I have no interest in motor racing at all, and not a huge amount in sport, either live or on television, or radio. I enjoy watching the odd football match, the odd game of snooker, tennis, and so on. But if I miss a game, match, tournament, I’m not bothered. I watch the football scores, that’s about it. I’ve once been to a horse-race, and it was about as boring as it could be; and I can’t fathom the appeal, either, of motor-racing (interesting how the old word ‘motor’, for ‘car’, persists) – either on TV, or in reality, because it just doesn’t seem to lend itself to spectating. Obviously, I don’t know enough about it, which is all there is to say. I’m just explaining where I’m coming from.
Now my father was keen on fast cars, and on motor-racing. One of the few books he owned, and the first ‘proper’ book I ever read, was Alfred Neubauer’s Speed Was My Life. Neubauer was the manager of Mercedes before and after the war, a company which took motor-racing very seriously, and whose champions included names like Rudi Caracciola, Juan Manuel Fangio, Richard Seaman, and a young Stirling Moss. They raced against great rivals like Tazio Nuvolari and Achille Verdi, in death-defying grand prixs – and often death-loaded grand prixs. Seaman, for instance, a British driver, was killed at the age of 26 in the 1938 Belgian Grand Prix. I only really remember these names, because when my father bought himself a Scalextric set as a Christmas present for me (sic), the ‘drivers’ were given these names (and when I started driving, and ever made the mistake of exceeding the limit, my father would say ‘less of the Fangio’, which I perfectly understood, just as I smarted at his hypocrisy – he managed 128 mph on the A1 before it was a motorway, and terrified the wits out of me).
So I do understand, at a remove, the hullabaloo surrounding Lewis Hamilton’s one-point victory as the youngest world motor racing champion (he’s 23). What is surprising, and disturbing, is the considerable amount of negative public reaction – a minority reaction, yes, but vociferous enough – to his victory. There are several reasons given by his (British) detractors. One is that he in some way cheated. Another is that he lives in Switzerland for tax reasons. And the other one? His skin isn’t white. The comments on AOL, the ISP I use, are quite viciously explicit about this, actionably so, if anyone is prepared to push AOL into revealing their ISP accounts to the police. It is a sudden reminder that we still live in a society where racism is deemed sufficiently acceptable as to allow some cretins to post messages on public forums. Much is made of racist chanting at football matches, say, in Croatia, and there is some racist chanting still persisting in England.
And this is probably informing the criticism of his tax position (the runner Paula Radcliffe, who lives in Monaco, does not receive this kind of taunt). There was a ten-year-old film, East Is East, not too bad, on Film Four on Saturday night, which depicted racism in the 1960s, specifically against Pakistani immigrants and their British children. It was a reasonable film, but its general thrust was that racism was a thing of the past, almost a comic historical matter. But reading some of the taunts launched at Hamilton, it looks depressingly as if racism is still alive. If, one hopes, seriously unwell.