Sportsmanship in F1

Discussion in 'F1' started by ferrari_kid, Apr 7, 2004.

  1. ferrari_kid

    ferrari_kid Formula Junior

    Jul 5, 2003
    taken from
    Dear Nigel,
    Having read your Autosport column for years and the strong feelings you have about driving standards and etiquette in F1, what do you think is acceptable behaviour in the modern era? Mark Webber seemed to brake test Fernando Alonso more than once in Bahrain, while Alonso did the same thing to David Coulthard last year at the Nurburging. And what of Ralf's antics – why pass people when you can simply drive them off the track? Then on the other hand Takuma Sato was the epitome of aggressive fairplay in Bahrain despite his hot-headed reputation…
    Katey Hollands, Salisbury, UK

    Dear Katey,

    As you say, I do have strong feelings about driving standards and etiquette in F1, and I'm interested that you should ask what I consider to be acceptable behaviour 'in the modern era'. As far as I'm concerned, 'the modern era' makes no difference – and that goes for manners of every kind, and not just on the race track. Alan Jones used to say, "Good manners are not optional", and I agreed with him then, and agree with him now. When it comes to bad manners, I have zero tolerance, and I wish more people felt the same way.

    As for questionable etiquette on the race track, the same applies. By that, I'm not suggesting I expect F1 drivers to behave like choirboys – this is the top of the tree, after all, and aggressive driving is to be expected, and, so far as I'm concerned, encouraged. 'After you, Claude,' is not going to get you very far in motor racing, let's face it.

    That said, there is a line over which I don't believe racing drivers should go – and really what it amounts to, as Martin Brundle has said, is respect for those against whom you're competing. Back to Jones again. He and Gilles Villeneuve had some of the toughest fights I've ever seen, but they had consummate respect for each other, and drove accordingly.

    This was how Alan remembered those battles: "Gilles would never deliberately block you. If he thought you'd won the corner, he'd give you room – maybe only a foot more than you needed, but never a foot less – and consequently I'd do the same for him. A totally honourable racing driver".

    Keke Rosberg, another with whom Villeneuve had many an encounter, concurred: "In a race car, he was the hardest bastard I ever knew, but absolutely fair. Racing was a very pure thing for Gilles. He never put a dirty move on anyone in his life".

    There's no doubt in my mind that the driving etiquette in F1 is not what it was, and I think there are three reasons for this. First, the etiquette in sport generally is not what it was, so that these days 'sportsmanship' is regarded by many as wimpy – indeed, almost contemptible. Sad, but a fact of life. Folk go to a football match, watch a scrappy game, with 22 blokes kicking the hell out of each other, and so long as their team wins 1-0 they seem to come away quite happy.

    Second, don't underestimate the significance of money. For a very long time F1 – like most sports – has been awash with it, and when the financial rewards are colossal people can sometimes behave in a manner they would otherwise never consider.

    Third, with regard to standards of behaviour in F1, I'm quite sure that the decline has much to do with the fact that racing is so comparatively safe nowadays – not absolutely safe, of course, for it never can be – but hugely more so than it was.

    When I asked former World Champion Phil Hill what had accounted for the change in driving manners, he said this: "Well, they feel they can get away with it, I guess. That's the only possible explanation. If guys drove like that in my time, they usually sorted themselves out pretty quickly with a big accident – or else somebody else did it for them.

    "Some of the stuff that goes on today...I just don't know what to think. Doing that in my many of them would have ended up in fatal accidents. It was just unthinkable, really, to touch another car, because of the potential consequences. I know it sounds corny, but those were the facts. Over the long term, you just couldn't do it, and get away with it. Now they know they can get away with it, so they do it."

    From what I saw, it looked very much as Webber did indeed 'brake test' Alonso in Bahrain last weekend – just as it seemed that Alonso did it to Coulthard at the Nurburgring last year. As for Ralf...well, Patrick Head described his race as, "A bloody mess", and that about summed up the situation. I thought he drove like an idiot on Sunday. In the incident with Sato, he turned into the corner as if the BAR were not there – where the hell was Takuma supposed to go? The fact was, Ralf – on the outside – had not 'won the corner', yet he behaved as if he had. I was astonished that he received only a reprimand afterwards.

    It came up elsewhere and I thought I'd bring it up here since it seems to be a growing issue. Has F1 lost it's sportsmanship, I know it's not just F1 that has it's rowdy athletes, they're everywhere. But where have the days gone where you'd give space to a car that has made the pass and you don't brake check another driver to put them off the track? There were a few instances in the last race, Sato and Ralf, Webber and Alonso.

    I think it has a lot to do with the huge safety margins we have now. Driver's are just being competative. Even though it seems like they've crossed the line a few times.
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  3. Texas Forever

    Texas Forever Five Time F1 World Champ
    Rossa Subscribed

    Apr 28, 2003
    You have hit a huge mine here. As the father of a 17-year old, who has coached amateur ball, trash talking, jive walking, mo fo sob, is the order of the day. Sad, very sad. I remember when the key to winning was having respect for your opponent so that you could exploit his weaknesses. Not today. Probably the worse is the NBA. If I was a high-school coach (and I'm glad that I'm not), I would forbid my kids from watching NBA games. That ain't basketball.

