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Five Reasons why Football is better than Formula One

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Where I come from, there tends to be two kinds of boys. Car boys and football boys. You can like both of course, but essentially you know at some point you are going to have to choose. Are you a Top Gear guy or a Match of the Day man? It may be a sociological problem at some level, but the fact remains that despite sharing the tag of being “sports”, football and motor racing are poles apart.

After the debate stirred up by my dissection of cricket and football recently- all criticism welcome and in most cases deserved- the time has come to take on the four-wheeled, money-making beast that is Formula One. Why does football trump this sport so comprehensively, even in a week when arguably the greatest Champion in the history of F1- Michael Schumacher, announced his stunning (and compassionate) return to the cockpit to replace injured friend Felipe Massa.


1. Safety

felipe massa 150x150 Five Reasons why Football is better than Formula OneOnly one place to start really, this would have been the number one issue even if it hadn’t been for the events at the Hungaroring last month. Football has its risks, injuries certainly are a far more common occurrence in the modern age than they ever have been, but in a wider sense an injury is not necessarily the end of the world. Muscle strain? Few weeks out. Broken leg? Few months out. Despite being very much a contact sport, football is relatively low on the danger scale.

Formula One, on the other hand, has to be right up near the top of said scale. Anyone who complains about the money paid to top drivers would do well to remember that these guys are driving at breakneck speeds, in cars designed to go as fast as possible. Safety standards have undoubtedly improved, but it took the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger & three times World Champions Ayrton Senna during the same weekend at the 1994 San Marino GP to see safety elevated to a primary issue.

Ratzenberger died when a front wing deficiency caused his car to smash into a wall at almost 315km/h during a practice session, fracturing his skull fatally. Just a day later Senna, already disturbed by both the Ratzenberger incident and another serious crash involving his countryman Rubens Barrichello in another practise session, ran straight off the track at a high speed corner (telemetry shows Senna left the track at 310km/h but had managed to slow to around 219km/h at the time of impact). The Brazilian suffered fatal head injuries, believed to be caused by impact made by the car’s front wheel smashing into his helmet, and despite the best efforts of the F1 medical squad, he was pronounced dead later in the day.

These incidents prompted a number of serious changes to the sport, most of which have been hugely successful. The structure of F1 cars, which were previously geared exclusively towards speed, became more safety-orientated, concrete walls were replaced by tyre barriers and driver safety became an ongoing concern. Statistics show that Formula One’s safety record over the fifteen years since Imola 94 is commendable, but still the risk persists, as seen with the Massa incident at Hungary recently.

There, the Ferrari driver was hit by a suspension spring which had broken off the front of Barrichello’s car. The metal spring left a four inch gash in the reinforced helmet worn by Massa, and also penetrated his visor, causing a deep gash in his head, and fracturing his skull. Not forgetting of course that the Brazilian was travelling at around 200km/h at the time of impact, and continued his journey- unconscious- head on into a tyre barrier. Massa is not expected to compete again this year, but in truth he is lucky to be alive.

The facts are, although Formula One is a sport which has made incredible strides in terms of safety- you only need to look at the innovations made by teams such as Lotus & Ferrari in the last forty or so years to see this- drivers still find themselves at risk every time they step into the cockpit. Additionally, human error can prove fatal, whereas in football human error can cause a loss of goals, points or at worst trophies. For example, even during the same race on Sunday, Fernando Alonso saw his front right wheel fly loose across the track after an error during a pitstop. At the pace F1 cars drive, a loose wheel could kill.

Ok that was a bit morbid to begin with, but it is a valid point in my opinion. Safety is as important in sport as it is in life, and in that respect Formula One still has a way to go.

2. Politics

fia 150x150 Five Reasons why Football is better than Formula OneArguably, no other sport houses as much political in-fighting as Formula One. Ask any expert, past or present, what their number one gripe with the sport is, and I guarantee you they will say the politics which prevail. Recently both Michael Schumacher & Nick Heidfeld have commented on the situation, which is currently threatening the very existence of the sport as we know it (see point three).

