Just what is it about men and cars?

Motor racing gives their testosterone level a fillip. It's like Viagra without the effort of having to remove your clothes
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The Independent Online

Formula One Racing: a cesspit of chauvinism, a world where brolly dollies in tiny shorts shield fully grown men from the rain, a series of events where flowers are flown in by private jet to decorate trailers in some of the poorest countries in the world, and where gourmet meals are tossed uneaten in the trash 100 yards from the slums of Rio.

Formula One Racing: a cesspit of chauvinism, a world where brolly dollies in tiny shorts shield fully grown men from the rain, a series of events where flowers are flown in by private jet to decorate trailers in some of the poorest countries in the world, and where gourmet meals are tossed uneaten in the trash 100 yards from the slums of Rio.

Is this really the kind of activity that Britain needs any more of? I only ask because the centre of London ground to a halt on Tuesday in the name of this mindless, noisy, environmentally unfriendly activity some people have the gall to call a sport.

If it is a sport, how come there are no women participating in it at the highest levels, when it is perfectly clear that to be a champion racing driver you need to be small, agile, light and quick thinking? Formula One racing is unique for its neanderthal attitude to everything female. Look no further than David Coulthard's telling retort: "Women don't have the right attitude to succeed."

Currently Formula One racing needs new venues to survive, new fans to tune in so that high ratings attract new sponsors. Faced with the banning of tobacco advertising by 2005, the sport will move to Third World countries where cigarette advertising is not so stringently policed, and the EU regulations will be cleverly circumvented when races are broadcast around the world to 300 million or so viewers. Cigarette manufacturers will be breathing a sigh of relief as their products still achieve maximum coverage.

So the hijacking of central London is all part of a strategy to reinvent Formula One, in a week culminating with the British Grand Prix at Silverstone this weekend.

Formula One organisers, and people like Bernie Ecclestone, are arrogant men, addicted to their own self-importance. No one asked Londoners if they objected to the wholesale closure of their streets, the noise pollution from helicopters patrolling overhead, and the racket caused by the cars themselves.

What about the costs to business, shops and restaurants? Who will bear the huge bill for policing the event, the cost of clearing the litter left by hundreds of thousands of people, and the inconvenience of trying to leave work and get home with major Tube stations such as Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus closed?

The tone of the occasion was set by the official press release, which promised "the hottest pit babes around a Jordan F1 car" in Regent Street. Everyone from Ken Livingstone to Westminster Council seems to have fallen for this tawdry hype. By yesterday morning, websites were inundated with polls calling for London to stage its own Formula One race, and Ken was promising to "bust a gut" to achieve his dream within four years.

Another view of what Formula One racing is really all about is given by Beverley Turner in her new book The Pits: the real world of Formula 1, published this week. Ms Turner was the only female racing commentator for ITV for three years, and certainly knows her subject. She paints a less than flattering picture of a sport where team spirit is non-existent, the image of glossy glamour has to be promoted at all costs.

Drivers are uninvolved, uncommunicative cogs in the hands of dominating team bosses and powerful agents. Few hand back any of the millions they earn via charities and good works. The circus itself moves from city to city, contributing nothing except traffic chaos and noise.

Eddie Irvine once revealingly said: "It's like you're raping a country - go in, do the race and get out before you get caught." I ask if those sentiments are the ones we want more of in British sport, and whether people who think like that are suitable role models for the young.

Men like motor racing because it gives their testosterone level a temporary fillip. It's like Viagra without the effort of having to remove your clothes and do something involving bodily fluids. It's an activity guaranteed to upset 90 per cent of the female sex, and by watching it at full volume while clutching a can of beer, men can happily revert to being irritating teenagers for several hours of bliss.

London doesn't need to host a Grand Prix to justify its existence. It is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting and cosmopolitan places in the world already. Places like Monaco, however, are another matter. The ugly city of Monte Carlo (a place which makes Milton Keynes seems positively gorgeous by comparison) needs the cachet of hosting a motor race to attract the rich and their hangers-on. Formula One racing fills up hotels with sponsors and mechanics, and the associated events hosted by jewellery companies and other luxury brands reinforce the fantasy that motor racing is awash with big spenders. Formula One gives the concrete blocks of Monte Carlo a much-needed dab of gloss.

Last week Max Mosley, chairman of the sport's governing body, resigned, but Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's supremo, is unfazed. What Mr Ecclestone needs to engender better ratings and more cash is excitement - although not necessarily of the sort that caused one wit to say that crashes are the crack cocaine of Formula One. Bahrain held its first grand Prix in April, and Shanghai will do so in September, meaning that you and I will be able to watch even more hours of cigarette advertising on television over the coming weeks.

Mr Ecclestone is reputed to be worth more than £2bn, and yet the British government has agreed to subsidise this ludicrous sport to the tune of £16m.

It doesn't make sense. And don't tell me that Formula One is vital to the development of the family car; it's not true. The cars we need are silent, environmentally friendly family carriers which run on any fuel other than petrol.

Coincidentally, on the day that Formula One came to London, Labour announced their biggest road-building plan for years. We all knew about Mr Ecclestone's affair with the Labour Party (and the embarrassment of the donation dubbed "cash for ash"), but I did not suspect that Mr Darling was as enamoured of the motor car as Mr Blair. Now Labour are proposing to build four extra toll lanes alongside the M6, creating the largest road in Britain, a 10-lane scar of concrete blighting the Midlands between Manchester and Birmingham. The new road will not just be tacked on to the existing M6, but will depart from it by up to 100 yards in some sections, all in the name of reducing a 50-mile journey by a few minutes. This seems like another piece of machismo politics.

The Transport Secretary once said that "you cannot build your way out of congestion", but he is now appearing to do just that. What is wrong with turning the whole of the M6 (and indeed the M25) into a toll road, rigidly enforcing free car-pool lanes and offering drivers the chance to make decisions about how and when they use their vehicles?

Meanwhile we are buying more and more cars, an increasing number of them gas-guzzling off-roaders the size of a bedsit, owned by city dwellers and used to drop the kids off at school. In the future, dealing with congestion needs to be balanced with the need to keep some of the British countryside. It is already under threat from Mr Prescott's dubious plans to cover it with acres of new homes, and now Mr Darling is adding his miles of new toll roads. What is it about men and cars?

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