As the evenings are drawing in, the weather is getting cooler, and it is not really fit for being outside, we sometimes gather around the dining room table on a Sunday afternoon and play a family game of some sort. Now for those of you who are not aware of my domestic details (and why should you be?) my two children are eleven and eight, and sometimes have a hard time with losing. Whether they lose because of bad luck (most of the games we play are purely down to luck), or whether it’s bad strategy (those familiar with the card game ‘Uno’ will know what I mean), it is still hard to come to terms with being a loser.
But then we remind each other that it was fun taking part, we each did our best, and that maybe if we play again, the result might be different.
But when my son, who can count perfectly well, throws a four that takes him to the top of a snake, he instinctively moves five, or three, or suddenly needs to visit the toilet. He really can be quite creative in the face of adversity. And we others need to keep an eye on him. “It spoils the game for everyone else,” we tell him. But we don’t punish him; we just quietly correct him and get on with the game. And when he does it for the umpteenth time, we probably let him get away with it, and just get on with the game. Sometimes my (elder) daughter understands, and behaves well, but other times, she loses patience, and blurts out “but it’s not fair!” which of course is true, but she still wants to play again the next week.
The perceptive reader might already be making a link to motor sport (at least I hope you are).
It just strikes me that these days, our culture seems to have moved on – I can’t bring myself to use the word ‘progressed’, for I am not sure if it is apposite – to the point where the scene I’ve just described seems incredibly old-fashioned. I suspect that Sunday evenings for many children will mean playing computer games, on which they have become adept by surfing the internet for ‘cheat codes’ or tailor-made strategies. Or watching the latest F1 scandal on the TV (apparently they show the Grands Prix in full on the TV these days…).
Competitiveness is now the buzz-word; win at all costs. Dads teach their sons to dive in football practice, appeal for LBW regardless of whether the batsman was playing a stroke, so it goes on. Cheating is endemic: the crime is being caught. The casualty has been sport for the fun of it; “it spoils it for everyone else.” Does anyone care whether others actually enjoy themselves anymore?
The answer is that of course they do. I am lucky in that I get to write about the sport that I love, and to talk about it. And I enjoy writing and talking about it. Sir Stirling Moss said something similar recently on the occasion of his eightieth birthday – that he always raced because he enjoyed it. And I can think of many racing drivers in the sport today that are doing what they do because it is great fun to drive cars fast. And many of them would admit that they are not as good at it as Allan McNish is, for example. There are many writers and commentators better than me. But I don’t go to the Guild of Motoring Writers and complain about it. I just get on with what I do and hope that people enjoy it.
But you cannot walk around a paddock these days without meeting people who take themselves far too seriously. It would not be appropriate in this article to go into detail, but I approached a driver in an event earlier this year whose car had stopped on the circuit during a practice session. I tracked him down, and asked him what had happened – had he spun, was there a mechanical failure, etc? He denied the whole episode. There wasn’t a problem, he hadn’t spun, he hadn’t stopped, he said. Now this was a driver whom I hadn’t met before, and who didn’t know me (except for the fact that my journalist’s pass was clearly on display). But at the very least I expected him to refer me to the team’s Press Officer, if he didn’t want to talk about the incident. In effect, I was lied to. (Isn’t that an offence, Max?)
Hands up if you can think of a situation where the first reaction of the second-placed driver after finishing a race is not to shake the hand of the winner – however worthy he is – but to reach for the rule book and see if your rival can be protested for some transgression.
“But the sponsors expect me to win!” is the plaintiff’s cry. What on earth did you tell your sponsor then? Does he not understand that the very nature of competition is to risk losing? If sponsors only back winners, then we are indeed in a sorry state.