Thursday, July 26, 2007


There's no doubt that Grand Prix racing isn't as good as it used to be. Some people suggest that each generation makes this type of observation about its most cherished cultural items; your sporting heroes, your favourite music and your favourite films, they argue, tend to come from your youth, and that which comes thereafter seems inferior in comparison. This is a type of cultural relativism. The suggestion is that sport and music doesn't get better or worse, it merely changes. In the case of Grand Prix racing, at least, I would resist this conclusion.

Grand Prix racing in the 1970s and 1980s featured a variety of beautifully sculpted and proportioned cars, racing on challenging circuits with camber and gradient, varying radius turns, and fast corners, driven by a fascinating array of talented drivers. And they actually raced in those days: they overtook each other on the track, not in the pit-stops. These days, the cars look appalling, the circuits are flat, constant-radius, emasculated autodromes designed by computer, and, whilst the contemporary sport has three or four top drivers, there is little talent-in-depth.

The most dramatic, tragic, and tumultuous season of all was 1982, and I was therefore delighted to see that Christopher Hilton has written a book devoted to this Grand Prix season.

Hilton isn't the greatest writer in the pantheon of Formula 1 journalists, but this book is a corker. Hilton draws heavily upon the recollections of key players such as Keke Rosberg and John Watson, and, in combination with the intrinsic drama of the year, this makes for a rivetting read.


Susan's Husband said...

I'm not sure it's cultural relativism. It may well be that, in fact, everything decays. I find it quite plausible that any specific form of music or sport tends to hit a peak and then decline, but that's different than music and sport getting worse in general. One might then argue that things that are popular in one's youth are those forms that happen to be at their peak at that time (which is why they're popular) and the real problem is becoming attached to a specific form which will inevitably degrade.

Gordon McCabe said...

The cultural relativist would deny that things actually decay, so I think we agree on that point.

The trouble with the popularity-hypothesis, is that the things which currently seem to have suffered from a degree of decay, are enjoying unprecedented levels of popularity. Formula 1 today is a major world sport, whilst in the 1980s it was minority interest; 'Pirates of the Caribbean' was the fastest-selling DVD ever; Mike Skinner (of The Streets) and Lily Allen are hailed as great musical talents, etc etc.

Susan's Husband said...

So you're saying that F1 was ruined by its world wide popularity just like all you young punks ruined the Internet?

Gordon McCabe said...

I don't think the popularity of F1 is the cause of its decay. At least two things have ruined F1:

(i) Technology which, once discovered, cannot be unlearnt. The development of aerodynamics has reduced the quality of the racing, and various mechanical and electronic developments have reduced the contribution of the driver.

(ii) The general rise in society of a safety culture. The need to reduce the risk of death or injury has resulted in the elimination of challenging circuits and corners.