Sport Vs. Spectacle
Before the Ferrari/Schumacher era of dominance, one could argue that there was enough ‘spectacle’ to go around, and then some. Now we have bent the sporting rules, and tortured the technical regulations, to get to the point where Ferrari and Schumacher are not winning every race. Are we the better for it? It seems we, the Formula 1 viewing audience, have shifted towards the attitude that Formula 1 should be ‘tweaked’, like a cheap game-show, to better entertain us.
NASCAR was the model. If Formula 1 could be like NASCAR, with a different driver winning almost each race, then viewers would be happy. To put it bluntly, I disagree. NASCAR is the professional wrestling of racing. It isn’t staged, but it’s designed around the same premise that American football and baseball are designed around--to entertain. Period. They sacrifice the racing every Sunday for the sake of the almighty viewer and his desire to be entertained.
Let's stop and take stock of the situation. The truth about real racing is that it has never been about entertaining anyone. It's been about the fastest car being built to tame the most challenging track, in any weather. It's been about the most courageous and skillful drivers pulling that car around that track, fighting off rival cars in the process. It's been about glory and accomplishment; and sometimes death, flames and a heroic driver pulling another from a wreck.
It's been about pride and speed. Racers didn’t care if fifty thousand or three spectators came to watch them battle. Racers didn’t care if the television cameras caught their daring drifts around Silverstone. Racers only cared about beating the other guy in the other car.
It was all this that created the entertainment. It was all this that created the desire for us, the viewing public, to keep eating that dry hot dog and drinking that stale beer while sitting on a splintery wooden bleacher just to see a Clark or a Rindt shoot by, a## hanging out and on the total edge of friction.
Our racing forebears knew that spectacle could never create sport. Only true sport can create spectacle. We, the fans of Formula 1, are dangerously close to forgetting that. With the current sanitized tracks, gizmo-ed cars and equalizing rules, Formula 1 is close to becoming NASCAR without fenders and southern accents.
Look for the heart of Formula 1. You will not find it with Hermann Tilke. You will not find it with Max Mosley or the whole of the assembled FIA. You won’t find it with many of the current crop of Formula 1 team principles and you won't find it with many of the drivers.
You will find the heart of Formula 1 with Jim Clark; Ayrton Senna; Colin Chapman; Sir Frank Williams; Gilles Villeneuve; Jean Alesi; Juan Manuel Fangio; Murray Walker. You will find the heart with the fans of the old Monza and the old Spa. You will find the heart of Formula 1 with the millions of fans that still desire the sport that created the spectacle.
We need to find that heart again.
Note: This was sent to Dave Despain and used by him in his article for 'National Speed Sport News'. I posted the unabridged version here. I'm quite certain my future blogs will go downhill from here....