Sport has moved on a great deal in the last 30 years. No longer are the world’s top sportsmen gifted amateurs or wealthy thrill-seekers, they are utterly dedicated professionals.
Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Lance Armstrong, Valentino Rossi, Michael Schumacher: to a man, legends in their respective fields and all bywords for single-minded dedication to the pursuit of their chosen sport.
In motorsport, it’s not just about the sportsman, there are teams involved too. From Formula 1 down, they’re packed with equally dedicated men and women, who live and breathe their sport. Utterly professional.
And yet, the sport is administered by amateurs.
While this may have been (almost) understandable in the ‘30s, or even, perhaps, the ‘60s, it is utterly unacceptable in the modern era.
When Federer questions a line-call, there is recourse to camera replays and electronics to decide whether the line-judge’s call was correct. No longer does the Umpire in the chair have to second-guess.
Slo-mo video decides who won a stage on the Tour de France, even when there’s barely a single tyre’s width between the contenders. No reliance there on somebody who’s been standing out in the sun or rain all day (or worse, been well-lunched) to decide the fortunes of the race in a split-second.
So, how is it that in motorsport, where there are millions of dollars (or hundreds of millions) at stake, lamentable decisions and penalties are doled out willy-nilly, seemingly without any recourse from the competitors or any retribution for the officials who conspire, through inattention, lack of understanding or plain incompetence, to ruin races for teams, drivers and – crucially – fans?
Let’s consider Formula 1. We have a permanent – and competent – Safety Car driver. We have a permanent – and competent – Medical crew. Surely it’s time to have a similarly proficient College of Stewards to rule on the on-track activities.
Former drivers have an understanding of the sport that mere bystanders cannot possibly achieve and will see incidents in ways that you and I cannot. They have lived the life and their eyes see things – like all competitors – that we mere civilians don’t. A former pro should be a permanent part of every race weekend’s group of Stewards.
Like diving and shirt-pulling in football, everyone laments questionable on-track tactics sometimes used in motor racing. Because no Steward has ever raced at the top level, they don’t appreciate where intimidation ends and dirty driving begins. We may argue about the pros and cons from our sofas but most of us Armchair Experts can certainly see moves in most races that we’d, at least, question but which go seemingly without mention in F1.
Fans want to see wheel-to-wheel racing. What we don’t want is some well-fed and inexpert old duffer in a blazer penalising drivers for close, clean racing. What we wouldn’t mind is seeing drivers who use back-down-or-crash intimidation being pulled into the pits for a thorough dressing-down.
Imagine how Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher’s attitudes might have been changed, had they been pulled into the pits during a race and given a public telling-off for woeful driving tactics, in full view of the cameras.
If a driver knows he’ll have to choose between holding/making up a position by dint of some ‘questionable’ driving and serving a long stop-and-go penalty, with the cheek-burning embarrassment of a public dressing-down, then the standards might well creep back up.
But who, in the current system, is even remotely well-placed to make such decisions? No-one. And there’s the problem.
It’s not just the driving standards that would be improved by having ex-pros, properly paid, as Stewards. So would the racing. How? By not having good close race battles broken up by stupid penalties.
Like that imposed on Lewis Hamilton in the wet Spa race. Not giving back enough of his advantage after a failed overtaking manoeuvre on the clearly-struggling Ferrari? Pathetic, whether you’re a Lewis fan or not. For goodness sake, don’t dissuade racing in Formula One!
The GP2 Sprint race in the Nurburgring this weekend started on a wet track that, very slowly, became drier, leading to some – no, make that a lot of – very exciting wheel-to-wheel action, all the way down the field. But Vitaly Petrov’s chance to win the race was taken away from him by an ever more unfathomable decision.
At the (very wet) start, Petrov – shot away from 5th and, in the scramble through the streaming-wet Mercedes Arena first-corner complex, the Russian drove around the inside/outside of everyone else to grab the lead.
Feature-race winner Niko Hulkenberg fought his way pretty swiftly from 8th into second place but by the time he set off after Petrov, the leader was getting on for 8 seconds up the road.
A fantastic battle ensued, with the pair swapping fastest laps as the lead slowly but surely shrank, for which the cameras barely had time, as there was frantic, multi-car action just about everywhere down the order. Just as it seemed the fight for the lead was about to be properly joined, however, it was over before it could begin, courtesy of the Stewards. Petrov was handed a Drive-Through penalty.
A replay of the start, from the camera of second starter Lucas Di Grassi, showed that, as Petrov had jinked past the Brazilian (and everyone else,) the Russian’s right-rear tyre had made glancing contact with the front-left of Di Grassi’s car. The penalty, therefore, seemed to have been for ‘Causing a Collision.’
To come to this stupendously idiotic decision had taken the Stewards 13 laps. That’s around 35 minutes.! Presumably breakfast was over-running…
And the result was to kill the thrill of the lead being fought out tooth-and-nail into the closing laps stone dead.
Never mind the effect it will have had on the championship race. Never mind the effect it may have had on the fortunes of Petrov and his Barwa Addax team. Never mind the effect it will have had on the team and driver’s sponsors. Decisions like this – crucially – affect the fans.
The very people who pay for the racing and, through the FIA, fund the over-paid nincompoops who continue to ruin our enjoyment of the sport on an almost weekly basis.
No more. This nonsense MUST be stopped, as a matter of extreme priority.
Ban the blazers and give us the professional administration that the sport is crying out for.