How politics ruined racing

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Mark Stevenson, who helps run the F1 Fanatic Live Blogs, writes his first guest article on how politics and penalties have spoiled his love of F1.

Being a Canadian, and a proud one at that, I have always been fond of Canadian drivers no matter what form of motor sport. But there was a time back in the mid 90s that I was very proud to be a Formula 1 fan.

I saw my first glimpse of Jacques Villeneuve racing when I was nine years old. It was on a track around the streets of Halifax, Nova Scotia in the Formula Atlantics series. I was immediately hooked, along with my father, on this up and coming star.

Even though Jacques did not win the championship in Atlantics that year, he moved on to the Indy Car series in 1994. Again, as a rookie, he was quite successful but did not win a championship in his first year. But the following season he won the Monaco Grand Prix of Indy Car racing, the Indianapolis 500, along with the IndyCar championship.

The following year, my father and I watched intently as Jacques teamed up with Damon Hill at Williams, becoming the first Canadian driver in Formula 1 in many years. We weren’t to be disappointed either, as in his second year he fought tooth and nail with Michael Schumacher to become world champion. I was a very proud Canadian and a very proud Formula 1 fan. We had bred a world class racing driver, and not only did he succeed, he conquered.

Ten years ago Formula 1 drivers were men on the track, racing each other, respecting each other (even if now and then there was a little bit of drama), and all in all provided a spectacle that was unmatched anywhere else. I was young and all I watched was the racing. I didn’t pay attention to the politics of who was colliding with who and getting punished in a negative way, or who was spanking who and being punished in a manner in which you don’t want to be caught on film.

I just loved racing. And Formula 1 was the acme of motor sport.

Fast forward to the 2008 season and, even though there has been lots of on track action and unpredictability, I have been thoroughly disappointed and completely gutted. There’s been scandal after scandal, on and off the track. There have been penalties galore and lots of complaining about them from both sides of the fence. But, most of all, there has been a lot of whiny, childish, and absolutely inconsiderate people involved in the championship this year. And I hate it. They are ruining it. They are ruining my sport. And I don’t like that one bit.

Since when did someone get penalised for racing? Since when did someone’s private sexual life have any credence on whether they can make judgements on motorsport? And since when was a sport so tainted by bad decisions that it seems that everyone has given up on making it any better?

I sit here waiting. I’m waiting to wake up and hope this has all been a dream. That my father will wake me up, make some breakfast, and reminisce about the amazing race we saw yesterday where Jacques made our country proud and won a championship. In a proper way.

16 comments on “How politics ruined racing”

  1. Hi Mark, thanks for contributing! I think most of us F1 fans share you pain here in thinking the racing is being damaged by other events surrounding the running of the sport rather than the actual on track action, which also now seems to be needlessly effected by political motives of the people running the sport.

    One thing I will say, and it sounds a bit cliche, but even back in the early days when you were supporting Jacques, there was plenty of F1 politics going on, ok, so it might not have been the organisers, but the teams and drivers have always pushed the envelope of what is right or wrong.

    I do hope that we can find some mature solutions to the stewarding issues as these directly effect race fans but while Max and Bernie run the show I think we just have to put up with these negative events.

    Keep the faith mate! :)

  2. That was the year they stripped Schumacher of all his points because (again) he tried to punt the competition out of the race to win the championship.

    Villeneuve was disqualified from a race too.

    So, there was plenty politics back then but indeed still less than now.

  3. I second the thoughts of Scott there, and I think many of us feel the way Mark does.

    A part of me loves the off-track action, and always has done. I was hooked on motor racing by what happened on the track; ‘heros’ racing wheel to wheel by the seat of their pants. I was hooked on F1 by the large amounts of investment, blue-chip names, off-track gossip and the fact that when something happened on the tarmac the story unfolded over the next few weeks which bridged the gap to the next race.

    What’s happened over the last few years, though, is F1 slowly turning into a satire of its former self. The frankly bizarre decisions from the Stewards this year (see Planet F1’s story about Webber being questioned about Massa’s overtake in Japan for today’s example) shows what little control and management of this racing series there is. FIA Stewards contradicting FIA race directors, driver briefings giving conflicting information to what drivers later get penalised for, etc., etc.

    I love F1, and have done for most of my life, but Formula Farce is a more accurate description.

  4. Christian Briddon
    16th October 2008, 11:08

    I agree with the above. The needless and incorrect penalties are ruining the sport I love.

    The racing this year has been second to none but when you are high on adrenaline after Hamilton’s spectacular win at Spa and then brought back down to earth 2 hours later by an idiotic stewards decision it really does the sport no good. The same happened this week with Massa and Bourdais. Where do these stewards come from? They obviously know nothing about the sport.

    Mosley is saying he wants more overtaking but the FIA have made all the drivers afraid to attempt it in case they get a penalty.

    I have been watching F1 since I was 8. That is 30 years I have invested in the sport I love. I just hope they can fix it before I have to limit my motorsport to touring cars.

