLaren team's proven spying – they had finally seen the public relations value of cleaning up their house.
It hasn't happened and nor was it likely to do so in Paris yesterday, as Irvine predicted with such world-weary precision.
The now threatened consequence could scarcely be more appalling. It is of a sport stripped of almost all significant deterrence against even the most sinister sharp practice.
Formula One might have made a stand yesterday. Instead, they were happy to enjoy the benefit of Flavio Briatore, the creator of "Crashgate", and his henchman Pat Symonds, falling on their swords. They were pleased to reach for the soap and the water. What they didn't seem to realise was that some stains are not so easy to remove.
Sir Bobby's parting leaves hope that he will not be last of his kind
Football, as we have heard in Westminster Abbey, where the life of Bobby Moore was saluted, in the Catholic church of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, where Sir Matt Busby worshipped, and yesterday in the glorious setting of Durham Cathedral, where Sir Bobby Robson was remembered, is capable of the finest words of farewell to its greatest heroes.
In Durham, Sir Alex Ferguson, who has a particularly admirable record in the matter of religiously attending the funerals and memorial services of men whom he has competed with most strenuously, spoke with great feeling. So did Gary Lineker and Sir Bobby's old Fulham team-mate Tom Wilson.
Those in attendance who were associated with football report, once again, their pride at the words of tribute, and not least those of the cancer specialist who spoke of the old heroes' courageous fight against a disease that he had fought off three times – and his work to raise money for the broader battle.
Yet sometimes you have to feel that however moving and brilliant these ritual occasions there is another tribute to the lives of the great football men which is too often neglected.
It is that they are remembered in a living way. Sir Bobby wasn't always a paragon of nobly accepted defeat – indeed, there were times early in his career when he greeted it as the vilest conspiracy – but the glory of his competitive life was that he grew beyond such a tyranny over the spirit. He learnt to accept defeat as the impostor he often knew it to be and in the first moments of his crushing disappointment in Turin in the World Cup of 1990, when England lost the semi-final penalty shoot-out against West Germany which would always privately haunt him, his players have never forgotten that his first thoughts were for them. One by one they felt the warmth of his arm on their shoulders. They felt his compassion and his understanding that sometimes you are going to lose.
In Durham Cathedral yesterday there surely had to be the hope that such spirit and such character might be a little more visible in the weekly onslaught of today's big-money football, when no game is settled fair and square, when no team seems to be beaten without the rage of dispute, when cheating is rampant and so few within the game are apparently prepared to stand up, put self-interest aside, and speak up for the game that has given them so much.
It is maybe a vain hope, but if such a one doesn't come at the parting of a man like Sir Bobby Robson it surely never will.
Pacquiao and Mayweather on course for stellar collision
There is maybe a little irony that boxing, which had the grimiest reputation in all of sport, is now poised to provide one of the greatest fights of all time.
Floyd Mayweather's victory over the fine but physically outgunned Juan Manuel Marquez at the weekend completed the first stage of the process. The second will come in Las Vegas in November when the great Manny Pacquiao fights the formidable Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto. It is an article of faith in his native Philippines, and in most other places where a consummate fighter is revered, that the Pacman will triumph on his way to the pound-for-pound showdown with the great defensive boxer Mayweather.
Pacquiao-Mayweather is more than an intriguing fight. It is a collision of styles and nature and, in different ways, a celebration of fighting at its technical and emotional best. The leaning here is heavily for the Pacman because in both his brilliance and his innocence he answers an increasing yearning for sportsmen who seem to glory more in what they do than in the reward it may bring.
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