< meta name="DC.Date.Valid.End" content="20050909">

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Greatest Race

I had occasion to moan about Formula One the other night. I had seen a quick news item on the TV about one of the Grand Prix. They made a point of mentioning the fact that Michael Shumacher was 4th. They didn’t tell us who was third.

It has become clear this season, that while Michael Shumacher may be a good driver, and I concede that he may still be the most naturally talented driver on the track, it makes very little difference if your car is slower than the rest.

For those of you not familiar with the circumstances, The F1 changed their rules on how cars could be designed and built before this season and Ferrari, Shumacher’s team, got caught on the hop. So now he looks like just another of the also-rans.

It’s interesting to me that for the last 6 years Michael Shumacher was lauded as some Olympian god of Motor Racing. His step back from the podium has exposed the verisimilitude of ascribing so much to an individual.

Those who follow racing closely (I am not one of them) would surely acknowledge that any victory is a team effort, that designers, mechanics, pit crews etc, are as vital as the driver. But those people are anonymous, they are not given enormous sponsorship deals, they are not assailed by the press for interviews. To the general public, weaned on TV coverage and disconnected from the day to day operation of a formula one team, they barely exist.

Formula one is an object lesson in the dangers of elevating individuals above the team. I think it is also a metaphor for much of what passes for culture in the western world. We heap fame and fortune on a small number of people in lieu of praising the efforts of groups and teams.

We will likely suffer in the long run for our inability to subordinate the cult of the individual. Great problems are never solved by a single person. And energy depletion is the greatest of problems. A transition to a lower population and lower energy use is something that must, if it is to succeed, be approached as a society wide project.

I alternate wildly between believing that this is something that we can achieve, as a species, and believing that we inherently contain the seeds of our own destruction, that our hubris will lead us to disaster. But I am confident that we will be worse off if we cannot agree to work together.

Technorati Tags: