I for one hate it. Politics and sport. It makes for good newspaper reading, but that’s about it. When you boil it down, I genuinely feel bad for all the athletes, past and present, that have been dragged into this long standing debate. This wasn’t the first or last time we will see these arguments made. But last week, the political Cold War started anew between familiar players. But on new battle lines. A race track. In Russia.
My personal feelings on politics and sport were perfectly echoed by many of the drivers and team managers on Thursday and Friday in Sochi. A New York Times reporter kept standing up and asking questions in the drivers and team managers press conferences. I haven’t seen him before at a race. Not that he hasn’t been there, but the F1 journalism community is a small one. We all know each other. Photographers, writers, and TV presenters. We all share the same paddock, hotels, bars and media center. So when this NYT reporter stood up and asked the same question twice, it got on my nerves. And you could tell it got under the nerves of those he was posing the question to as well. “Should F1 be in Russia? What are your feelings on being here when all the instability and potential wrong doing was happening a short hop skip and a jump over the border in Ukraine? Are you going to race?” The last one particularly made me laugh. The answers were simple. And the real time to ask those questions was months and months beforehand. Not on the day before a Grand Prix. But when you ask a team, who has shipped their cars to this place, their team members, their hospitality and garage equipment and are fighting for valuable points in the world’s biggest motorsport championship, or when you ask a driver who has but a small lead over his rivals, and his career depends on every millimeter fought for on the track…..of course they’re going to race. What a ridiculous question. Can you imagine Lewis Hamilton deciding he didn’t want to race on Sunday? Neither can I.
No matter where it is in the world, F1 will go there if someone is willing to pay for the sport to show up. That’s not politics. That’s commercialism. Don’t confuse the two when it comes to a sport like F1. And we all know F1 is about money.
But what I really love? No matter where we go in the world, there will be fans that turn up to the track, decked out in their favorite driver’s team apparel and chanting his name. Maybe not as many as you used to find in Spain, Imola, Monza, Silverstone, Estoril or Suzuka, but rest assured, F1 fans are a global community of racing fanatics. And amazingly, Russia is no different. I was shocked; I think we all were, at how passionate and numerous the fans in Sochi were. I can say that of the races I’ve covered this year, Russia’s Thursday driver autograph session was one of the busiest and most energetic of 2014.
So while the race itself was slightly more interesting than a paint drying competition, that is no fault of Russia’s. Look to the manufacturers, Pirelli, the circuit designer and current engine platform and racing regulations, if you have a problem with the sport. But the location wasn’t the problem. I think every photographer who was in Sochi came home with nothing but pleasant things to say about photographing the circuit and the light, oh the light. It seemed to be perfect all day long. But especially in the afternoon.
So let’s drop the politics and sport debate. It’s over. It’s done. It wasn’t going to change the first time the question was asked. And we’ll be back in Russia next year. In fact, we’ll be there exactly at 10am on Friday October 9, 2015 for practice 1. Until then, enjoy some of my Russian Grand Prix images.
A big thank you to Sochi Grand Prix, all the friendly Russians who bought us Vodka, all who welcomed us with open arms, talked with us and cheered for the sport we all love. And to James, Russ, Laurent, Blackbird, TK, Richard, Road and Track, my family and friends and everyone else who make this globetrotting life of mine possible.