Why do we care about Formula One?

It recently voted the town dry and moved out. The “town” was the United States.

They’d rather run a race in Bahrain.

Actually, we shouldn’t care.

Formula One is a shell of its former self, a mere argument among corporate titans and prima donnas.

It’s not racing.

It was Ernest Hemmingway who said that there were only three sports: bull fighting, mountain climbing, and automobile racing.

You see, as Hemmingway explained, all the rest are merely games.

Hemingway’s criterion was quite simple. 

If you did not put your life at risk, every time you do it, it was not a sport. It was a game.
Formula One has become a game.

Auto racing was a sport when Phil Hill became the World Champion of Formula One in 1961, the first American ever to accomplish that feat, and one of only two Americans who has ever done it. (The other was Mario Andretti.).

To put this in perspective, two Formula One drivers died during the 1961 season. One was Wolfgang von Tripps, the Ferrari driver who – had he not been killed at the Italian Grand Prix – might have been the World Champion. In 1960, three Formula One drivers were killed during the season.

Essentially, at least one Formula One driver died at least every other year until the mid-1980’s. Two died in 1982. And that is excluding the drivers killed in the Indianapolis 500, which was technically part of the Championship during the 1950’s.

In every sense of Hemmingway’s definition, Formula One was then a sport. 

That’s not to suggest that drivers ought to die. Were it not for Jackie Stewart and his insistence on safety, it is doubtful that Formula One would exist today. 

But it is to define the enterprise.

Formula One is now boring.

It is neither racing nor the supremacy of technology.

It’s just a man and his money.

The man is Bernie Ecclestone. And it’s his money. 

Drivers don’t die in Formula One racing very often, anymore, and that’s good.

But they don’t race very often, either.

Which is why there will not be a United States Grand Prix next year.

We’re not that stupid.

We’ve got NASCAR.


Of course, the France family is doing its level best to homogenize that series, too

And when NASCAR was great, drivers died.

Fireball Roberts. In a convertible. Joe Weatherley, at the road course at Riverside. And uncountable more.

That doesn’t happen anymore.

So, it is probably a good thing that racing is no longer a sport.

But it has lost something.

The people who run racing today, be it Formula One or NASCAR, have turned it into entertainment.

From that, they have all made fortunes.

But they’ve lost the sport.

When the three-time Indy 500 winner Roger Ward pulled into the pits during his last race and said, “I quit,” he was asked “why?”

His answer was:

“It’s not fun anymore.”

That’s both Formula One and NASCAR today.

Maybe something else will come along.

What do you think?
Show Comments


tango  (372) posted on 08.17.2007

The problem with NASCAR and Formula 1 have NOTHING to do with how many people die or how dangerous they are or were. That is a heap of garbage. NASCAR and Formula 1 have lost much of their appeal because they are becoming less relevant to their road-going equivalents. Gone are the homologation days of NASCAR which gave us engine design that was handed down to the average man’s car and Formula 1 has lost its edge as being at the forefront of automotive research and technology. NASCAR itself has become advertisement at 200mph and the recent statement by NASCAR Vice President Jim Hunter that the fans actually get a kick out of the drivers fighting speaks to how low-browed that "sport" actually is. The recent scandal involving Ferrari and McLaren is no less disgraceful either. Motorsport, no matter how it is executed, will always be the most dangerous form of competition, bar none. Death or no death. Sometimes I wonder if you actually read some of the things you post, Ralph.

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