life lessons from F1

Formula One motor racing is something that fascinates me.  Speed, power, control, passion.  In a parallel world I’d be driving for Ferrari…..but that’s a story for another day.

This week, one of the biggest stories in the history of Formula One has broken – and it has something to say to us (well, to me at least).  Even if you’re not interested in motorsport (and why wouldn’t you be? 😉 ), hang in for this one.

Last year at the Singapore GP, Renault’s Nelson Piquet Jr crashed.  Those who follow F1 will know that’s not that unusual.  As a result of the incident however and the resulting stoppage to the race, Piquet’s teammate Fernando Alonso was ‘luckily’ able to skip up the order, eventually going on to win the event.

Fast forward to 2009, and when Piquet is sacked by his team, the story suddenly emerges that the accident in Singapore last year was no accident. Piquet alleges that team management at Renault F1 ordered him to crash – picking out the particular lap, and spot on the track – and then shaped Alonso’s race strategy to take advantage of it.  The scheme worked brilliantly of course, with Alonso taking a must unlikely win.

The governing body of F1 have investigated, found Renault F1 guilty, banned the team officials in question for very long periods, and put a suspended sentence over the whole team should any further such behaviour emerge.

All of this of course, is cheating.  It’s blatant, and it’s dangerous – asking a F1 driver to deliberately crash at high speed into a concrete barrier.

There’s a lot in this story to consider – the behaviour of Renault F1’s team officials, the culpability of the driver in question accepting the order to crash and so on.  Even the very nature of the sport, with it’s massive financial investment meaning that the temptation or the pressure to consider such unsporting behaviour is very real.  All of this we could ponder.

But what struck me most as I thought a little more today about it all, is my own lack of response.

When I heard the story, I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t angered. I wasn’t disillusioned.  I kind of thought “oh well, that’s F1”.  Not for a moment did I think I it would diminish my interest in the sport or even particularly tarnish my respect for Renault F1 as a team within the sport.  Its behaviour I have come to expect and make excuses for in the high pressure, big business, big money world of F1.

On this occasion, it was F1.  But the same could be said for many other sports.  When Tour de France cyclists fail drug tests, I’m not surprised, disappointed or disillusioned.  I kind of expect that a fair proportion of the competitors are cheating….and still I enjoy the spectacle. The same could be true of Olympic sprinting, or swimming, or any number of other sports.  And beyond the world of sport we can find parallels in business, politics, and even in the church.

What is it about our world, and our participation in it (or mine at least) that could make us so blase to disgraceful behaviour – behaviour that defeats our sense of fair play or justice, tarnishes those activities we enjoy, and ultimately puts the safety and wellbeing of individuals at risk?

And just when along the way did we (I?) become a community that expects the worst from people, rather than the best? A society that has gone beyond cynicism?  A world in which financial pressures and excesses, and the hunger for glory (in all its shapes and sizes) has overcome fair play, respect and justice?

Renault F1 should be sorry for their actions, no question.  But I find myself just a little sorry as well….for the fact that somewhere along the way I first became cynical, then uncaring about such appalling behaviour.

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