By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. The news that Formula 1 is negotiating a deal to go back to Las Vegas is definitive proof - as if it was needed - that whatever residual nobility or goodness associated with what is - allegedly - the top rung of motorsport has long been purged and relegated to being a quaint notion from a bygone era, a mere historical footnote. As carpetbagging mercenaries ago, Bernie Ecclestone is on his very own planet, a whirling dervish in relentless pursuit of his next mark, whether it be a state government, a developing nation, or a city so desperately sick for attention that they willingly hand over hundreds of millions of dollars for the "privilege" of allowing the "glamorous" world of F1 to jet in, alight in their midst for four days or so, and then helicopter out as soon as the obligatory champagne is sprayed and the orchestrated - and mind-numbingly tedious - media conference is finished.
By signing up for the "circus" the participating dupes are promised a platinum-engraved, tourist-sucking orgy of money and celebrity that translates into a global ticket to unrivaled legitimacy and international prestige. Instead, the so-called epitome of motorsport leaves them scratching their heads, with flabbergasted expressions and a near-suicidal hangover of buyer's remorse in its wake as these municipalities and/or countries tally-up the bill and come to the horrifying realization that they just got taken to the cleaners. And for what, exactly?
That is the multi-billion dollar with a "B" question, isn't it? For what, exactly? The privilege of building an incredibly expensive track completely devoid of personality and burdened with massive infrastructure costs so that the F1 teams are offered no "surprises" and that their sanitized pit garages are identical from venue to venue down to the last detail? Or how about the honor of charging exorbitant prices to the fans who should know better, so that they can walk away muttering to themselves wondering why they attended in the first place? Sounds compelling, doesn't it?
No, not really, but Ecclestone manages to find new suckers every year, and now he's on the trail to add another U.S. Grand Prix - not to a classic American natural-terrain road racing circuit that would lend some credibility to his tawdry circus - but to whatever entity will pay the going rate for the privilege, and for some insane reason Las Vegas, of all places, has raised its hand again thinking that F1 is just the ticket to shore-up its intermittently fading fortunes.
I've seen this movie before, and it never ends well. Las Vegas is about as worthy of holding an F1 race as the Mall of America is, but here we are facing the prospect of yet another F1 race at an American venue that has no business whatsoever having one.
I encounter people all the time who are still somewhat enthralled with F1 and I can't for the life of me figure out why. Go back and watch some old F1 in-car videos and see what it is supposed to be like, then fast forward to now to see the sanitized and pasteurized version that all but lulls you to sleep. Are there some great races and some brilliant drivers today? Sure, if you watch long enough an actual race breaks out and real talent occasionally emerges. But the computer-programmed gearshifts, the generic racing layouts, the stultifying orchestration, the humorless, reined-in drivers who have had all of the personality engineered right out of them since birth? Pathetic simply doesn't even begin to cover it.
Formula 1 is what it is at this point, but it doesn't mean that I - or the collective we - have to like it or accept it. What once was a majestically intoxicating and daunting form of motorsport has been reduced to a sanitized facsimile of itself, a passionless, soulless enterprise conducted for the amusement of a few at the expense of many.
Here's a thought for Bernie and F1: Why not get rid of the annoying historical context surrounding the sport that relentlessly clashes with today's vacuous circus and just introduce a completely new paradigm? With every manufacturer embracing autonomous technology (Audi just did a full-on test with an autonomous RS7 that lapped faster than a human driver at a track in northern Germany), why not eliminate the drivers altogether and turn it into a technological showcase for the manufacturers?
Think about it. Soulless robot cars - sans drivers - lapping sanitized, pre-programmed, computer-generated circuits with all the personality of synthetic white bread, for the edification of the participating manufacturers' technical staffs and whatever so-called "fans" are left to attend in person or tune-in on television. It would be the logical and inevitable conclusion to the path that the racing game industry is on, only with full-size cars.
Frankly, it doesn't sound any crazier than the orchestrated absurdity masquerading as "Formula 1" that exists today.
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, June 18, 1967. Jim Clark (No. 21 Team Lotus, Lotus 49 Ford/Cosworth DFV) at speed in the Belgium Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps. This was the famous Grand Prix race where Dan Gurney broke through for the win in his No. 36 Anglo American Racers Eagle T1G Gurney/Weslake V-12, a week after he and A.J. Foyt had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was and remains the first and only time that an American citizen built and raced a car of his own construction and put it into the winner’s circle of a World Championship F1 race. Gurney averaged 234.961 kph over the race distance. Jackie Stewart (No. 14 Owen Racing Organization BRM P83/BRM H16) finished second and Chris Amon (No. 1 Scuderia Ferrari 312) finished third. Check out these sounds from Spa from 1967 here.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD