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GLOBETROTTER Respect and chivalry

Respect and chivalry

NOVEMBER 4, 2008
Sunday was the best day I can remember in my motor racing career. I have thought about it a fair bit on the way home and while I have many great memories from 25 years in the sport, this one really stands out. Why? Because it was the most extraordinary piece of sporting theatre. Yes, but also because I was proud of the sport. Really proud. At the end of it all I was delighted for Lewis Hamilton, desperate for Felipe Massa. I even had to reassess my opinion of Fernando Alonso when I heard that he had gone to congratulate Hamilton. Massa may not be the Formula 1 World Champion - he may never be - but if there is anyone in the world who does not think him a champion then they are nothing but an imbecile. When he climbed from his car at the end of the race, he bowed to the crowd. He was saying thank you. He took defeat with a grace and a style that one rarely sees in modern sport. It was, as a friend of mine noted, "an almost Olympic moment of sporting gesture ".

"I know how to win,” he said. “And I know how to lose. That’s racing!"

Brazil may not have gained a World Champion but it did acquire a new sporting idol. A superstar.

I wanted to cry for him.

But in the end I was just proud of him. And I was proud that there are such big-hearted people in a sport that all too often is seen as being filled with devious and small-minded folk, doing it all for the wrong reasons. There was a grandeur about it that was so honest and poignant - and so much more.

All too often the sport has left me angry or sickened. I remember back in 1997 I called for a pox on the FIA stewards after they declared Michael Schumacher's assault on Jacques Villeneuve to be a racing incident. I felt the same way this year at Spa and in Japan, but we don't call for poxes these days, we have become more polite, or more worried about the implications of honesty. For me Spa was a real low-point, coming as it did after the disgraceful offtrack goings-on of 2007. There were times then when I felt the urge to walk away and not look back.

My colleague David Tremayne and I produce an e-magazine called GP+ at each race and this has the catchline "It's all about the passion". Formula 1 is always thrilling but passion comes from the people involved. Modern sport often lacks the passion. It is about winning at all costs - at any cost. Losing with honour is just losing. This is why in sport there are performance-enhancing drugs and bribes, why there are so many sleazy people. Formula 1 has its fair share, but compared to some other sports it is pretty clean. There are sleazy people and many who use the sport for means other than it was intended: to make themselves rich; to make up for lost political careers; to compensate for character flaws. But walk around the F1 paddock and you will still find that the majority hold on grimly to the romantic belief that motor racing should be a little bit like medieval jousting - a contest between men who want to prove that they are the best at what they do.

And in that innocence there is both joy and passion.

In the days before the race in Brazil I wrote a column elsewhere ruminating on chivalry. Yes, I know, there is no room for such juvenile and romantic concepts in the modern world of sport but, you know, I don't mind people laughing about it. If we all give up the idea, it will never survive. But it is so good to see the younger generation of drivers coming in with strong views on the subject. Before the race Felipe and Lewis talked about their hopes and their dreams; their heroes and their gods. To them it is a sport and the most important thing is not just winning, but also the way in which one wins.

This wonderfully archaic concept was something that the likes of Michael Schumacher and Jean Todt never understood in their drive for winning efficiently - at any cost.

Given the need to be cynical in F1, I found this to be something of a paradox. How can there be chivalry in a world that has no room for it?

I was reminded of a book from years ago when I was a student. "The Waning of the Middle Ages" was written by the brilliant Dutch historian Johan Huizinga and took readers back to the medieval times and tried to help them understand the thinking. Huizinga argued that by the end of the Fifteenth Century, the concept of chivalry was completely artificial and yet was kept alive because people needed romantic ideals to help them cope with the harshness of their lives.

"To the world when it was half a thousand years younger," he wrote, "the outlines of all things seemed more clearly marked than they do to us. The contrast between suffering and joy, between adversity and happiness, appeared more striking."

And because they needed the concept of chivalry, it became impotant again, bankrupt though the ideals had become.

There is an element of absurdism in the need to believe in pure and untainted ideals in a world so cynical, but watching Hamilton and Massa in Brazil, I found a reason to be proud - and it felt very, very good.

This sport is one that was built by brilliant and positive people. We need to remember that as we move onwards, trying to solve the sport's problems.

What the sport showed on Sunday is that passion, class and style generates respect and the sport will achieve so much more if it is respected.

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