If you're a regular reader of this blog you'll be aware of my obsession with motorsport and F1 in particular. I really love watching the spectacle of motorsport, and I honestly feel that motorsport and racing is so unique that you don't get the same experience with any other sport. I also enjoy competing in motorsport through off-road trials in Land Rovers. I've done a few rally experiences over the years too, and found that I quite enjoy driving fast, and I love getting a car to go exactly where I put it, whether through slow maneuvering in the trials or the fast-paced actions in rally driving (I turned 18 exactly while executing a handbrake turn in a Subaru rally car). In short, I'd love to drive competitively for a career. However, I don't envy professional racing drivers.
This seems quite an odd thing really - kind of paradoxical. I'd love to drive professionally, however I wouldn't want to be in the same position as a professional driver. This isn't because of the pressure that drivers come under - I thrive under pressure. It's not because of the danger - I can be quite an adrenaline junkie. No, it's because of the sponsors.
Tonight I was watching the television when the ever annoying ad break came on. Alongside the usual 'Cash-for-Gold', 'Have you been injured?' and Hovis ads was an ad for Santander, the bank which sponsors McLaren. Two Santander ads came on, in fact. In the first, McLaren's own Lewis Hamilton was pictured standing on a podium - all three slots on the podium were occupied by Lewis to be accurate (the stewards would have a field day!). The second Santander ad (which admittedly, I quite enjoyed) featured Lewis and Jenson Button building a massive lego F1 car. Once the Santander ads had finished, an ad for the new Fiat 500 came on, this one featuring Fernando Alonso (although not, I noticed, Fernando's voice). Finally, an advert for Head and Shoulders shampoo aired, featuring Jenson Button and the worst acting I've ever seen. This final ad pushed me over the edge.
I understand that F1 is big business, with sponsors galore and lots of people involved in the apparent corporate machine. Yes, drivers need to be sponsored to even get into F1. Sponsorship is part and parcel of racing. However, do drivers really need to feature in adverts like those listed above? Head and Shoulders, Jenson? Really? Drivers should be just that; drivers. While the sponsors obviously need the reciprocity (we give you money, you give us advertising) can't they leave the drivers to get on with their sport? This is one of the reasons why I don't envy the drivers. F1 in particular is getting more like big business and moving away from being a pure sport. (Ok, other sportsmen are involved in advertising, I realise this, however I have to point out this feature in racing too).
A second reason why I don't envy racing drivers was highlighted when I went to the Nurburgring. During my trip to the Nurburgring I attended a pit walk and an autograph session. I also watched the drivers' parade before the race. Now, I had a choice whether to attend these events. I sense the drivers are more limited in their free will. Fair enough, I'm guessing the drivers understand that they have to meet fans, but would I want to walk out to hoards of people screaming my name and hounding me for a signature every single working weekend? I'm not so sure.
A third reason became apparent today on Twitter. The usual suspects were in attendance at Monza, and so for people who are slightly addicted to Twitter we got an interesting insight into a Thursday on a race weekend. Loads of Twitter/F1 people were posting pictures of the media sessions on a Thursday, and it made me realise how many interviews, press conferences and general publicity sessions that the drivers have to go to. F1 is a team sport, however you rarely see the mechanics giving interviews - the drivers are the ones who face the questions. Would I enjoy my every move being questioned a hundred times over by different journalists? I doubt it.
So, on a race weekend a driver has to answer a never ending barrage of questions and meet their adoring (and at times, crazy) public. When not racing, they have to please the sponsors and become the face of a brand - be that Fiat, Santander or, indeed, Head and Shoulders. However, that's not all.
Last weekend I took an unexpected trip to Cardiff to watch the Red Bull Speed Jam for which I won tickets. In attendance were Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo. It was their weekend off, however they were still being made to get back to the day job and entertain us. Don't get me wrong, I loved it. However, it does seem a bit much for the drivers to have to drive around and show off when they're not actually racing. You wonder how much choice a driver has in this matter. No doubt they enjoy the actual driving - if they didn't then they wouldn't be in that career - but do they enjoy having to go to these events? If someone went up to Mark Webber and said 'you have to drive this car round this place at this time and go and sign a hundred-odd autographs', would he be that willing? I doubt I would be, and that's another reason why I wouldn't envy the drivers.