So go on then you Sarojini Nagar Senna, you Vettel from Vikhroli, lick your fingers and stiffen your hair in the reflecting door of your polished BMW. Press the accelerator and lose your timidity as a man. Then go take a deep whiff of burnt rubber, bruise the eardrums, ogle the pit girls at that thing called the Delhi Formula One (F1). Watch the kiss of metal skin as a Red Bull shoves aside a Prancing Horse; discuss the cojones required to overtake at 300 kmph; drool over the sex of this technology; amuse yourself with the fact that Lewis Hamilton is a distant relative of a Patna getaway driver.
Have a nice day. Enjoy.
Meanwhile, I will be watching the Calicut Ladies Embroidery Championships. Anything. Just not this. Sebastian Vettel and the slower herd behind him are incredible, gifted folk. They compete in a sport where the implications of a mistake go way beyond defeat. They just don’t move me.
I’ve written this all before, but let me do it again for your sad benefit. It’s not just that I don’t get cars and thus my word association is all screwed up. You go “Piston”, I think Isiah Thomas; you say “bodywork”, I think Gisele Bundchen; you say “marshal”, I think Wyatt Earp. But it’s not that, it’s not even that I think this sport has it ass-ways, and didn’t Nascar driver Kyle Busch once say: “The key to driving is your ass. You have to feel what your car is doing, and that feel is in your rear end.”
Hidden: Under the helmet, McLaren Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton. Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images.
Thing is, I got no feel for this sport, at any end, not as a writer, not as a sports watcher. I should have never gone to my first race in Melbourne years ago. Bad idea. The cars came, they went, I waited. So at the arena, I watched TV. This is fun apparently.
All sport requires some imagining, the tactic about to be played, the anxiety corroding the batsman’s mind, the pain coursing through the tennis player’s foot where a blister sits like a bloody snarl. But Formula One asks too much, it is too invisible, too opaque for me, too absent of the rope of emotion that binds me to the sportsperson. The driver, helmet on, hands gloved (now you’ll be a smart-ass and tell me this happens in cricket too), is plugged into the car, inserted, an astronaut on a ground mission. I feel like waving goodbye.
Also Read | Rohit’s previous Lounge columns
But I can’t see his pain, his face doing its g-force contortions, his feet doing the Liberace tap dance on the pedals. I can’t see him dribble out vomit like Pete Sampras once did, can’t read his lips going “fuck this” as a football striker went the other day after a miss, can’t see him flick a frisky Federesque forelock, can’t see his suffering like a Tour de France climber standing high on his pedals.
I can see what his car does, but I can’t see him at work, his skill is apparent in his drive yet it is also a mystery. Even when he wins, you wait for him to eject himself, and the moment dies, it’s not like the Woods’ immediate uppercut to God or Nadal doing his celebratory knee into the gonads. There’s an absence of humanness here.
Here’s another thing. They sell earplugs during the Singapore F1 in a bag called a Survival Kit! Ok, I’ll concede, this mechanical beast on its track prowl gives you an inebriated mule-kick of adrenalin but it’s not my sort of sound. Mine is the boxer’s uufffffff on glove pushing back cheekbone, it’s even Victoria Azarenka’s whoooaahhh, it’s the colliding grunt of the rugby scrum, it’s the squeak of sneakers on hardwood floors, it’s even trash talk. That is sporting music, this is noise. So sue me.
Don’t even get me started on the rules. There used to be this red, thick grammar book we had to study as children, full of all that obscene talk of past participles and intransitive verbs. That was easier. Don’t even talk about overtaking. Apparently it happens and I know you’re going to give me a detailed example of when and where. Thank you kindly.
But let’s talk about the contest. Boxing does it best, the cold-eyed stare, the stripped-down nakedness, the truth that no one can help you when the bell goes. Man against man and all his frailties. Basketballer shouldering basketballer. Tennis player sending down intimidation. Footballer tugging at someone’s testicles at a corner. Nice. Machine against machine. Not so nice. I want will-against-will, not wires against wires. Do you have to be a great driver to win? Sure. Can a great driver win a lesser car, can his skill make up for inferior engineering. Not really. Bah!
One last point. Made before, making again. This Messi fellow, he plays with the football I do. This Nadal fellow, I have his Babolat racket swinging from a hook in my room. I like that. I like this connection, I like the insanity of what they can do with similar equipment. I make the football do the mundane thing, Messi makes it dance, sing, talk, spin. So does Nadal. The Formula One car is incomprehensible, it is beautiful, magical, astonishing engineering but it ensures a certain divide. I can’t have it. Actually I don’t want it. And herein may lie the crux of the whole damn problem.
I don’t drive.
Rohit Brijnath is a senior correspondent with The Straits Times, Singapore.
Write to Rohit at firstname.lastname@example.org