I am trying to understand the wisdom of F1 going to Russia this autumn. Yes, the Russian government has agreed to pay a rumored $60 million per year (with a 10 percent annual hike) to run a Grand Prix in Sochi. It is only money, but the folks at Formula One World Championship Ltd exist only to generate more revenues for the greedy private equity types who skulk in the shadows of the sport, sucking it dry. No chips are left on the table with these people. They do it for fun because they are all absurdly rich and have all the toys that anyone could wish for. It’s not the money that drives them, it is the game. Money is just a means of keeping score. So, ultimately, a wise man might say that once you have enough money to live well any further financial ambitions are simply ego, showing others that you are more able to make money than they are. Some would say that this is a sad state of affairs when one could be keeping busy with gentler pleasures or taking on different challenges: sharing one’s knowledge and money (a la Carnegie, Gates etc) with those less fortunate, going back to university, travelling the world, or more simple pleasures such as growing nice roses or vegetables, going fishing, having long lunches, playing with grandchildren, and generally doing relaxing things. Some do not have the imagination to look beyond what they know. Others are frightened of change.
Perhaps you cannot teach an old dog to do new tricks but F1 should at least try to behave decently and set a good example.
The problem with Russia (or most modern conflicts come to that) is that it is hard to know who to believe. We in the West are told that Ukrainian separatists with Russian missiles shot down the unfortunate Malaysian airliner. The other day In Hockenheim I had a discussion with a Russian colleague who fervently believes that the plane was shot down by the CIA, which he believes now runs the Ukraine government, because America wants to get a war going in Europe to weaken its economic rivals. This is not a stupid man, nor one who has not seen the world. His views are coloured perhaps by a period reporting in the Balkan wars. We went on to discuss whether it is really possible for either of us to know the truth. There is too much in history of governments doing bad stuff to get what they want. In the end, we shrugged and went our separate ways. I still tend to believe what I have read in the western press and I am sure he still believes what the Russian media is telling him.
Discretion is the better part of valour and so if one can dodge a problem before it arrives that is surely a sensible thing. Politics and sport are ill-matched bedfellows and it is best to avoid such relationships. Sport can be a means to heal rifts, but it can also be a propaganda tool. German domination of Grand Prix racing in the 1930s, for example, was designed to show off the power of the country’s technology. The 1936 Olympic Games is often held up as an example of sport being used for propaganda purposes.
How does one decide?
In the end, one has to be pragmatic. Right now, most of F1’s revenues come from liberal nations. If there is the perception among these people that Russia is the bad guy, then it is wise not to risk damaging the sport by insisting on doing something that people think is wrong. Perception is reality whether the perception be true or not. F1 and the FIA ought to have learned that lesson over Bahrain. The situation there was nowhere near as bad as it was portrayed, but the world believed it was and so F1 damaged its reputation. Perhaps this is a contributory reason to the troubles teams are having these days raising money.
If one spots what looks like an iceberg in the water, it is wise not to continue full steam ahead.