I am a big sports fan. I love sport because it is the most apt metaphor for life itself. Its ability to conjure a wide array of emotions in people (mostly men) is unparalleled. Sport allows us to vicariously experience the trials and tribulations of others. Great sportsman and sportswomen inspire us not only to dream a little bigger, but also to pursue those dreams. Their stories give us the belief that we too can achieve our dreams through focus, hard work, dedication, perseverance and discipline. The discipline of sport reminds us that pleasure is temporary; that suffering can yield a greater glory and that even at our best we are radically dependent on others. Sport teaches us that our limits can be surpassed and sometimes obliterated, that our minds can overcome what seem to be insurmountable hurdles. In sport, you win, you lose, you laugh, you cry, you cheer, you boo – you care. Sport is a microcosm of life.
Over the years sport has been a great teacher of life to me. It has taught me to never give up. It has made the dreamer in me a believer and inspired me to become an achiever in my own life. So no, it’s not just a game, sport is life. One of the sports that I follow religiously is Formula One racing. It is a sport that appeals to both the nerd and the adrenaline junkie in me. Some of you reading this are probably thinking. What’s so exciting about watching grown men racing around in cars around a Grand Prix circuit? Well, a lot. To the Formula One novice, it might all seem rather mundane but it’s not. One of the more animated descriptions I have ever heard of the Formula one driving experience is that it is akin to riding a bull on a rollercoaster. Imagine that. Mundane? Don’t think so. Formula One is also a very technical and high performance sport in which the average driver loses about 3.5kg in a single race. It’s that intense. There is also the faulty assumption that the fastest car always wins, but it’s not as simple as that. A skilled Formula One driver doesn’t just have a lead foot. It’s not just about put the pedal to the floor. A talented driver has to find the perfect balance between speed, and breaking into and accelerating out of corner. Other factors come into play during the race such as tyre management, pit stops, fuel load etc but I digress.
Towards the tail end of the last Formula One season Lewis Hamilton my favourite and arguably the most exciting driver since the late great Aryton Senna announced that he was leaving the McLaren racing team and taking his enigmatic personality and prodigious racing talents to Mercedes. Ever since I have found myself facing quite the conundrum.
1) Do I follow Lewis Hamilton’s lead and take my vociferous supporting talents to Mercedes.
2) Do I stay loyal to the McLaren team, a team with a greater history, tradition, and heritage than most in Formula One or
3) Do I have my cake and eat it i.e. Support Lewis Hamilton separately as a driver and McLaren as a team
Yes these are the kind of thoughts that keep me awake at night.
When it comes to sport I have always been primarily a football fan. Manchester United to be specific. Many great players have graced the Theatre of Dreams. Many have left. I have stayed. I have always supported the team first. Their consistent success over the years hasn’t hurt either. Having been raised on football it was natural then that part of me wanted to remain loyal to the McLaren racing team, because that’s the norm in football. No one player is bigger than the team. Even if a star player leaves you stay with your team. But this is not football, Its Formula One. Formula One is a different kind of sport. A lot of the team work is done behinds the scene and in the technical department by mechanic’s and engineers but on race day there is a stronger emphasis on the individual driver. The reason I started following Formula One seriously is because of Lewis Hamilton. Prior to him exploding onto the Formula One scene, I had only had dalliances with the world of Formula One. So the Lewis Hamilton fan in me was leaning towards the first option, (following him to Mercedes) but the winner in me had serious doubts about Mercedes credentials as a racing team and by extrapolation its ability to challenge at the front of the grid. Regardless I still believed they would be a better team with Lewis Hamilton behind the wheel. Conundrum. What to do? I discussed the last option of supporting Lewis Hamilton separately as a driver and McLaren as a team with a good friend and fellow F1 fanatic and he was of the opinion that it was like that unsavoury trend amongst some married Zimbo men of having small houses (side chicks). The analogy alone made me uncomfortable. So what to do?
As I finish writing this it’s the eve of the new Formula One season. I have to make a decision. I can’t keep dithering. Writing about this as is often the case has afforded me some clarity on what I need to do. I realise that my loyalty to McLaren is what I think I am expected to do. But the fact is I like Lewis Hamilton a driver more and I can relate to him as a person. His story and attitude and focus inspires me. I realise I never really supported McLaren . I have always been a Hamilton fan, but Hamilton has always been at McLaren so the two became one in my mind.
I read earlier today a column where he said that part of the motivation for leaving McLaren even though it raised him and gave him his break was that he didn’t always feel like he could be himself. Some of the rules like what he could wear at the track were stifling. He wanted to go somewhere where he could express himself a bit more freely. He also acknowledged that Mercedes has not had a lot of success in Formula One and he wanted want to be part of the group of people who helped turn it around. That it was a great challenge for him to be able to do that.
Those comments resonated with because you often realise that as you grow older sometimes you have to let go of things, people and places that shaped you and take on a new challenge. That even on the way to achieving your goals and dreams you shouldn’t have to sacrifice who you are. To have faith in yourself and your abilities.
Its going to take some getting used to, but this season I will be supporting Lewis Hamilton as begins his quest to achieve his dreams on his terms with the Silver Arrows.
That’s my decision and I am OK with it.