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When did you lose interest? // Complaining about F1 is easy, but giving it up is hard to do

Published by Stuart Codling

Like it used to be?
Like it used to be?

There is a cult today that it is fashionable to be 'bored by it all' and in that cult you are not permitted to show any enthusiasm for anything, unless it is enthusiasm for being bored...

- Denis Jenkinson

I love motor racing and consider myself fortunate to have been employed at various times to write about it. Having this kind of mentality enables one to (for instance) get off a 24-hour flight to Australia with a spring in one's step and a cheery demeanour which even the dreary officiousness of that nation's Customs & Excise officers cannot despoil.

But there are others who purport to enjoy motor racing, and F1 in particular, yet can see nothing good in it. Chiefly these people inhabit internet forums and greet any new development with a tiresome blast of cynicism and negativity, issued more often than not from a very shaky high ground of assumed knowledge. Formula 1, they say, isn't as good as it used to be. And of course it's Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone 'what done it.'

The LAT archive is a marvellous place. In a recent moment of serendipity while researching the project codenamed 'my booky wook', I came across a piece by the patron saint of motor racing scribes, Denis Jenkinson (for anyone new-ish to F1, 'Jenks' co-drove Stirling Moss in the 1955 Mille Miglia, reported from grands prix in the days long before live timing and 24-hour internet news – and lived in a shed with just a Honda generator for power). 36 years ago he was getting every bit as wound up by these tediously predictable naysayers as I am today, and over two and a half pages in the March 1973 edition of Motor Sport magazine he outlined why. The story was called "When did you lose interest?" and I’ve abridged it for reasons of brevity and copyright:-

I can almost guarantee that as I cross the paddock at Brands Hatch, during the Race of Champions, to look at the new UOP Shadow I will meet someone who will say, "Grand Prix cars are not what they used to be, are they?" hoping to draw me into their pet aversion. This sort of thing seems to happen at any motor-racing gathering that I go to and I have to refrain from the obvious reply, which would be, "No they are not. If they were, they wouldn’t win races or break lap records..."

I find the ones I meet at gatherings other than Grand Prix events are the most vehement, so I ask the question, "When did you lose interest?" to which I get evasive answers and a lot of chat about "I don’t go to Formula 1 races any more, can’t stand those wide tyres and those wing things; more like aeroplanes than racing cars." The objections cover a wide range of things, like "they all look alike", "can’t see the driver working", "all those fancy sponsors' colours they paint them nowadays", "can't see the driver's face with those space helmets", and "they've all got Cosworth engines". While listening to these moans I can't help feeling that for people who have "lost interest" they have a remarkable knowledge of the current scene!

Occasionally I can track down an actual point in history, like "when Alfa Romeo withdrew the 158s" or "when Hawthorn and Collins died" or even "when Jim Clark died" but these are rare. Most of the moaners cannot say exactly when they lost interest but they know full well that they don't like "Stewart and his lot" or "their black and gold Lotuses" or "the little roller-skate wheels" or "the advertising and funny colours", in fact, they don't like anything that is on the current scene. To tell the truth they are professional moaners who keep in touch with all the latest trends just so that they can complain.

It amused me to read that a period considered by a substantial number of bulletin board windbags to be the golden era of motor racing was viewed with such disdain at the time. The whingers of the early 1970s no doubt had the 1950s in mind as their own golden era; but how insipid the Coopers and Vanwalls must have seemed to those who were fortunate enough to have seen the pre-war Auto Unions at play. Ah, those were real cars! Stirling Moss? Who he? You are nothing if you haven't seen Nuvolari in his pomp!

To anyone who has already decided that KERS is a waste of time; that Michael Schumacher ruined F1; that F1 was better in the 80s/70s/60s/50s (delete as appropriate); that the 2009 cars are hideously and irredeemably ugly; that things haven't been the same since turbos were banned; that a single-engine rule would kill the sport; that you wouldn’t watch another F1 race after Lewis Hamilton’s penalty in Belgium; that any manner of change is axiomatically bad: a last word from DSJ:-

We all have high points and low points in our interest, usually tied up with a particular happening. I enjoyed the Monoposto Alfa Romeo as it was the first Grand Prix car of which I became aware. I loved the sheer dominance of the Mercedes and Auto-Union, but I prayed that the 1938/39 Maserati would one day beat them. The post-war 158 Alfa Romeo 158s were marvellous, but the 4.5-litre Ferraris that beat them were even better, and Fangio’s reign was terrific, but what a high point it was when Vanwall conquered everyone. The Cooper/Brabham era was a bore, but the rise of Jim Clark and Lotus was refreshing while the return to 3-litre power put things back into perspective.

Ferraris have always sounded wonderful, but the Lotus 72 was really exciting and the Lotus gas-turbine, in spite of its failure, had me on tip-toe with excitement. The abortive 4-wheel-drive season depressed me, but the G-forces developed in 1972 were staggering, as were the lap records. The almost total disappearance of British drivers from the leading group in Grand Prix today is depressing at the moment, but the end is not here by any means.

I don’t think it is possible to "lose interest" in Grand Prix racing, once you have discovered it. Moments of disenchantment may appear, but loss of interest is unlikely. I may be wrong.

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