Columns - The Youth of Today

It's Formula 1? but not as we know it


To my surprise and doubtless Mr. Ecclestone's dismay I went to a Formula 1 race on a Saturday night in November. No, the paddock wasn't a millimeter perfect array of motorhomes and gleaming pantechnicons, neither was it a dress rehearsal for a floodlit attempt to make the Malaysian Grand Prix interesting.

This was the world of Britain's Formula 1 stock cars, which are somewhat different to their namesake normally found on Indeed at the risk of being topical it was rather like stepping straight from the high tech flight deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt into the rocks and dust of Taliban front lines. Only noisier.

Formula 1 stock cars are sort of like US sprint cars, in that they have small block V8 engines and race on shale ovals but there the similarities end. One of the highlights of the US Grand Prix is the Saturday night trip out to the Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairground, but even those wild eyed good ol' boys would be frankly nonplussed by their British counterparts.

The racing is fast and furious for three reasons:

1) The track is less than half a mile long

2) The grid is formed with the fastest cars at the back

3) Ramming is actively encouraged

The cars are built with the same single mindedness of purpose as their carbon fiber cousins of that other Formula 1. They have to be as light as possible, as solid as possible and for ease of servicing, repair and adjustment every component must be receptive to a single toolÉ a sledgehammer.

Subtlety is not a word often used with reference to Formula 1 stock cars, although there was plenty of it on show. Given that these guys are racing with several hundred horsepower in a stadium built for greyhound racing it's the little things that matter after all.

The quality of the experienced men in getting on the brakes late, hugging the inside and keeping the hammer down through the resulting powerslide to rocket away to the other end of the oval is an art that would bring a smile to Nuvolari's lips. Yet unlike the other Formula 1 however the artistry is in overtaking and the meaner you are the better the crowd likes it.

This really is the lions versus Christians end of motor sport, and the crowd well and truly gets into the spirit of the occasion. Accusations of onanism pass backwards and forwards from driver to driver, from driver to crowd and back again.

Yet through it all there's a community spirit that even rallying struggles to match. The crowd - and it was bigger than many a Formula 3 race I've been to - knows each driver personally and often tucks into fish and chips and a pint of beer with them at the end of the evening. It's a family sport in more ways than one.

The race I went to was potentially the last one at that stadium, which is under threat of closure when it goes on sale. Another of motor racing's travesties that Coventry Stadium and all the entertainment it brings might die whilst the Hungaroring lives. And yet what to do to rescue it?

Well, in Britain's latest 'rich list' the top ten motor sport figures accounted for $1 billion in earnings between them, and that is with a few glaring omissions among the fraternity of moguls who, if they aren't earning as much as Jenson Button, ought to have their accountants investigated.

Those ten people make up 14% of the income of an industry numbering 125,000 people, and yet the moguls are ploughing their money into tennis and soccer over motor sport whilst the drivers give it all to Agusta and Sunseeker. Reading this a day after the British F1 stock car champion picked up his prize money of $1500 for the season was sobering indeed.

All the more so because I was, I have to say, rather impressed by Michael Schumacher's decision to join in the rough-and-tumble of the Formula A karting finals. Admittedly he owns the venue in his home town of Kerpen and undoubtedly business will be booming this winter after the deluge of newspapermen, TV crews and radio reporters all seeking an audience with the mighty one.

Still, he gave some good PR to the kids who beat him and to karting as a sport for which Michael can only be applauded - and encouraged to do more such outings. Imagine with me for a moment what if, as a stipulation being hugely wealthy F1 folk, all the drivers were obliged to do a winter tour for the benefit of their sport.

David Coulthard could have another crack at the Formula Ford Festival, Eddie Irvine could do a stock car event, Ralf Schumacher could do a rally and Giancarlo Fisichella a bit of ice racing at Chamonix. Shame that Jean Alesi's gone thoughÉ he'd have probably done the lot.