The sport is governed by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), which houses a collation of the organisation’s many member groups. Its president is a man not unfamiliar with controversy, Max Mosley. Without going too deeply into his sexual peccadilloes, Mr Mosley’s credibility has suffered greatly over the past year and a half as a string of lurid stories have appeared concerning his personal life. It is fair to say that his imminent bid for re-election in October should be an interesting campaign.

Either way, whoever is in charge (Mosley has been since 1993), seems unable to stop the issues which are blighting competition in F1. Namely the confusion surrounding rules and regulations, which have dogged recent seasons and threatened this one before it had even began. In 2005 we had the farce of the US Grand Prix, in which only six cars competed due to safety fears regarding tyres, which were not handled effectively by the FIA. Last season we saw numerous punishments doled out at an alarming rate, often well after the race had been completed. Lewis Hamilton suffered from this at the Belgium Grand Prix, a race he had seemingly won. However, stewards ruled that he had performed an illegal manoeuvre in cutting a chicane (in a bid to avoid smashing into Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen by the way), and gave him a post-race penalty of 25 seconds, changing not just the result of the race but also the make-up of the Championship.

Of course I am not ignorant enough to believe that such punishments are meted out without reason. My issue is with a sport in which the final result of a contest can be amended. Imagine fans of Hamilton who would pay good money to watch their hero race, win, and then find out when they get home that he has been demoted. The FIA and race stewards have a duty to govern the sport, but I think it is fair to say they haven’t found a perfect way to do so as of yet. Their enforcements of rules are often haphazard and inconsistent, a sure-fire indicator of the political unrest which runs through the sport like the word “Blackpool” on a stick of rock. Say what you like about Sepp Blatter and FIFA, but one thing he does not (on the face of it at least) have the power to do is to influence the result of a football game, and fans can leave a match happy that the result they have just witnessed will be the result when they wake up the following morning.

3. The future

fota 150x150 Five Reasons why Football is better than Formula OneAnd what of the future of F1? Football may well be set for a financial meltdown in some quarters, and big clubs may well need bringing down a peg or two in order to restore a bit of parity to the game. But at least we know there will be a sport next season!

The sport is currently at the centre of an ongoing feud between the FIA and the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA), with the main sticking point being an agreed £40m budget cap on all teams for the 2010 season. The FOTA argued that such a restriction would result in a two-tier Championship, with bigger teams granted greater technical freedom. When showdown talks between the two parties broke down, four teams- Ferrari, Toro Rosso, Renault & Red Bull- threatened to withdraw from the 2010 Championship, and talk of a breakaway Championship soon emerged.

Legal action was threatened, the first team to cross the picket-line and confirm their entry for 2010- Williams- were banned indefinitely from FOTA, as were Force India. The eight remaining members of FOTA went back and forth, issuing threats, demands and lawsuits, and it was only in June that some sort of agreement was reached between the two parties.

However, later that month it emerged that the FOTA members had been informed that they were not entered for the 2010 season, leaving the future of the sport very much in limbo.

4. Meritocracy

ferrari 150x148 Five Reasons why Football is better than Formula OneIn sport, you tend to find that talent shines through. Even in team sports. And especially in football. It doesn’t matter how bad a team is, a good player will be a good player, and will be recognised as such. You don’t necessarily need to be in the best team or at the best club to be considered a successful footballer- look at Diego Maradona’s accomplishments at Napoli, or the reverence afforded to Matthew Le Tissier or Alan Shearer at Southampton or Newcastle.

Formula One, it seems, is very different. A good driver can be rendered useless by a dud car, a slow team or bad tactics. Lewis Hamilton was the youngest Champion in F1 history last year, shining with his aggressive driving style, tactical nous and cool temperament. He still possesses all those attributes this season too. But what he also possesses is a car that he has at various times this season described as “dead slow”. Indeed, Sunday’s success in Hungary was Hamilton’s first podium finish of the season, and took his points tally to just 19- a full 51 points behind Championship leader Jenson Button. Putting that into context for a second, Button last season drove for the Honda team, and picked up just three points throughout the entire season.

