Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Drama of Formula One

Americans don't get Formula One. It's not because of any deficiency on our part, or because the cars don't always turn left or run in circles. It's not because of CART or the Indy league which has cars that sort of look like F1 cars. And it's not because there are a lack of Americans in it. The problem, it's boring to watch. The only drama comes from behind the scenes, not in the race itself.

That's not to say F1 doesn't have its moments, if you're paying attention. Who can forget the brilliance of Michael Schumacher at the top of his game or Kimi Raikkonen pushing his car past its limits, willing it to hold together as he charges the field? Then there's last year's championship, which was decided practically in the last turn, on the last lap of the last race in Brazil. Felipe Massa's good sportsmanship after the he won the race, but lost the championship certainly ranks up there. The grace and humility he displayed are all but missing in pro sports here in the United States. I certainly can't imagine LeBron James displaying anything like it.

But LeBron's tantrum is mild in comparison to what goes on behind the scenes in F1. Inside motor racing's most technologically advanced sport is a leviathan set of egos displaying mankind's most primitive emotions. There are perpetual spy accusations, teams threatening to pull out under protest, calls for people to resign, and stories of teammates who hate each other. Sometimes it's more "As the World Turns" than
Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile.

The latest call for FIA President Max Mosely's head is just more of the same. Mosely is under fire this time for proposing a budget cap on F1, and idea considered so vehmenent by the top contenders like Ferrari and this year's Cinderella, Team Brawn, that they threatened to pull out of F1 and start their own league. Mosely's resignation/forced retirement/reinstatement reads like a bad karaoke version of The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" and was widely covered in Europe. Here in America, it got as much press as a prep school cricket match.

F1 has a lot to offer a country as motor crazy as we are. The 225,000 spectators that attended the first Grand Prix at Indy in 2001 support this. We love iconic figures and team sports. F1 has both. But for some reason, both F1 and the US just haven't consistently mixed
. Americans consider it the automotive equivalent of soccer and the FIA would rather concentrate on building up races like Turkey and Bahrain which are passionate about the sport. But there is hope--the FIA is working to make F1 more accessible and exciting. There is even talk of returning to the US if they can find the right venue. If they are successful, F1 will find the right audience and finally hold our attention longer than David Beckham did.

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