I see a lot of talk at the moment about danger in F1, this is due largely to the publicity surrounding legal action that the Bianchi Family are threatening. I read of drivers saying that they don’t think things are safe enough and even that the sport should never hurt anyone. My only response to that is that those who think this way are in the wrong business. I’m sure some will take offence to that, but let me explain why I believe this.
When people talk about their lives, they will often tell you about how they were inspired by someone; how someone provided a spark that lit their fire. When we are young, we all have heroes. We all imagine ourselves charging up beaches, dodging bullets, or scoring great goals in Cup Finals, or winning the Indy 500 at our first attempt. We all want to be heroes and want to be looked up to. Heroes are special. They represent the best in mankind.
Without risk there is no progress and we all know that. Mankind has got to where it is because risks have been taken and we value those who take them. They are there to inspire us, and future generations, to try new things and to risk life, limb, reputation or whatever.
As TS Eliot said, “only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go”.
The vast majority of people never muster the courage to try to live their dreams, because they are afraid of what they might lose. It’s easier not to try. But those who do take risks help to move the world onwards. And the world needs heroes. Today, in a society in which heroes are few and far between, the need still exists. We have started to invent them. We worship actors and actresses who pretend to be heroic. Kids are inspired by Star Wars characters or those of Harry Potter, just as my generation thought of John Wayne or Alf Tupper. The difference today is that we now worship people who have done nothing except to want to become celebrities.
Yes, we still have soldiers, police and firemen and we still have some adventurers, but there are other elements of society who wish to control everything: to make everything safe; to stop all risks. There are even some who argue that racing drivers should never be at risk.
This is crazy.
Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I don’t see the need for heroes reducing. But virtual heroes are not really the same, are they?
If there is no danger, what difference is there between driving real racing cars and virtual ones? With the costs involved, the virtual path is far more logical and practical, but will people sit and watch this “spectacle” and will they think of the virtual drivers as heroes? No, they will recognise skills, and will praise the winners, but that is not enough to confer heroic status?
I am not saying that we should seek out danger, but rather that we should ensure that the sport is safe enough, but not to the point of becoming anodyne. The sport is playing with science, finding new things and all the rest of it, but as JBS Haldane once pointed out “Man armed with science is like a baby with a box of matches”. Things will always go wrong.
But that is what heroes must accept if they want to be rich and famous. You can be a hero of a different kind in a classroom, or on a stage, but if racing drivers want to be heroes, then they must accept risks and those around them must either talk them out of it, or accept that they are happy doing what they were doing and so not complain if things go wrong.
I don’t believe that races should ever start behind Safety Cars. It is self-defeating for the sport and makes the heroes look feeble, tiptoeing around behind a road car. Racing drivers should be viewed as people who are different; who are special; who do things that normal people cannot do. They can choose when they think things are dangerous. None are forced to race. They can pull into the pits and say: “This is too much”, as Niki Lauda did in 1976 or Emerson Fittipaldi did a year before that in Spain. No-one sensible ever called them cowards. They were racing drivers exercising their choice.
This is essential for the survival of the sport, because if we don’t provide spectacle and heroics, what value does F1 really have?