Who is the better driver? We will probably never know until all cars are identical- which is unlikely to happen any time soon. Many consider the likes of Michael Schumacher & Ayrton Senna to be the best drivers of the modern era, but who knows if lesser lites such as Gerhard Berger or Jean Alesi may have had such success with the (full) backing of McLaren or Ferrari? If you ask me, football provides a far more reassuring, and transparent, level of meritocracy. We know who is good and who isn’t, and talent is easier to spot and admire.


5. Team Orders or Race Fixing?

ferrari team orders 150x150 Five Reasons why Football is better than Formula OneIt is probably one of the few racing issues with which I have a true opinion. One that, to me, is the equivalent of a staged football match.

Team orders within Formula One are common. In truth, most teams have a hierarchy among their two drivers, with one driver preferred above another. This driver will often be the beneficiary of a more aggressive strategy, more technical improvement and, in some cases, scandalously, staged track position.

Schumacher was the master benefactor of this, during his time at Ferrari the German would often inherit wins from team-mate Rubens Barrichello, who would slow down to allow his colleague past, in order to assist his World title charge. A nice bit of team-work? Or plain race-fixing? I think it is the latter. If Barrichello drove a better race than Schumacher, he deserves the win. Simple. Handing it to a slower driver devalues the whole competitive spirit of the sport, not to mention cheapening the career of both drivers. Why wouldn’t Schumacher want to win a race fairly on the track? Kimi Räikkönen inherited a World Championship a few seasons later at Brazil having been waved through by team-mate Felipe Massa, but to me it left a sour taste as he was clearly not the best driver during that race, winning only due to team orders.

I know it is hard to cross-contextualise between sports, but it is the equivalent of the fixed football match. There are unconfirmed instances where such collusion has taken place in football- Germany v Austria in 1982, Coventry v Bristol City in 1977- and experts suggest that end of season match collusion is rife in Italy & Spain, but these instances are widely considered to be scandals, insults to the game’s integrity. In Formula One, team orders (a.k.a. race fixing) is considered par for the course. Not good.

So there you have it, first cricket, now formula one. Is there any sport that can top football? Keep reading to find out.

Also Read: 10 Reasons why Football is better than Cricket.

Comments (16)

  1. Ridiculous, to sum it up in one word.

    Safety : Pity one person is in a car traveling at 300 KPH and the other one is running.

    Politics : Agreed, the Max-Bernie circus is comedy gold. But what about that Blatter bloke? The Slavery comments? How “ENGLISH” clubs are supposed to be on zero debt and Madrid can buy Mars for 1 Trillion and play? No politics, eh? I could go on..
    Meritocracy : How the hell did Alonso get to Renault and Mcaren? I mean, Minardi was a shite team nah? So by your logic, Alonso should be shite too. How did Schumi end up in a Ferrari from Jordan? Mark Webber, Vettel….. No meritocracy there?

    Team Orders : Yes they exist. But Schuey “used to”?. he was their #1 driver. He was their hope for world championship, someone who could take the battle to Mika and co. Why wouldnt you favor him?

    Would you play Darren Bent if you have Drogba and Torres? Just to balance things out, you know :)

  2. Safety?
    It is simple really and has always been the same.
    Football or as I call it ‘grollyball’, is a childs sport blown out of all proportion by old men of limited intelect.
    Motor sport is for men and will remain so while it is remains ‘dangerous’.
    We live in the age of the PC weedy generations, who are living off the achievments of their for fathers and betters.
    Personaly I have not seen a ‘man’ for over a decade.
    Compare the risks taken to improve vehicles and the sacrifices made in the past to the weeds of today.
    No comparison is there.

  3. F1 requires much more of the fan than does football. Football’s strength and weakness is that its a simple game, F1 is complex even at its simplest. If you really take the time to understand both sports it’s F1 that will reward you most. F1 has an educated and professional fan base football is enjoyed by all demographics but has a preponderance of chavscum who lack the intellectual capacity to derive the greatest pleasure from anything.

  4. Firstly I will prepare for the criticism that comes my way, but remember that this is a football website, and I am a football fan, hence the “bias” towards football. I was asked to write a series of articles on why I prefer football to other sports….

