Back in 1984 Ian Anderson, as lead singer of curious rock group Jethro Tull, lamented in their song "Lap of Luxury" that "…I hope someday you'll find me, in the lap of luxury". A couple of verses later he noted "…And the gaffer is a man of substance, drives a Jag and takes high tea. Lives beyond the industrial wasteland, laughing in the lap of luxury".
This lyric (the track comes from Jethro's album "Under Wraps" for those interested…) leapt into my mind when Zak Brown recently noted that Formula One needed to trim the luxuries to ensure ongoing good health.
Given that top executives (of which I'm sure Zak would be considered within their number), and drivers salaries are all excluded from the cost cap this rather made me laugh.
Recently in Australia we had a 2018 McLaren Senna offered for sale by a South Australian dealership. Listed as "used", despite having a rather modest 211km on the clock (about the distance to the average post office down under...), resulting via calculation in around 63 miles being covered per year since build, with a base price (excluding government charges) of $1.799m Australian dollars, being around 935,480 pounds sterling.
To drive away this used McLaren Senna, in Australia, would add far more than another $180,000 AUD to the price, being a glorious mix of GST (our version of VAT), stamp duty (another tax), plus dealer delivery charge (aka - extra profit, what do we think this mug will swallow?). But to keep this simple we will ignore these significant additional costs, which would take the drive away price well over $2m Australian.
Now the UK Office of National Statistics quotes the average UK wage for 2019 as £36,611. So, excluding government charges, the McLaren Senna is just short of being twenty-six years' worth of the average UK wage.
So is Zak's, admittedly beautiful, top of the line collectable a luxury, or a necessity for the highly-monied few?
For many in poor parts of the world, luxury is indoor running water rather than a communal tap some miles walk away. Do they consider a super car that has covered 63 miles per year a luxury?
This is a horrid division to consider, but as COVID-19 makes the world take a firmer glance into the mirror than usual, I believe taking a second to pause winding the Rolex collection and consider what is an acceptable luxury is a worthy pause.
Esteemed editor Balfe and I both own cats (which as we all know actually means that they own us, but that's another story...) is that a luxury too far until all humans have the luxury of drive-through food direct to their laps?
Keeping our wavering gaze firmly in the mirror one can sigh and admit that all sport is a luxury. Much of the world has the ability to direct significant resource at sport because all the basics that once were rare luxury for the very rich are now covered for the vast majority.
Put into the context of life and surviving COVID-19 as a race, we no more need the Premier League, or motorsport, than we need basketball courts for turtles.
Yet, with food, water, shelter, and clothing off the luxury list for most, and on the "I've already got one!" basics list, we all need something to do in our spare time (another luxury), to ease the mental burden of the day jobs that give us the money to afford such luxury.
Mercifully we did not all fall endlessly in love with table tennis and swimming and thus around the globe we are spoiled for sporting choice. What luxury!
Cycling, archery, football in a dozen different varieties, cricket, and, dear reader, motorsport.
In the luxury of my own home on a larger than necessary screen the family and I (including the cats) shared the visual luxury of 'Ford Vs. Ferrari' as this delightful film is called in Australia and America (one assumes because the studio believes that the great viewing public does not have the luxury of knowing what 'Le Mans' is, or why 1966 would matter...).
We spent a couple of hours luxuriating in the visual and aural feast that is a near-perfectly executed film. Yes historical inaccuracies are present, but as a hand-crafted work of brilliant art it is a triumph. The film was a joyful luxury for us, yet others will be indifferent, or scornful.
Is it a luxury that such a film was financed and completed? Is it a luxury that we watched it indoors, glass of Australian Shiraz in hand, and lapped up every second?
The human condition is a complex one dear reader, far more so than some of my previously tortured extended metaphors in this column. I love cycling and motorsport as both a spectator and participant. As do many others. I drive a car I cherish, not the more basic car I actually need.
In our western world luxuries abound! In every home, within every developed world life... luxury to overflowing. So why does Zak suddenly have the luxury of defining where the line between necessity and luxury sits? Why is he sitting on the three-legged stool of modesty, while the other team leads are cosseted in the leather armchairs of excess?
Why are the top drivers remunerated more than a legion of every day workers, and then excluded from a cost cap supposed to level the playing field? The elites afforded one more luxury as a right?
Too many glasses of that naughty luxury of a good Australian Shiraz and one is in danger of becoming embittered if one continues that line of reasoning.
We as a human race have crafted a world whereby many are afforded fine lives, where we can select specific luxury that delights us.
If those on significant incomes cease to purchase the practically useless cars Zak flogs for a King's ransom, said Zak will find his fine highly paid job suddenly becomes a historic luxury.
If those in the paddock with a fraction more in the old vault than Zak elect to spend it on monster motor homes, larger Swiss watch collections, and wide-body personal jets, well jolly capitalist bully for them!
As the oracle of the tee-shirt wisely stated years ago; "He who dies with the most toys wins".
As the response cynical tee-shirt proclaimed a few short weeks later; "He who dies with the most toys is still dead".
In the end we are all rendered equal. It is what we do with the time given us before that moment that defines us and gives us meaning. We each chose those luxuries open to us, that delight us, and in some way imbue a moment of our lives with both meaning and delight beyond mere existence.
Creating or watching a great film. Building a wine or violin collection. Buying the car we desire, not the one we need.
Striving with all of our being to excel in a sport that thrills us, delights fans, and for a moment allows the true greats to touch the face of God, in return for risking their souls on the edge of human performance. A true miracle of performance afforded by an indulgent luxury.
Each to their own Zak. You'd better hope enough souls continue to elect to drop hundreds of times the average yearly salary on your cars which possess as much practical use as our turtle basketball court.
In the meantime, each to our own where no harm is done, let the gaffer drive his Jag and take high tea, and let the motorhomes roll, each in our lap of luxury!
Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here