John Harms on the Australian Grand Prix

This week the Australian Grand Prix comes to Melbourne for the opening Formula1 event of the season. This divides the Melbourne population and makes about half of them grumpy, and the old blokes down at my local grumpier than usual. The Grey-Haired Wits, my oft-used (and affectionate) term for them over the years, are not big fans of motor-racing. But, then again, they’re fairly hard to please.

A great thing about the Grey-Haired Wits is that they are consistent, and not much changes from year to year. Indeed you can go into the pub on a Friday afternoon and depending on the particular weekend in question, you can be pretty sure of the topic of conversation. Round 1 of the AFL: what are all these interstate teams doing ruining our comp? Melbourne Cup time: why do they have to watch the race in a pub? (Consider the logic of that one?) Grand Prix time: is motor-racing a sport, and what is your definition of sport?

There are a few camps around the bar. Some are so liberal in their definition that they are happy to include chess, poker and competitive eating as sports. But they get a hammering from the more forthright.

So there are two main definitions. The biggest is the you-have-to-get-changed-for- it camp, followed by the it-has-to-make-you-sweat camp, and then the eccentric camp who argue that if it squeaks, it ain’t sport.

This very harsh position is led by Max, a former park cricketer who came to prominence when a local author featured him as a character in a fantastic little book called Any Old Eleven. Jim Young described Max as having the loudest cover drive in the history of the game, even though Max couldn’t hit it off the square. Any squeaking and it cannot be a sport. Max says that the squeaking to be heard in basketball, volleyball, all tennis except lawn, squash, and other pursuits render them nothing more than meaningless time-fillers.

Because his own (ancient) Volvo squeaks, he assumes F1 vehicles also squeak, and hence he can’t have motor-racing as a sport either.

I beg to differ and once got in a four-pot argument with him over motor-racing. Which I lost, despite mounting a good case.

When I was writing playful motoring stories I gave the strong impression that I wasn’t a fan of motor-racing. A very experienced and capable motoring journalist called Chris Nixon decided I needed to be taught a lesson so he took me to Willowbank where I was strapped in for a very fast drive piloted by someone whose name I should have recognised, and then Chris sent me to Frank Gardiner’s Driving School where I was taught to drive fast.
I can assure you it requires considerable skill to get one of those vehicles (in my case a Honda S2000) around a circuit at any decent pace. You need a good eye, and good coordination, and a strong nerve. So I wasn’t very good at it.

But, as I tried to explain to Max, I was persuaded that it is a sport.
And if it’s a sport, I’m betting on it.

I can’t remember ever having a bet on the F1 (I have had a dabble at Bathurst), but I may start this weekend. I’m going for Michael Schumacher  because I reckon I’ve heard of him before.

Click here to bet on the Australian Grand Prix