Monday, October 22, 2007

The Very Best?

Yesterday saw the conclusion of one of the most interesting Formula One championship seasons in recent years. Lewis Hamilton, rookie sensation and points leader going in, flubbed the first lap then suffered mechanical problems which set him well back in the field, costing him the title. Fernando Alonso, his teammate and two-time champion, drove a steady race to a lackluster finish. This left it to an improbable Kimi Raikkonen to come from third in the points to capture the drivers' title by winning the race. I'll say I wasn't displeased by this as I feel that since McLaren were (rightly) disqualified from the Constructors' Championship, their drivers should have been as well. F1 commentators are fond of calling it a 'team sport.'

What really struck me, however, was not the race but a segment in the pre-race coverage on Speed Channel. Each of the top three drivers was asked, "If something unfortunate happens to prevent you winning the championship, which driver would you like to win?"

To which all three replied with some variation on, "If I can't win it, I really don't care who does." Amazing. Not one had the courtesy or the guts to say, "I think so-and-so should win." It shows the depths of self-centeredness that Formula One has sunk to in the last few decades.

Contrast this with today's Indy Car drivers: each year the Indianapolis Star asks the participants in the 500 mile race a similar question. Most will name another driver, often a teammate. Better yet is Jackie Stewart, himself former F1 champion driver, speaking about his experience in leading the 1966 Indy 500:

"You know, I thought later, 'I could have won this thing!' But the
team won; Graham [Hill] won."

Quite a change in the last 40 years. Formula One drivers are called the best in the world. The most skilled? Maybe. The best quality? I don't think so.