  5. I know Bernie and Max want F1 to arouse strong emotions in us, but do they think it’s sensible to arouse the wrong ones? Ironically I’m taking a greater interest in Formula One at the moment than I ever have before. Instead of checking the F1 sites just before and after races for previews and reactions, I’m obsessively trawling the web every day to see if the result of the previous race has been changed again, or if a driver has said something sensible/stupid, or if anyone has found out what the unwritten rules actually are. Some of the drivers’ comments incense me so much I can’t bring myself to read the articles reporting them.

    I’m sure my memory isn’t going yet, but I can’t remember this level of ludicrous, random, stupid, ill-conceived, authoritarian, counter-productive and illogical intervention in the conduct and outcome of races at any time in the past. Sure, Schumacher had a few famous penalties, and even Senna got one I think, but apart from that, I can recall a good quarter century of unfettered racing

    So yes. I agree. With everybody. Is there a single person, even within the FIA, who thinks this is a satisfactory state of affairs?

  6. HI Everyone

    I completely agree with Mark – they are ruining the sport!! I want to watch driver to driver racing – OK if someone boots someone off penalize them, this is not stockcar after all – but come on, lets see some real action. Or – lets see penalties being allocated fairly. If its not written down in the rules – it should not count.

  7. Politics and F1. Reading all this is very depressing.
    To the impartial enthusiast all these developments are
    like poison gradually seaping into the body of a superb athlete. It’s painful to watch. And now even the drivers are becoming infected by this toxic atmosphere. Apparently several F1 drivers aim to ‘dress down’ one of their number for supposed abuses and offences past and present, at their forthcoming GPDA meeting. Guess who their victim is ? What price sour grapes ?

  8. I have to agree with everything said in the article & the previous posts.

    The politics within the teams & between the drivers is entertaining, seeing the drivers looking uncomfortable with each other on the pre-race presentation or podium is always funny.

    But the constant interference of the stewards & FIA with the race & results is getting in the way of the action.

    I want to see the drivers trying to overtake as much as possible, even if it means having a few of them coming together every now & then.

    Unless you get a “Schumacher Special” where there’s an obvious attempt to take the other guy out then the stewards don’t need to get involved.

  9. I have been watching f1 for the past 5 years, but only became a big fan since LEWIS HAMILTON.It almost seems like him versus the rest.I think it would be best if he lets his driving do the talking and realise he is the only black man out there

  10. I dont often put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, but I feel as strongly as all the previous contributors & fans of F1, & agree with all the comments about the way the the politics, i.e FIA, has interfered with the actual racing. It seems they have lost the plot, it is MOTOR RACING, It is dangerous, the drivers, or most of them, are driving to the absolutely limit, of themselves & their machines, it used be called 10/10ths,It is inevitable that they will make mistakes, or something will go wrong with the car, most drivers can drive at 10/10ths some of the time, Jim Clark was the only driver I knew who could do it continuously.
    You cannot make rules that have penalties, in a situation where the participants are on the limits of human mental, & physical ability, & the limits of what is scientifical possible to do with a mechanical moving object. If you do you, you destroy the whole purpose of racing by making silly, illogical rules with penalities. Drivers wont take risks, they wont overtake & we will have a boring procession, which we have seen enough of already.One of the worst examples this year was the pit penalty in Canada. The race director or his staff were responsible for Hamilton going into the back of Raikenen, How could they have a green light at the entrance to the pits, & a red light at the exit, this is motor racing, everything is extremely fast, they should not have had a green light at the entrance without a green at the exit.In retrospect, it would have been better for Hamilton & raikennin to have driven on through & have a 10 sec penalty, than both be out of the race, & as usually happens in these cases, who are the losers, the viewing public, we were deprived of a great battle between them, I dont want to bore you, but what were the on-going consequences of Hamilton’s penalty. This action by the people making the rules, also destoyed any chance of a good battle at the following French Grand Prix, because with his grid penalty Hamilton was not up at the front battling with Raikenen, so again we, the fans did not see a proper motor race, as well as the stewards decsion again affecting the final result of the world championship. I think it is totally wrong to have penalties that affect the next race.It should be either a monetary fine or a points fine. Each race should stand alone, the grid decided by practice times, & not stupid rule breaking from a previous race, that were not justified in the first place. In addition, how do the French feel about not having a proper Grand Prix, because of a rule infringement in Canada. Every country that holds a Grand Prix,it is, for them, a special sovereign event, & they want to have the best possible race, how can that happen, when one of the best drivers, who actually overtakes & provides exciting racing is demoted down the grid because of a rule infringement at a previous race. It seems that this year, more than any previously, every race has had the results tamppered with because of stewards interference. Dont even mention the last race where Hamilton gets a penalty for racing, he was at the front of the pack, he didn’t hit anyone,& yet other drivers who actualy hit each other causing damage & knocking Coulard off didn’t get penaltie. & Massa gets given an extra point, for knocking Hamilton off, when he should have received a penalty for hitting Bourdais, were the stewards watching a different race to me? There is probably a rule somewhere that says they have to give bonus points to Ferrari, whenever they can make something up. Hamilton should win the championship. but I am certain there will be more fixing in the last 2 races so that Massa is champion. I raced in the 60′ &70’s & I have been a fan of all motor racing for many years. but specifically F1.& I have been fortunate to have known, as well as raced against many drivers.Let’s hope Lewis Hamilton can become our next British World Champion.

