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Once, I Had A Car

FEATURE BY MAT COCH
11/03/2013

It was when pushing it away from a busy intersection during peak hour traffic I realised I probably needed a new car. The old girl had served me well for many years but, as my first car, it never quite got the love and attention it needed. Every now and then I would open the bonnet. The engine was always still there.

The tyres never got air, the oil went unchecked and I'd learnt how to use the throttle, clutch, choke and handbrake in unison to stop the thing from stalling when I got to a set of lights. The suspension knocked and rattled as though it had sheared off its mounts while the radiator was held on precariously by a single bolt.

Then, when trying to accelerate away from a set of lights I was engulfed in a cloud of blue smoke and became the subject of annoyed motorists whose drive home had been rudely interrupted.

If I'm honest the car's demise was my fault. I could have checked the oil and possibly even changed it once in a while. A service now and then probably wouldn't have killed me but not doing so probably did kill the car. What I saw as quirks ultimately became embarrassing, cataclysmic problems for the car.

The memory of that car got me thinking about Formula One and its current situation, and whether the sport now is in a position where some of its quirks are becoming genuine problems. Are we perhaps so enamoured with it that we just can't see them?

For example much has been made about the presence of pay drivers in Formula One. It's no secret that there are drivers on the grid who have less talent than others who are on the sidelines, the difference being the almighty dollar.

Of course this is not a new phenomenon; Niki Lauda started as a pay driver, as did Michael Schumacher. Bringing money to a team has always eased that final step, but has it now got beyond a joke?

There are drivers in Formula Ford who have mortgaged their houses, or more to the point their parents houses, to go motor racing. They're immensely talented and win races but when the money dries up so does their potential. I have seen it first-hand.

Last week the reigning GP3 champion Mitch Evans told me he doesn't yet have the funds he needs to see out the year in GP2. He has backing from a number of prominent New Zealand businessmen, but from a country with a population half that of the City of London his appeal is small on the international market.

The odds are stacked against him. Unless he is picked up by a Formula One squad's development programme, which at his advanced stage looks unlikely, it seems doubtful he can make the next step. It's a point he admits to having concerns over.

However I do not believe this lust of cashed-up drivers however is the problem; merely a symptom. The underlying problem in motor sport, and this runs true of categories from grass roots level to the very pinnacle, is simple: cost.

In 1971 Ron Tauranac sold Motor Racing Developments to Bernie Ecclestone. He couldn't justify the £10,000 a year it cost to run the Brabham Formula One team. That's about £120,000 in current money for a race winning Formula One team.

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