After the chequered flag falls and the winner is established, a national anthem is played to honour his success and the success of his team. Every time I hear a national anthem on the podium I ask myself whether it is actually appropriate. Every time a national anthem is played I ask myself whether Formula One is a sports where the nationality matters.
The general bias towards own countrymen in the media is probably not even worth mentioning: British Sky or BBC obviously have their affections towards Hamilton, Button, or di Riesta; RTL puts Vettel, Rosberg or Hülkenberg to the centre of their coverage. To some not negligible extent Formula One has been perceived by many as a playground for a British-German(-Italian) motor racing rivalry, and it probably not that far from the reality. But the more people and me myself are talking about the national element in Formula One the more I ask myself whether there actually is any logical reason to pay so much attention to the nationality in racing.
People are driven by emotions which are not necessarily determined by rational factors. We don’t love for, we love despite. And it is usually shortcuts and rules of thumb determining the vector of our sympathies, nationality being one of them. It is explainable, but I find it sad that sometimes it is the only factor.
Take a look at Sebastian Vettel’s wins, which the Germans are so proud of, and ask yourself how much of a German is there actually in those wins. 70% of the performance is determined by the car – that’s what Mark Webber says, that’s what Lewis Hamilton says, so I believe we can assume that as an approximate value – and Vettel’s car is not exactly German. Neither it is Austrian, by the way. The car is designed by Adrian Newey, who happens to be a Brit, it is built in Milton Keynes, which happens to be in the UK, and I don’t think that it would be too bold to assume that the biggest part of the workforce at the factory are Brits. They are not entirely German after all, those wins.
This fact does not prevent the German media from claiming the success for themselves, it just prevents people from looking into details, after all it’s a German and an Austrian national anthems played on the podium.
In his talk at the Oxford Union, Christian Horner, when answering the question about special moment in his career with Red Bull said the following, referring to the first race-win by Red Bull:
We are English -based team, but we are Austrian-owned and they played the national anthem of your team owner; and when I got up to get the trophy they played British national anthem, which I could just feel was not going down particularly well in Austria.
I am fond of God Save the Queen without having any connection to the United Kingdom at all, and I am biased here, but every time I hear Austrian national anthem I ask myself – isn’t it unfair towards all those people in Milton Keynes? They are obviously missing out, that’s what you think when you look at Ferrari mechanics singing Fratelli d’Italia.
Ferrari is a different story at this respect. Ferrari is selfsame with Italy, that’s the perception of many, and this perception is fueled by the team. In Formula One Italian anthem is a Ferrari anthem. If you take a look at the podium in Monza in 2008, the race was won by Vettel in a Toro Rosso, there’s not that much fuss about the Italian anthem there – Fratelli d’Italia belongs to Ferrari, as do the hearts of the Italian audience.
McLaren, who alongside Williams are perceived to be the international representation of British motor racing tradition, are actually a New Zeeland born team. After partnering with Lotus in 2011, Enstone-based Renault replaced La Marseillaise with God Save the Queen to celebrate their wins. Mercedes, which runs under German licence, build their cars in Brackley, the same factory where the British-licensed Brawns and Japanese-licensed Hondas were built. When in 2012 Nico Rosberg has won in China it was German national anthem played in his honour, even though he grew up in Monaco. At the beginning of the career Michael Schumacher competed in carting for Luxembourg, because it was cheaper. Romain Grojean races under a French flag, despite having lived in Switzerland for his whole life.
The point I am trying to make with this all is that the question of nationality in Formula One is not a simple one. It is arguable to which extent a driver or a team actually represent their country. Especially considering the fact that it is not easy even to define “their country”. It sounds like a good reason to stop thinking in terms of unicorns, ostriches and eagles on the drivers’ passports. There is a problem, though – it is still about emotions. So why make things complicated, when there’s always a shortcut, and who cares that at the end of the day it will be an Austrian anthem played in honour of the engineers from Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England.