Sport: British Formula 1 Grand Prix — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:52 pm on 23 April 2009.

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Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Spokesperson for Defence, Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport , Deputy Chief Whip 4:52, 23 April 2009

My Lords, I feel something of an intruder in this debate. I jokingly said to the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, "Oh, it is a pity you cannot speak in this debate". I realised that I did not want him to speak: I wanted a tutorial from him before I joined in this debate. To be perfectly honest, motor sport is not the sport that rings my bell. I will admit that straight away and risk getting lynched on the way out of the Chamber. It does not really work for me. I have always been acutely aware that my own sport, rugby, is sometimes described as grown men fighting in mud, as it was by a small lad who was watching. If we are talking about it and your eyes glaze over, be patient with us.

Undoubtedly, the economic benefits of motor sport are unarguable. Not long ago, we had a debate on tourism and I spoke about sports tourism. The one event that encapsulates the idea of sports tourism is probably the Grand Prix. A huge high-tech circus arrives, with more glamour than any other sport can manage. I say that with a degree of envy. There is several days of build up, followed by one huge event with massive coverage. It then moves on. It is the ultimate, one-off show. I have been reading the comments made by Bernie Ecclestone about the preparations for the Olympics, but the comparison falls down because the Olympic Games are slightly more than a one-off show since they are a culmination of things. But in terms of individual touring shows, F1 probably represents the epitome of the great show.

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, proceeded not only to shoot the fox I was after, but to blast it full of holes because of the high-tech, high-end engineering that undoubtedly goes with Formula 1 and motor sport in general. The examples I found about the level of investment in technology and rate of improvements achieved can be equalled only by the arms industry during times of war. It is a case of seeking out what is new and keeping up the pressure to make improvements. All sports do this, but the application that goes into developing the best training shoe or a jersey that does not absorb sweat and keeps you warm is not as great as that which goes into creating a high-tech engine, and will not be as transferable to other things. Technological development takes place because of the pressure to perform. The noble Lord covered this very succinctly, but the fact is that if a machine is more efficient, it helps the environment through improved fuel economy, safer design and so on. When one thinks about it, it is clear that if Formula 1 were not achieving such improvements, someone would be getting it very wrong. What we do know about F1 is that the pressure to perform and achieve is massive.

I am told that other types of motor sport have a much higher profile outside Great Britain. Whereas F1 is our thing, other forms of racing in America are very popular. There are probably instances of cross-fertilisation of technological development between the different engineers; indeed I am sure of that because why should it not happen? There is a symbiotic relationship between an enormous event in which the vast majority of the population has at least a passive interest and the wonderful industry which backs it up. That is the real prize. Even if you hate cars going round and round making a lot of noise, as someone pretty close to my persuasion put it, you cannot deny the value of the industry that supports them.

The real question we have for the noble Lord, Lord Davies, is at exactly what level do the Government feel that they should come in with offers of support? Some of the briefing I have received states that F1 takes pride in the fact that it does not need a huge injection of money. What do the Government feel they should be providing in support of the industry? Is it more investment in education at the higher levels, such as in masters degrees and PhDs in engineering? Should we be encouraging support for the industry in that way? In further education, we have to ensure that the service industries are able to support and enhance not only Grand Prix but other motor sports events to ensure that people enjoy the festival atmosphere that such events generate.

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, mentioned getting his car stuck in a field. That is the sort of thing you laugh about 10 years down the line, but at the time people say, "I'm not going there again". The support structure must be in place because people who are not that committed to the sport want to attend because it is a "nice day out". Most sports have learnt how to put on a good show. What are we doing to make these events something that people want to go to as of themselves? An example of another sport would be rowing. Someone said that Henley could survive without rowing, but not without alcohol because it is a fun event. How are we helping motor sports to create fun events to attract those not interested in the core activities?

I want to say to those involved in the F1 motor industry that they do have good spats. Long-running arguments are reported in the papers and offer an example to the rest of the sporting world by showing that you should try to have your in-house disagreements in private. I will not go into the arguments that went on between Silverstone and Donington Park except to say that when we are talking about such huge sums of money, it might just be best not to claim that you are being done down quite so obviously. When very rich people involved in a certain world begin to argue among themselves, they should appreciate that the rest of us do not really want to know about it, and if we do know, we will probably just laugh.