    @ #1

    1. Of course I am not stupid enough to compare the perils of driving a car to running (as you well know), the point is made that for a youngster looking to start a career in sport, the risks are far lower in football than F1, and that human error does not cost lives in football. Credit was given to F1 for their safety improvements in the wake of Senna, and things such as refuelling fires (e.g. the Jos Verstappen one at Hockenheim in 94, or Eddie Irvine’s at Spa 95) will be a thing of the past thankfully from next year.

    2.Blatter and his politics are indeed a subject for discussion, but the point remains that FIFA and their antics have little bearing on results of games and championships, they are decided by players and managers. Formula 1 has too many grey areas with regards to the FIA and, in my humble opinion, this detracts from its integrity as a sport.

    3. Meritocracy refers to the fact that an obviously good driver can be rendered redundant by poor teams. We can use your example if you like, Alonso is clearly a talented driver (probably the most talented in F1 at the moment), yet he struggles because Renault cannot provide a car to match his talent. Schumacher found a similar problem in his early Ferrari years- no doubt if he had been at McClaren and Hakkinen at Ferrari, there would have been no question who would have won the title. That is the logistical argument, Barrichello was described as a dinosaur last year by the BBC, this year he is top four, reason? The car.

    My own personal opinion, and that is all it is, is that driver talent should be rewarded more so than mechanical proficiency.

    4. Team orders. Yes Schumacher did benefit, on more than one occasion. If Barrichello was unable to take the fight to Mika and co, why was he ahead of Schumacher in said races? To me any sport should be a battle of ability, with the best man on the day winning. Pulling over in sight of the finish line to let someone past is not sport as far as I am concerned.

    And this is no criticism or downplaying of Schumacher’s achievements, it is something I dislike about the sport as a whole, whoever benefits from it.

    The Bent/Torres argument is actually valid. Teams playing weakened sides in lesser games has been a big talking point in football (wish I had thought of that when writing as it would have been a useful addition), and there have been many rumblings of discontent from the likes of Neil Warnock (of course). Where i would say it differs from team orders is that there is no obvious, measurable, affect on the result of a game/title, whereas a driver- say Raikkonen at Brazil 07- taking over a faster teammate to collect the points, does.

    Maybe I miss the point about it being a team sport. But to me I like to see the best driver win.

    Keep the comments coming though, that is what such articles are for, to spark intelligent and thoughtful debate.

  5. You are missing a fundamental fact about F1.
    It is not only a championship for the best drivers in the world, it was also created to bring the latest technologies into competition for the benefit of world vehicle development. The internal combustion engine and the dog gearbox currently used have been obsolete for many years and rule changes in this area have simply been variations on a theme. The same is true for aerodynamics which are basicaly the same as was available to aircraft dwsigners during WW2. Kers and the complex regulations are essential to bring to the attention of the F1 teams, the EV revolution happening under their noses. Fota was set up for the benefit of the gas guzzler manufacturers and their boss the oil industry. All this is by definition a political base of operation.

  6. also in formula 1 they spend 10 million pounds to make a car go 1 second faster… i think that’s a little ridiculous.

    and before you go about the transfer fees which have especially been hight this summer, i still think think that spending so much money for ‘research’ is absurd.

  7. Autogyro.

    That is a fair point, but also one that- to me at least- veers well away from the sporting aspect of the sport, which is the most interesting part for me.

  8. There should be NO restriction on money spent on research, IF such research is relevant to ordinary vehicles and how the human population benefits from it.
    The problem is the inability of the gas guzzler manufacturers to recognize the EV revolution under their noses which is essential to the future of mankind.
    One million for one second is cheap if relevant.
    One million for a grollyball player is sick.
    Sport of course, is very difficult to find in either discipline.

  9. Wow, you actually said safety based on one incident. Oh and you can’t compare sports which are COMPLETELY different, idiot.

  10. I think what has happened here is someone has wrote an article on a football blog. Now I’m not one for making sweeping statements but, I bet the kind of person who will look online at a football blog is the kind of person who might watch F1.
    (Which also includes myself.)

