UK Politics

“In their clothes of many colors, for the angry gods to see.”

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As long as I can remember I have been attracted to Formula One motor-racing. I don’t even drive a road car and so am usually immune to the attractions of all the “Top Gear” boys stuff. If I was really pressed to answer what the draw is for me I would probably whisper something about the excitement being 40% sport (great to watch skillful overtaking) and 60% the sheer, mind-blowingly ridiculous glamour and excess of the event. Grand Prix racing is a world that has always for me provided a reliable alternative to the dull drabness of which real life sometimes seems to consist. I remember that as a kid at a comprehensive-school which had managed to sell off it’s only sportsfield in order to pay for repairs, the idea that someone, somewhere was wasting so much money in such an utterly stupid way was somehow deliciously attractive.

I know that Some People remain totally unmoved by motor racing, and list : “Watching Formula One and attending fitness clubs” amongst things they regard as being complete wastes of time. I suspect however, that if, at the age of 12, I had been asked to write essays on “the understeer techniques of Arturo Merzario” instead of about stories of seemingly alien falcon-obsessed children from northern mining towns, I might by now be an academic genius (highly unlikely I know, but remember we are talking fantasy worlds and the attraction of adult pantomime here.)

Defending Grand Prix Motor racing is not always easy. This Sunday the Formula One circus roles into Brazil for the final round of the 2006 world championship. Nineteen million people live in the greater São Paulo metropolitan area, and here more than anywhere else the contrast between the frivolous spending of the Grand prix deities and the poverty of many local people has the power to deliver a sobering shock. Perhaps two million people live on the streets of Brazil, unemployment hovers around 20% and up to half a million young women are believed to be involved in prostitution. The massive state of the art circuit which holds the race stands right next to the favellas, or shanty-towns: the road which leads into the circuit reportedly winding right past the doors of people of who live from hand to mouth in violent, crowded and often disease-infested habitats. According to Beverley Turner: “The inhabitants of Sao Paulo’s Favelas earn approx $720 a year each from begging and selling items in local markets.” By contrast to this the budget of just the Ferrari team for one formula one season would leave little change from $400 million…..

The attitude of the Grand-prix circus itself can perhaps be summed up by a quotation from local superstar (driver) Rubens Barrichello.

There are some very beautiful parts of Sao Paulo, in which I’m happy to leave my kids in the car – that’s how safe it is, yes there are favellas, but it is wrong that people should think of Sao Paulo as being horrid and dirty; every big city has its problems.

Mmmm, sounds like the usual “haves” dismissing the “have nots” without a word said in reply to me.

Footballers are often accused of earning obscene money. At Man United Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane were supposedly on £90,000 per week. But put next to the wages of Michael Schumacher (reportedly earning $49 million per year, or £511,538 weekly) they seem like paupers.

According to “The Sport Telegraph” The cost of maintaining the teams is also mind-boggling. Teams use around 900 tyres in a year’s racing, each costing around £1,500 a time; a gearbox costs £65,000 and around 16 of these will be used – last year, they used one gearbox per race. Steering Wheels cost £30,000 each The bulk of the money is spent on engine technology, with engines costing £180,000 per race and up to 170 used throughout the year.

All rather obscene you may think, and not only by contrast to the favellas of San Paulo.

However, apart from the World Cup and the Olympics, Formula 1 really is one of the biggest global TV draws. The 2005 Canadian Grand Prix attracted the second largest worldwide TV audience of any sporting event, with 53 million tuning in , a total viewing figure only beaten by the UEFA Champions League final.

Can such a huge waste of money ever really be justified? I have personally long thought that it would be just as exciting to watch Schumacher and the other top drivers in Go-Karts or Milk-floats. It seems to me that the same levels of skill would be on display and it would be a whole lot cheaper and easier to live with.

The usual attempt to justify the current vast expenditure is that the technology eventually trickles down to road cars, making them safer and more fuel-efficient. somehow this has always seemed rather weak argument to me. Why can’t F1 lead in (for instance) fuel efficency rather than speed? Why is faster cornering more important than helping save the planet?

Since 1981 Just two people have had an amazing amount of control over formula one. Thanks to the Labour party, everybody has heard of Bernie Ecclestone. Once the 3rd richest person in the United Kingdom, Ecclestone sewed up the television rights (and therefore most of the money and power) to the sport 25 years ago. At 76, and after heart surgery, Ecclestone’s time as supremo is surely limited (some might have seen vultures circling, then again some might say the essence of motorsport is vultures circling.)

The only glimmer of hope for a change of attitude comes from the less famous (but almost as powerful) President of the FIA, Max (son of Oswald) Mosley, who has recently spoken about the possible use of “green” technology in the form of
hybrid power engines for the 2009 season. But is this too little too late? Should such excess be limited? Do you have any good ideas as to how that might be achieved? Can such a waste of money ever be justified in any way?

Hugo Chavez fans are welcome to have their say.

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