motor racing

motor racing
   Britain has played a major role in motor racing since the 1950s, when Jaguar sports cars regularly won the Le Mans Twenty-Four Hours race (this race still attracts some 50,000 British spectators annually). The motor racing industry has become a major high-tech employer and exporter. In Formula One (F1) racing, first Cooper and then Lotus cars revolutionized the sport, providing the vehicles for a string of British world champions: Graham Hill, Jim Clark, John Surtees (albeit in a Ferrari) and Jackie Stewart won eight of twelve championships between 1962 and 1973.
   Traditionally, F1 cars raced in their national colour (such as British racing green), but since 1968 sponsorship has become an integral part of F1’s success and cars now usually race in the sponsor’s colours. One of the most striking examples is the successful Benetton team sponsored by the Italian clothing manufacturer. Tobacco manufacturers are also major investors in F1, since racing cars in their liveries offer a very important medium for circumventing increasingly restrictive television advertising regimes. The worldwide growth of interest in F1 is partly fuelled by its high-tech image (which encourages individual countries to wish to stage Grand Prix races), partly by the traditional male macho glamour of the world of fast cars, and partly by the desire to open up new markets to sponsors, particularly tobacco firms.
   Formula One became a major television sport in Britain in the 1980s with the BBC’s package of a distinctive Fleetwood Mac theme tune and presenter Murray Walker, a cult hero whose hectic commentary style found a perfect foil in the patrician insouciance of former world champion James Hunt. The entertainment potential of the sport’s mixture of high-tech drama, business opportunities, noise and speed with individual drivers’ psychologies is exemplified in the stormy history of the Williams team, who have regularly won world championships and, not quite as regularly, discarded the drivers who won them. Nigel Mansell won a Williams-mounted championship in 1992, after a career dogged by injury, accident and bad luck, and did not keep his seat but consolidated his popular reputation by winning the American Indycar championship the following season (in the face of the criticism of some commentators who appeared unable to forgive him his Midlands accent or for disproving their predictions about him). Similarly, Damon Hill, who won the 1996 championship in a Williams after what seemed like career-long battle with the ghost of his father Graham, was also dumped by the team.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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