How the world views Formula 1

The podium controversy in Turkey has led to comment about Formula 1 in places where normally such things would not be much seen, and it is interesting to see how the sport is viewed by outsiders. The Cyprus Mail is one such publication and its views on the sport are perhaps worth considering. For years some people inside F1 have been arguing that the sport needs to clean up the way it does business - and perhaps this is evidence that this argument is a valid one.

"Formula 1," wrote the newspaper, "is a sport that makes as many headlines off the track as on it. Races are rarely decided by audacious overtaking manoeuvres, rather by split second actions in the pits and strategies devised by men staring at computer screens. Key championship points have been decided in the courts, victims falling foul of ever-changing technical rules, deductions and disqualifications. It's a sport over which hovers a cloud of conspiracy, a constant suspicion of manipulation of rules and results to suit the hidden agendas of shadowy backstage figures. And yet in spite of this, it is regarded as the pinnacle of motor sport, a multi-million pound industry commanding a vast global audience. Reaching into so many homes and with so much money at stake, it's little wonder that Formula 1 has at times spread its tentacles into politics. One remembers the scandal of F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone's donations to the Labour Party and his blatant attempts to influence EU policy on tobacco advertising. So it's fitting to our delusions of grandeur that the Cyprus problem should make its appearance on the F1 roadshow, with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat being plucked out of the hat by Istanbul race organisers to hand the trophy to the winner of Sunday's Turkish Grand Prix. It was an audacious stunt, but one that could now spectacularly backfire. The government quite rightly saw red and the sport's governing authority, the FIA, is investigating how the unrecognised "President" of a puppet state maintained by military occupation can have been allowed to grab the international limelight in such a way. "No compromise or violation of (our political) neutrality is acceptable," said the FIA, which is known to take a dim view of podium antics.

"The Turkish Cypriot side has bristled at the government's reaction, denouncing it as proof of the Greek Cypriots' unjust embargos and a petty response to a purely sporting event. Yet their initial glee at pulling off the stunt is evidence of the very political impact of such a gesture on an island where point scoring has replaced substance at the heart of the political dispute. The Turkish organisers have shown predictable immaturity in making such political capital out of a sporting event - proof if any were needed that we are as puerile as each other in our pathetic battle for international hearts and minds.

"Yet if they were to hijack any sport to promote their positions on the Cyprus problem, Formula 1 is perhaps strangely appropriate - a sport where competitors go round and round in circles, as compulsive to its addicts as it is bewildering to the non-initiate, a sport where the substance, the raw racing, has long given way to the self-interest of its organisers and participants, pulling arcane strings in an ultimately pointless yet strangely mesmerising ballet."

Food for thought in the corridors of power.

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