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Remember the ‘Good Old Days?’

Submitted by on September 23, 2009

‘Soon Mosley will be gone, to be followed one day by his little pal. Behind them the pair will leave a sport stripped of its integrity, its old values replaced by a superficial prosperity that can no longer conceal a putrescent core.’ Richard Williams, The Guardian.

This damning little passage from one of the sport’s most inspiring scribes (even if his historical books are somewhat patchy), has resonated this week.  Written in the wake of the Renault F1 debacle, it is imbued with the yearning for the sport’s good old days that almost every fan shares – even if they cannot agree when those days might have been.

‘Golden eras’ are a generational thing.  There are those who pine for the ‘Formula Ford’ era of the 1970s; those who feel that the ‘half-tonner’ cars of the early Sixties represent a minimalist perfection; there are many fans of the fireworks that were the hallmark of Prost vs. Senna vs. Piquet vs. Mansell; the turbo-era afficianadoes… the list is endless.

All are united by one common bond: believing that things just ain’t what they used to be.

The question is, were those days ever as great as we like to remember them? Already the Schumacher era is being canonised as one of unprecedented virtuosity – the contribution of the team members, compliant number two drivers and the complete cock-ups of rival teams being pushed as far back into the shadows as his many indiscretions on the track.

How often, for example, is Giuseppe Farina remembered as first Formula One world champion rather than a man who would do his best to have you off the road – regardless of the consequences – even if you were lapping him?  How many people think of the pre-war Silver Arrows as anything but a calling-card for the Third Reich, staffed in the main by voluntarily card-carrying Nazis?

For me what rankles deepest in today’s sport comes from the culture – or lack of it – created in the reign of Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone.

Employing a driver who requires the instruction to ‘push’ during a race, for example, or is too stupid to know what lap he is on, simply beggars belief – regardless of whether he has been ordered to crash on that lap or not. Then there is the bastardising of the racer’s language so that the qualifying session is now ‘quali’, Eau Rouge is ‘Turn 3’ and the Lesmos are ‘Turns 6 and 7’.

These matters trouble me more deelpy than whether or not disgruntled team members are circulating knowledge of their car designs.

The history of every sport is filled with cheats, crooks and liars from the gladiators onward – but the current scandals of Formula One are symtomatic of the enormous self-importance that has been fostered by cloistering the paddock behind electronic gates and great swathes of opaque screening.

Sport requires two things to be considered great: heritage and an affinity with its followers – whether factual, notional or manufactured.  Formula One has long since abandoned any affinity with its followers, and has done its damndest to recreate its own history, abandoning its founding Grand Prix in France and jeopardising its European heartland in the search for ever-more cash…

A search that began with Gold Leaf Team Lotus in 1968.  Clark… Chapman… what a golden era that was!

Nick Garton

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