Clarkson on: sport
You probably breathed an enormous sigh of relief when you heard that the BBC had reacquired the rights to show F1 motor racing on television.
And then, moments later, you experienced a massive spasm of chest pain and a tingling in your left arm when you heard the new 'face' of F1 being touted to the newspapers was Richard Hammond. This is a man who has never watched a Formula One race in his life, who thinks Frank Williams is called Brian. By his own admission, he is to F1 what Richard and Judy are to spot welding. Seriously. Put him in the commentary box, and I guarantee that after 10 minutes you'd saw your left leg off to get Allen back. Rest assured, though. It isn't going to happen. The Beeb knows its onions.
It'll bring Fleetwood Mac back. And that's just the start. Never again will all the best overtaking manoeuvres happen while you're watching an advertisement for panty liners. Never again will the race be 'analysed' by men who tuck their polo shirts into their trousers. Never again will James Allen tell us that he was having a shower with Ralf Schumacher last night. Televisually, then, all will be well.
But unfortunately, television companies are simply waiters, bringing the product to your table. And I'm not certain that changing them will make much of a difference. Because the real problems are with the sport itself... All of my life, I have cursed the amount of space taken up on the box by football. "Why", I wailed, "is anyone interested in these nancy boys kicking an inflated sheep's pancreas round a field? It is not interesting."
But then, one day, my wife gave birth to a boy who, for no genetic reason that anyone can fully understand, has grown to be fanatically interested in the fortunes of Chelsea. And, of course, that sort of means I've had to get fanatically interested as well.
Just last night, the two of us settled down to watch the Blues play Liverpool. And it was like being plugged into Drax B. There was the horror of the early goal, the tension of Chelsea's thwarted fight back and then, in the final second of added time, the orgasmically joyous own goal.
An own goal! Not only had Liverpool been effectively knocked out of the Champions League, they'd done it to themselves. My boy and I did a jig round the coffee table. We punched the air with delight. And as the camera zoomed in for a close, high-definition look at the culprit, we could see the misery, the agony, the grim realisation that he was a complete and utter failure. That he'd ruined everything for himself, his club and indeed a whole city. This made us jig about with joy even more.
And then they showed us pictures of the crowd. The boy and I stopped jigging for a closer look. It was even better than we'd expected. The whole Kop was a sea of misery. God, how we laughed. We hadn't laughed so much since Manchester United were knocked out of the Carling Cup by Coventry City. We hate Manchester United. We think Rooney's ears are ridiculous and Ronaldo is a big girl. Indeed, my boy came home from school the other day and said: "Dad, do you know what the three best words in the English language are?" "Manchester. United. Nil."
"By his own admission, Richard Hammond is to F1 what Richard and Judy are to spot welding"
Now, let us pause for a moment and try to imagine a motor racing fan having even remotely similar thoughts and emotions about the result in an F1 race. Quietly, I support Ferrari, despite the cars being painted red, which is the colour of Satan.
But I do not leap about the room, punching the air when they win. I react in the same way that I react when my wife makes sardines on toast for supper.
"Ooh, that's nice." More interestingly, I do not weep uncontrollably if they are beaten by Lewis Hamilton. He's a nice chap, after all, and it's good to see a Brit on top. By rights, we should all hate Fernando Alonso. After his hissy fits last year, he should be Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Fred West and Germany all rolled into one. We should whoop and holler every time his car breaks down. But we don't.
I watch a Formula One race in a state that most scientists call "being asleep". Usually, I miss the end. Always, I don't care about the result. And this is because I don't know very much about the drivers or the teams for whom they race.
A football manager is a larger-than-life personality. With the obvious exception of Avram Grant, who is also what scientists call "being asleep", they stamp about on the touch-lines shaking their fists, and afterwards they try their hardest to say kind words about the team that has beaten them, but usually end up laying into the ref, the officials, the quality of the ground and the sheer blind luck that gifted their opponents a win. They are, then, what experts call "human beings".
Now, let us compare and contrast this state of affairs to life on the pit wall and in the post-race press conferences in F1. Ever seen Ron Dennis and Flavio Briatore having a fight? Can you imagine such a thing? Or what about Frank Williamscalling Jean Todt a drunken retard? Behind the scenes, these people may be human beings, but at the circuit, they become human bores.
And then we have the drivers.
When Didier Drogba falls over, and I will admit he does this a lot, we get a big close-up of his face as he rolls around on the ground pretending to be hurt. When he scores, we zoom right in, so we can see the dopamine rearranging his face. Football may be a team sport, and a big business, but because we can see the players, it is as human and as touching as any Sebastian Faulks novel.
Things are very different in F1. Nelson Piquet once attempted to punch a fellow driver. And Michael Schumacher was once seen storming down the pit lane in search of David Coulthard. But we never saw the claret. We never see anything.
When they are out of the cars, they are nothing more than dreary spokesmen for the companies that sponsor them. And then when they are in the cars, they are hidden from our view behind six layers of fire-retardant material and a bloody great helmet.
I want to see how they react when they overtake someone. I want to see the Liverpudlian disappointment when it's the other way around. And, if the space shuttles' windows can withstand the heat of re-entry, I do not know why their helmets cannot be transparent so this is possible.
I also want to hear, via my red button, every word said to every driver by every team. With swearing. In essence, I want some emotion. It makes plain business sense too. At the moment, my boy struts around with 'Samsung' writ large on his chest. Meanwhile, his United supporting mates unwittingly advertise an obscure insurance company. If F1 were a bit more alive, they'd be wearing Renault and BMW shirts instead.
Max Mosley has shown that the people at the top in F1 are human. And now it's up to everyone else to follow suit. I want to know, as the race begins, that the night before, Lewis Hamilton porked Kimi Raikkonen's missus. I want the boss of BMW to appear on TV after the race and say the Mercedes E-Class is a piece of crap. And I want Robert Kubica to actually admit he hates the Germans.
The BBC will do a good job of serving up the food, I'm sure. But I want the food in question to be exciting. Not a slop of lukewarm porridge.