Reading Comprehension 045

Passage

"The true man wants two things: danger and play," wrote the incomparable philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

To be sure, most of us love safety. In man, the survival instinct is the basic instinct. But in certain areas of human activity, including sport, there are deeds that call for a total definance of that basic instinct. And in the performance of such extraordinary deeds lies great sporting glory .... Formula I glory.

Ah, excuse me, dear readers. I am stuck in the past, a glorious past that seems a fading dream today at the end of a Formula I season underlined by predictability and boredom, one where wheel-to-wheel racing of the sort that produces seat-edge thrills was a contrived farce rather than a competitive reality.

Of course, in the last seven or eight years, ever since the death of the greatest driving talent of all time, the Brazilian Ayrton Senna, on the Imola track in Italy in 1994, Formula I has improved its safety standards remarkably, which is, in a way, a huge positive.

But strangely enough, during an era when television has brought in large amounts of money into the game and the sort of exposure it never before had, today Formula I, despite the presence of Michael Schumacher, one of the greatest drivers of all time, seems to have lost a lot of its romance of old.

Last month, as Schumacher contrived a farcical climactic manouevre at Indianapolis, something that made a mockery of the very essence of competitive sport in the penultimate race of a season that's been about as exciting as watching a staging of "Hamlet" back to front, last act to first act, longtime addicts of the sport might have been tempted to look back to the good old days with nostalgia ... and die-hard romantics such as this writer can hope to be forgiven. Ah, what a fall! How badly has a great sport, one filled with the heroics of virtuoso performers behind the wheels, slipped into the morass of the predictable and the farcical!

As you grow older, the one thing that quite often strikes you is that sport is never as good as it was. It's much like movies and music. The contemporary stuff can never match the classics of old. What on celluloid, today, can stand up to challenge "Casablanca" or "On the Waterfront"? What on the pop scene can aspire to match Elvis Presley or the Beatles? Nostalgia, to be sure, is a disease, a disease that not even a double dose of reality can cure. It is as common as common cold in many of us who look back to our golden yesterdays and then sigh, "Ah, nothing is what it used to be." Ten or 20 years down the line, our sons and daughters might look back to the early years of the new millennium and say just that. And the point is, nothing can be what it used to be. For, life has no reverse gear. If our todays were like our yesterdays, we would probably die of boredom.

Then again, no matter all this, there are eras in sporting history that appear far more romantic, considerably more exciting and, in hindsight, surely more worthy of being a part of, than the present. This might seem particularly so in a sport such as Formula I racing which, for a variety of reasons — not only because of the genius of one man, Michael Schumacher, who is so much better than his nearest rival — has become predictable for the most part.

This season, long before Schumacher, in a moment of ill-advised indulgence, slowed down at Indianapolis in a botched attempt at bringing up a dead-heat with his Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello, the circus had been reduced to a farce. The trapeze artists and the dare-devil performers had already disappeared behind the curtain and only the clowns were left at the climax, so to say.

Backed by an inspired Ferrari team of far-sighted managers, brilliant engineers and hard-working mechanics, Schumacher, who matched Juan Manuel Fangio's record of five titles this season, has moved so far away from the pack that it is going to take a near-miracle for a rival team to throw up a serious competitor to the German genius next season.

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