    It is not surprising that F1 is no difference, even though a very minor error in judgement can be life or death. Too bad.
  4. Brian C. Stradale

    Brian C. Stradale F1 Rookie
    Lifetime Rossa

    Mar 17, 2002
    Dallas, TX, USA
    That was an excellent letter and response... thanks for posting it.

    And yes, its sad the state of sports even at the kid-level. At least a third of the parents of kids are complete idiots with no sense of respect for the kids, the coaches, the referees, or the other parents... the only thing they respect is scoring and winning.

    And I find that particularly sad because I believe competitive sports can be an exceedingly valuable teaching tool for our youth... if handled properly... with respect for all involved. I have my kids involved in Taekwondo (a martial art) and Cheerleading... two sports that have, to date, remained very respectful. Manners are the norm there.

    Amateur auto racing is another good place to play. Its a shame it doesn't extend up to F1.
  5. ferrari_kid

    ferrari_kid Formula Junior

    Jul 5, 2003
    I didn't mean for this to embark on all of sports in general, but it seems to all be connected. It's that respect for the competition and your competitors that has disappeared apparently. They used to say that it's not about winning, it's how you play the game. But I admit that even when I played baseball all that mattered was that we won. Infact, it didn't make a difference because we lost more often and we learned to love the game for playing it and not winning.

    Actually, after reading what I just wrote, I can already see my coach saying it's a loser's attitude, maybe even some members on here would say the same. But it's probably that humbling experience that a lot of these people lack that make them so bent on missing the real point in the sport. They forgot that it was just fun to play the game. I know this is going to sound very Disney movie-ish, but when our baseball team started having fun playing instead of winning, we actually made our way into the State Tournament.
  6. Anthony_Ferrari

    Anthony_Ferrari Formula 3

    Nov 3, 2003
    Sheffield, UK
    Full Name:
    Anthony Currie
    The problem in F1 is that they are allowed to get away with it. I had a debate with my uncle about this last year. He thought that Schumacher's 'chop' on Alonso at Silverstone was unacceptable. I agreed, but I also pointed out that Schumacher was right to do it. If you can squeeze someone off the track at high speed and receive no censure, then why shouldn't you do it again? That's what's different these days. In the past if you squeezed someone you might kill them. These days as long as you win the corner it's worth it. If you knew that your actions might lead to you losing places or points you would think twice.
    Ralf did drive like an idiot in Bahrain, but he gained no advantage either. Under other circumstances he might have won the place and Sato could have been the one in the gravel. Ralf would probably have received no punishment so there would be no reason for him not to do it again.
    The financial stakes are high these days, but I don't think that comes into it. I'm sure Jim Clark wanted to win just as much as Michael Schumacher does. I don't think doubling someones prize money makes them want to win more. These people would still want to win even if the prize was a bottle top!
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  8. Ferrari_co_uk

    Ferrari_co_uk Karting

    Apr 16, 2003
    London, UK
    Full Name:
    Mark Langfield
    Motor Racing is a very tough sport. The incidents that happened at the recent Bahrain GP were tame compared to what you see at most Formula Ford meetings or even kart meetings.

    The problem as I see it is there is precious little punishment for blatant bad and dangerous driving and yet drivers are very quickly punished for genuine racing incidents. F1 has a responsibility to show what can and can't be tolerated and yet we see Senna going unpunished for driving Prost off the road and winning the WC. Schumacher driving into Hill and winning the WC, attempting to drive Villeneuve off the road to win the WC. This has an effect, it shows that if the means justify the ends then it is ok.

    Drivers learn from an early stage that it's dog eat dog out on the track. If you've been driven into there is precious little chance that the assailent will be punished by the stewards (in fact if you want anything done you'll probably have to stump up a protest fee at the end of the race yourself).

    So, I think there needs to be much better officiating (sp?) at the lower levels that does not put up with dangerous driving and in turn F1 needs to set an example to behold.

  9. Mitch Alsup

    Mitch Alsup F1 Veteran

    Nov 4, 2003
    It used to be (back in the 1950s and 1960s) that bad racing driving got people KILLED, now it only gets a fine at most. No wonder the agression level has increased, there is no particular reason to supress it anymore.
  10. BigTex

    BigTex Seven Time F1 World Champ
    Rossa Subscribed Owner

    Dec 6, 2002
    Houston, Texas
    Full Name:
    We spend a lot of time in my kart league with the newbies, explaining overtaking in the corners.

    That said, the biggest event we ever had was with an SCCA instructor who came out to participate.

    He touched tire to tire with a competitor, overtaking.... launched six feet into the air, and rolled the car FOUR times!

    I was impressed, and would have been greatly entertained if it hadn't been my shift at the wheel next!

    I restarted the thing, and finished fourth, with a wheel wobble!

    Thanks for posting that. It ties in somehow with the "mutual respect" being discussed in OT now.
  11. Lawrence Coppari

    Lawrence Coppari Formula 3

    Apr 29, 2002
    Kingsport, TN
    Full Name:
    Lawrence A. Coppari
    I remember reading a piece describing an interview with Mario Andretti where he said that the safer the cars are, the rougher the driving gets.
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  13. ferrari_kid

    ferrari_kid Formula Junior

    Jul 5, 2003

    But that doesn't mean it's ok to do what they're doing. Just because someone isn't going to be killed doesn't mean it should be ok. There is always the possibility of injury or worse. It makes sense though, because we can see the same things on the street.

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