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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Victory to whom victory is due?

In international sports competitions most people tend to always support their national team. It makes sense, considering that sport events are the best source for a strong feeling of nationl identity. But who can claim victory in Formula One, where teams are often made up of two or more different nationalities?

Let’s take Fisichella’s recent win with Renault at the Malaysian Grand Prix as an example. With Fisichella being Italian and Renault a French company, to whom does the victory actually belong? French or Italy, or even both? If Schumacher and Ferrari had won, there story would have been a different one. Italians would have celebrated Ferraris success while ignoring the fact that Schumacher is actually German. The whole notion of national identification seems to be rather fluid in Formula One. For some countries it appears to be a case of ‘who is driving’ while others identify themselves more with the nationality of the constructor.
So, while you can see a German celebrating the win of Ferrari, purely because of Schumacher, the same person couldn’t care less about the performance of Mercedes McLaren or BMW Sauber.
The concoction of national identities in Formula One makes it possible for anyone to identify themselves somehow with almost any team. ‘Pick and mix’ as much as you please.
What, except for the tyres (Bridgestone), is actually Japanese about Toyota. The biggest spender in Formula One has their car developed in Germany, their construction team bought together among international engineers and their pilots, Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli, are German and Italian… Come to think of it, Germans should be supporting Toyota at least as much as Ferrari…
The only team with a truly national identity seems to be Super Auguri. But then again it has been developed purposely by Honda to capture a dwindling Japanese audience.
So where will this leave the fan base of Formula One in the future? How will we decide which team to support, during a time when brand identity comes before national identity?
Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum’s idea will provide us with an alternative. He has just developed the new A1-GP, also known as the ‘World cup of Motor sport’ which will take place between September and April. His idea is simple: instead of driver and construction team taking centre stage, nations will compete against each other in uniform cars.
Maybe this will bring the spirit back into the race and make the whole national anthem question a lot simpler.

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