  11. Hey folks,

    Thank you very much for the praise and this article is the first I have written so far. To know that it is conjuring up some emotion for the rest of you, like it did me while I was writing it, means a lot.

    And on your comments about there being some penalties that year and some unnecessary behavior…sure there was. I am not going to deny that it exists. But, the penalties were dealt with in a swift manner for the most part. Also, the punishment fit the crime.

    This year, not only do we having punishments not fitting the crime, we have an FIA Stewardship lead witch hunt where they seem to need to show they can flex their muscles and be ‘impartial’. If they want to do that, just give everyone a 25 second penalty at the end of the race. That will be more effective than what they are doing right now.

  12. Vampire — I am just going to assume you are American since they are usually the only ones who hear it.

  13. i agree with all of you!
    F1 is recognized as the penultimate racing formula world wide, so
    stupidness like running a night race burning trillions of candle power
    and then publicly declaring F1 green! is not fooling any one, same with the
    new standardized engines and now slick boots!
    Want this future for F1:
    All the chassis come from one manufacturer same with the engines,
    tires and the winner is announced before the season begins, oh and every
    driver has to come up through the F1 racing school and is guaranteed at least
    one million euros a year, so bidding for a seat in F1 wont have much to do
    with driving skills as how much $funding ads a driver brings to the ‘Team’.
    Passing allowed when not endangering another drivers race! and if ‘we’ don’t
    like the out come, well we will change it, Stewards any one!
    well you get my drift!

  14. Gladio here, age 43, from Montreal Canada, been to many GPs over the last 29 years.

    It really upsets me that today’s youth is even noticing the negative influence of bad politics rearing it’s ugly head upon our sport of choice.

    As we all know,– In business as in day -to -day life there are governing bodies to keep everyone in check. For example in the real estate industry there is the ‘real estate commission’. As there are national laws that even superior court judges must adhere to (such as the ‘constitution’ in North America).

    The point I’m trying to make is that maybe the only way to end , or at least limit this political nonsense may be to start an investigation to limit & hold the Bernies & Mosleys to their formal responsabilities to the sport. There must be a non bias group or commission that keeps an eye on the politics’s of this endangered world- class sport. One that prevents the politics from sucking the life out it by making arbirtary unjustifiable decisions– blurring the lines of fair play.

    I’m not generally a complainer, but the current political climate in the F1 realm does indeed merit some sort of mass response. No part of F1 can exist without the fans.
    Hey, I bet if we all get together we could make a change. After all, we all live in the same world.


  15. Mark,

    From one guest writer to another, brilliant job on this commentary- it is great to see a true fan lay down the view of how the sport should be run. I have only been following F1 for less than a year, but have much of the same passion for the sport as many of the longtime fans like you. And it dosen’t matter if we are old or young, new to the sport or longtime viewers- we all want to see racing and battles fought out on the track- not in the courtrooms.

    Great note about JV getting his career off the ground in the Formula Atlantic series. As a proud and patriotic American, I am always hoping to see an American driving prospect emerge into F1, and this season the Atlantic series contained a driver who just could fit that bill in young and promising Jonathan Summerton. While I respect all drivers in the sport and whatever nations they come from, hopefully we will see the days when North American drivers make it back onto the F1 podium on a regular basis.

    Finally, while you did not mention it here, I imagine you are steaming over the tragic loss of the Canadain GP- the complete disgregard of the North American market is, in my view, just as bad of a policy as all of the other faults you have brought up here. Hopefully this trend will reverse itself in the near future, and we can all look forward to seeing the next Villeneuve or Andretti on the top step of their true home GP.

  16. First, to Gladio, on your point…

    “There must be a non bias group or commission that keeps an eye on the politics’s of this endangered world- class sport.”

    There is a non bias group that exists and it is called the FIA. Now, we all have a view that it does show some biases (and I am a firm believer that it is not really the organization itself but certain people in particular that think they are being impartial and they are not). There needs to be a cultural shift within the FIA that will reward a person for a job well done and punish them for a job botched up, for lack of a better word. Unfortunately, as long as Mad Max is around, I can’t see that happening.

    And Gman, you’re on the right track for sure. A few years back there was the Red Bull Driver Search which was a competition in the United States which mission it was to put an American driver into Formula 1. They succeeded with that in Scott Speed and them canned him part way through the season. He has since been lost, along with a many number of American open wheel drivers, to NASCAR (Non-Athletic Sport Centered Around Rednecks). Once we get more interest and better coverage of the newly formed IndyCar I think you will see more drivers going across the pond to take their chance at Formula 1.

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