    You need to look at Formula 1 in a whole different light, people watch F1 for the cars not just the stars. It would be like watching football to see how well the latest football boot was doing and whether the new upgrades on the studs helped the player. (Though I think no amount of upgrades to the studs on a football boot could keep C.Ronaldo on his feet.)

    Anyway here’s my response to each point:

    1. Safety – Huh?!

    2. Politics – Every day is filled with the “politics” of Football and not just the obvious stuff David Beckham leaving Galaxy, Newcastle United’s financial woes, signing players younger than 18 by Man U. All this is politics!

    3. The Future – Anyone who knows anything about F1 would know that this is all for show and that it will most likely be here for many years to come. Talking about the future, does anyone remember the whole formation of the Premier League? I seem to remember that was a similar event.

    4. Meritocracy – Buh? Really? Lewis Hamilton won the last race in a car that is definitely not one of the best in the field.

    5. Team Orders – Yeah that’s true I won’t defend this one. Though no one is going to be doing this again. You can’t really compare this one, you’d need two Man Utds, two Arsenals in the league to compare this one.

    Also anyone talking about money in F1 and money in Football should take a big step back and laugh at the state of both sports. That or break down into tears.

    In the words of Charlton Heston from Planet of the Apes, ” YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! OH, DAMN YOU! GODDAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!”

    Thanks for listening.

  11. I love F1, but stop writing these! Obviously football beats everything! The only thing that trumps a footy match is a hot tub full of high priced hookers that also cook and clean! But if the match is on at the same time, even better!

  12. I think football provides on the whole more compelling sport than F1 – I just don’t necessarily agree with the reasons Neil!

    1) Safety – I think you should consider flipping that argument on its head – the work that Formula One has done to stop crashes at 150mph+ being fatal is nothing short of incredible. The improvements in design can often find their way into road cars, which are in turn safer. As well as this, I find the fact that the drivers are putting their lives on the line incredibly courageous.

    2) Politics – It’s been said – football is FULL of this, and the resulting media coverage far more intense.

    3) The future – Yes, there was the threat of breakaway, but it’s been averted. Frankly, it all seemed to posturing anyway, much like Perez’s talk of a European Superleague this summer. And as you say, potential financial meltdown threatens both sports. I would argue that F1 has begun to take steps to address this, but a league such as the Premiership has not.

    4) Meritocracy is a big call. The examples of Maradona belong in a previous generation, and the gifted drivers prove their worth by outscoring their teammates and getting seats in better cars. As has been pointed out, Alonso began at Minardi, Schumacher at Jordan, Massa at Sauber. The cream rises to the top, even if some have to spend time scoring small victories at the back.

    5) Nobody likes team orders (race fixing is too strong a term to sit side by side match fixing – there is a legitimate team reason to secure a driver’s individual success, it’s just poor form).

    I think the main reason for football being more exciting is the two you missed:

    6) It’s a procession – Limited overtaking, TV does not capture the speed of the cars very well. And after that, there’s the procession of the season – if one car is far and away better (Ferrari in the early part of the decade) the title race can be over in August.

    7) Support – do you support a driver or a team? Can you be as partisan as you would for a football team? Can you follow your driver/team live all over the world? Can you hear the screaming fans over the racecars? Football is all about these inexplicable personal attachments, and F1 doesn’t tend to create that.

  13. soccer sucks

  14. True, so true

  15. Formula 1 is all about money and who has the best car. It’s a good occassion to go to a Grand Prix but as a sport it’s a bit of a joke.

    I agree with the writer…no comparison to football…the passion doesn’t even come close.

    And you have to wonder what all these Formula 1 lovers are doing on this site? Yes, I’ve followed the sport too and many of us are just sports addicts but I’m very disillusined by Formula 1 in recent years.

    And anyway, it’s a light hearted topic..so take it as such! :)

  16. Passion for teams named after a certain area or place and yet using players from anywhere around the world.
    Irrelevant. It makes no sense and it is not sport.
    Money is all football is about nothing else.
    Of course there is no comparison with motor racing, football is a school game and motor racing is for men.