Formula One and the Meaning of Life

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Formula One and the Meaning of Life

Read what you may (can) of the fact that Formula One currently uses four-stroke V8, naturally aspirated reciprocating engines and that that piece of information overrides all other considerations, human, which is why it is almost impossible to fathom a global TV audience of more than half a billion, especially when you consider that the 'sport' (hereafter referred to as sport), once stripped of grotesque details about engines and tyres, has a simple man in a highly complicated car navigating simple routes according to highly complicated rules, over and over again. This is not traditional entertainment. This isn't the celebration of Messi's agility, Federer's grace or Bolt's cockiness (Think of the last time you had an impassioned debate about the kind of sole used in Lionel Messi's footwear, or the composition of the fibre used in Roger Federer's racquet). Honestly, it doesn't seem to be about any one particular 'thing'. For those outside the sphere of its influence, the entire edifice of F1 fandom is possibly the single greatest existential commercial enterprise there is; for hard-core fans, the proposed transition from V8 to V6 turbocharged engines is a topic worthy of unreserved debates involving varying levels of technical and/or verbal sophistication. Here is a sport that is relentless in its celebration of highly specialized details, here are fans who revel in the glory of mechanical movements, here is a governing body (which owes its existence to men driving cars really fast) that takes the sugary-drinks-advocating-for-healthy-living skulduggery to its ironic pinnacle by launching road safety programmes; and yet, in spite of all that (more likely because of it), here is one of the cleanest, truest mirrors available to our civilization; to quote Protagoras: of what it is, that it is; of what it is not, that it is not.

Ever since man learned how to move, he began to appreciate the perks of moving faster. Speed has replaced strength as the principal contemporary evolutionary trait. Stuff (a human being, a car, financial data) that moves at a greater speed is considered more valuable, the ability to do so more desirable and the desire to do so much commendable. Speed, not velocity, but speed. Because velocity depends on a change in direction (before you point at the sharp turns on a circuit and protest, ask yourself if 'delicate navigation of turns' is what F1 is primarily or even secondarily about.) What we look for is repetitive motion, where it doesn't matter that you traverse the same patch of land a million times, as long as every iteration is a little faster. The modern education system (don't just learn by rote the same things your ancestors did, but do it quickly) prepares us for just that from our infancy. F1 is just the grand unified theory of speed, the culmination of a global narrative where the collective, primal and uneducated dreams of a species aspiring to move quicker through space, time and life graduate summa cum laude. It is important to consider the F1 phenomenon against this backdrop; instead of viewing it as an isolated incidence of repressed hormones, it makes sense to view it as a natural evolution of representative genes. It is there in the name: Formula One. Not as drab and obvious as football, where you manipulate a ball with your feet. Formula', which succinctly describes a lot of seemingly independent observations with the same underlying structure and reason, as all formulae do. And 'One': We are the fastest and by extrapolation bear of sole credibility of being watched and emulated. It is as if the sum total of all modern human endeavours was analyzed in a crucible for decades and the Holy Grail of ambition was thrown out as a result, with a frenzied scientist gleaming: Yes, it exists! Of course it is called Formula One!

Barring aesthetic differences, the role of a driver in F1 is similar to that of a soldier operating a drone; he is there because someone needs to be there. An F1 car, for all its beauty and brilliance, cannot (unfortunately) drive itself. That isn't to cast any doubt on the skill, physical/mental prowess and the admirable grit of a Schumacher, just to point towards the obvious truth that the car limits the driver; just like the fact that not everything is inflammable limits fire; and that in no other sport does a change of gear (from one world-class brand to another) affect the performance of the sportsperson the way it does in F1. There is still an incredible amount of work left to do in order to steer a machine of that complexity, and most of us would prefer a quieter death. So it isn't all about the car, just mostly. And that is ok. Because the notion that we can probably fit into the Red Bull machine and perform exactly like Vettel is what gets us to the stands, and the sharp-toothed truth that most of us will never get close enough to a mechanical beast of that calibre to prove otherwise is what keeps us there.   

So the next time you get inside your car and the when-compared-to-a-Ferrari-sadness creeps into the depths of you bones, delude yourself into believing that it doesn't matter what machine you are in. Because when (if) you find an empty stretch of road and step on the pedal; as your hair fly away into the night sky, you take humanity a notch forward. You aren't just a driver, you are the living, moving, racing embodiment of our age; one in which crossing a line a second earlier than someone without the resources to procure a faster moving, more robust piston made in Germany defines, structures and ultimately makes your day (life).  Somebody’s Fernando, someone’s Kimi.

Or maybe you are just an insecure, unrealistic, juvenile fanatic compensating for an otherwise shallow existence. Like you care!