Ingram's Flat Spot On: Has the real circus left town

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Ingram's Flat Spot On: Has the real circus left town

Ingram's Flat Spot On by Jonathan Ingram Has The Real Circus Left Town? During yet another round of Formula One scandal, the latest being the trial of accused "Crashgate" principals Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds, one has to wonder if the...


Ingram's Flat Spot On
by Jonathan Ingram


Has The Real Circus Left Town?

During yet another round of Formula One scandal, the latest being the trial of accused "Crashgate" principals Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds, one has to wonder if the media circus has replaced racing as the core product in F1.

Bernie Ecclestone's personalised annual Christmas card for 2009.
Photo by Bernie Ecclestone.

The churn of controversy in F1 has been a mainstay of publicity and fan interest for about three decades now. Since the new age of media arrived and the money that came along with it, the sport has been rife with charlatans and cheaters, because it attracts those with what might best be described as a high tolerance for risk.

On the track, motor racing always lends itself to late braking excitement, the edgy drama of challenging the laws of physics and the inspiring portents of cheating mortality through legendary feats. Given the relatively large amounts of money and corporate hubris that are currently brought to the stage of a world championship, F1 lends itself to political theatre in a manner unlike any other sport.

I suppose if I was perfectly honest, I'd have to admit to being attracted to some of the political power play aspects of F1 in addition to the raw majesty of men and highly sophisticated machines "going to play." I bring up this old-fashioned phrase because it lends perspective to the fact the more romantic era and sense of F1 as sport has long since been out of style.

Most recently, the genuine technical conflicts, bona fide rivalries and race tactics with inevitable sub rosa tints have often become secondary to the arrival of larger and larger sums of money associated with both the teams and the administration of the sport itself. Greed combined with vanity have been mainstays. Now the passing of the gilded factory age has left behind a bitter afterglow. In retrospect, factory stewardship may have been more like an occupying army.

We all have to keep up with the times and figure out how to live in the swells and rhythms of circumstance. Twitter and tweet. In some ways, a highly-charged romance with a sport like F1 is like a handrail for the psyche when it comes to weathering the changes beyond any individuals' control. There are each year's new cars, new champions, old favorites and familiar players in the paddock.

Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds in happier days at Renault F1.
Photo by xpb.cc.

On the other hand, the attachment to a sport that readily betrays so many long held values can be like a mirror that reflects a beautiful woman gradually turning into a hag. Outright theft of team design secrets, a top administrator whose nickname of "Spanky" can hardly due justice to the darkness of vengeance that inaugurated his sex scandal, and now "Crashgate" are the coin of the realm when discussing F1.

The saving grace is that F1 remains a sport as well as a business subject to the usual litany of human weakness. For those whose price of admission is only a ticket or time in front of the TV, the drama is more of a passing parade. Stick around long enough and something new and refreshing and, perhaps even romantic, will happen down the sinuous paths of asphalt set aside around the world for these cars and these drivers.

Although there's been enough disappointment to wither one's soul of late, F1 continues to stir the spirit with the joy of the extraordinary. (But beware of the political rule of thumb: out with the old bums, in with the new rapscallions.)

Last year, in addition to a typical disappointment for racing fans (the factories are fleeing), there was a team of extraordinary destiny at Brawn, an upstart from India and fascinating technology that will find us all driving hybrids at breakneck speeds down the highway soon enough. This year, Schumacher has been born again, Kimi has split (shall he return?) and America is back in the technology race.

The cars leave the grid on the formation lap.
Photo by xpb.cc.

At a time when we're all learning to live with lower expectations -- especially for the sad, pathetic souls of terrorists -- the beauty of an F1 starting grid continues to beckon.

Quotes of the Week: NASCAR driver Greg Biffle had these comments when asked about the arrival of Danica Patrick in the Nationwide Series in 2010.

"I think we all know it's gonna be great for our sport as far as recognition and awareness and bringing some popularity over, and bringing some of her fans. It'll be our first female driver in a while, so that will be good for us. I'm looking forward to seeing how she performs on the race track. I think it's a win-win for everybody. I'm glad she's decided to come over and give it a try. It's very difficult. I hope she does well, and I'm looking forward to racing with her a little bit."

Question: What are some of the challenges she'll face?

Biffle: "The same things some of these other guys have -- Sam Hornish, Juan Montoya and some of the other open-wheel guys, like Scott Speed, who have come over and really tried to get a handle on these cars. These cars are very hard to drive and the list goes on. Max Papis and right on down the line, there are a bunch of guys -- Boris Said and Ron Fellows, very successful road course drivers, not necessarily like open-wheel or anything like that, but very talented. The oval track with these cars are very, very difficult. We've seen them have huge success in road racing and won road races, but then have a tough time competing on the ovals. I don't know what it is about it, but it is difficult and if it's not what you've grown up with or not what your reflexes and your instincts and your car control and everything that you're used to in your environment, it makes it difficult to adapt to. Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman -- a lot of those guys come from those types of cars and have been very, very successful, so certainly it's possible."

Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jonathan@jingrambooks.com.

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Series GENERAL , F1 , NASCAR