Is Racing A Sport?
1./spôrt/As car aficionados you can probably guess where we stand with this question. Yes. Racing is a sport. There, we said it (let the debate begin). But don’t be so quick to parse words or negate the effort involved in producing effective results when you compare racing to the school yard games and organized leagues you played growing up. They all require an inner drive to fuel the compulsion to beat the opponent.
an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.
Now, if we’re all being honest here we need to clarify that racing lies within its own universe of sport; specifically motorsport. As such it is defined as a sport involving the racing of motor vehicles, especially cars and motorcycles. This is when we hear arguments that the motor wins the race and not the driver (because anyone can drive… more on that later).
Granted it’s true that without the motor you can’t win a race (it’s called motorsport for a reason after all). However, in all sanctioned professional racing there is a formula for the construction of the car which includes everything from the chassis to the safety cage; from the engine to the exhaust; from the fuel cell to the energy recovery system… you get the point right? All participating cars are required to meet the regulations of the governing body. That being the case then all cars powered by the Renault engine should have taken the top spots in the Formula 1 2013 season. But that didn’t happen! Red Bull-Renault did win the championships but the remaining Renault powered cars finished the season in 4th, 9th, and 11th (dead last). We don’t discount having a great engine will help win races but for Renault to collectively finish first and last makes us believe that surely there is more to crossing the finish line first than having 18,000rpm of pissed off motor behind you. Perhaps it’s the driver and team.
If you’re a motorsports fan then you know that the driver is an integral part of the machinery. It takes an extremely well developed sense of environment, mechanics, speed, endurance and courage to properly pilot a Formula 1 car. These are skills developed over a dozen years in lower Formula series where drivers learn to properly critique the performance of the car and provide that feedback to the engineering team. And not every driver has acquired the skill set to constructively instruct the mechanics to improve the car’s on track behavior.
For the driver it’s not just turning left and right. It’s not just throttle and brake. It’s not just straight line performance. This isn’t weekend auto crossing or car club track days.
It’s more like using cat-like reflexes to get off the starting line when the lights go out to get around Mark Webber who’s dogged another start. It’s shifting up five gears and back down four gears to the first corner meanwhile adjusting the front/rear brake bias so the tires don’t lock up. It’s fighting for position centimeters from other cars through the first turn watching the mirrors as Roman Grosjean careens over the top of two cars. It’s chasing the car ahead trying to clear the dirty air yet stay close enough to use DRS for overtaking and telling the pit wall that more downforce is needed at the next stop. It’s watching the braking zones heading into the glaring sunset full throttle while hitting the drinks button to stay hydrated. It’s finding the right racing line every time through a race distance as G-forces try to rip car and driver apart in wet and dry conditions.
It’s the driver and team that do all this and more that will win on race day. Because in racing if you’re not winning you’re losing. There are no playoffs, no wildcards and no division champions here. The teams and drivers are racing everyone at the same time with no home court advantage. A level playing field so to speak. There’s no “12th Man” here.
But to be fair there is never a truly level playing field in any highly competitive sport with enormous risk and reward. It’s no different than baseball, football or soccer in that the teams with best resources will always try to outsmart their opponents. Whether it’s the best pitcher, quarterback, coaches, doctors, wind tunnels, aerodynamicist, mechanics, drivers you can bet they will be highly coveted throughout the sport.
By the very definition of the term sport we ask “how can racing not be considered anything else?” It has star players, teams, trainers, coaches, officials, drama, exotic locations, trophies, and cash reward just like every other sport. Perhaps a redefinition of the word to “an activity that is mortally dangerous involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment”. Then everything else can be called games and their participants gamers.