Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! With Formula 1 hitting Britain this weekend, we ask sports writers Matt Blake and Stuart Hood if cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy – who recently cut his racing teeth in the Le Mans 24 Hours race – could become the next Lewis Hamilton.
YES! He’s the wheel deal
“The steely middle-distance stare, the twitching jaw, the intensity, the focus… every inch of Hoy’s demeanour screams ‘winner’” – Matt Blake, sports writer, Virgin Media
He's got previous
Clearly, to become a Formula 1 driver, you first need to be able to drive a car. And Sir Chris Hoy has passed that test. He hasn't just proved it in the way celebrities do – with a few well-supervised doughnuts on the Top Gear test track. No, he’s proved it under some of the most intense and challenging conditions known to car racing. By coming 18th out of 60 in his first race at Le Mans – the 24-hour test of speed, stamina and, above all, staying awake – he succeeded where many professional drivers have failed. If he can survive that, 52 laps round Silverstone will feel like a leisurely milk run to his local supermarket.
If others can do it, so can he
Hoy's not the first sports star to switch a saddle for a seat, or a seat for a saddle, or a saddle for another saddle. Most recently, two-time Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton took up horse racing and competed at Cheltenham, finishing fifth in the Foxhunter Chase. Olympic medal-winning rower Rebecca Romero made the jump to cycling in 2006, while cricketer Freddie Flintoff has tried his hand at boxing. We shouldn't be surprised at what Hoy is doing. Like the writer Ernest Hemingway once said: “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games”. Hoy's done larking about on pushbikes; it's time to grow up. It's time to be a man.
Formula 1 is cheek-wobblingly fast; G-force fast. And you can't compete without being completely at ease with putting your life in the hands of your feet, pressing pedals to reach speeds of 185mph in a carbon-fibre box. Well, if Hoy can do that around a velodrome at 50mph without a box, he can do it three times faster in one. Speed cycling is just as dangerous, and just as scary, as racing cars. And Hoy has the minerals to cope with that fear when most of us would crumple into a weeping mess.
Hoy's a born winner
That steely middle-distance stare, the twitching jaw, the intensity, the focus: we've all seen Hoy line up at a start, when every inch of his demeanour screams “winner”. Just look inside his trophy cabinet, where there's more gold than in an Egyptian pharaoh's vanity chamber. With six Olympic gold medals and one silver to his name – not to mention 11 World Championships titles – Chris Hoy has the mindset of a champion. Lewis Hamilton has it, too. And no amount of money or training can buy you that.
Formula 1 needs a new star
Formula 1 has felt a little stale of late. And its viewing figures reflect that. For example, just 2.3 million people watched the Bahrain Grand Prix in April, down from 3.8 million the year before. This represents a larger global decline in popularity for F1. According to the FIA, global viewing figures fell from 600 million in 2008 to 450 million in 2013. F1 needs an injection of star quality. And who better to plunge the needle than the greatest Olympian in British history?
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NO! Get on yer bike
“F1 is home to the elite of the elite, and the idea that Hoy could go chicane for chicane with them is laughable” – Stuart Hood, sports writer, Virgin Media
He’s too late to the party
Defending Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton began karting at the age of eight; current Formula 1 Drivers Championship leader Nico Rosberg first got behind the wheel when he was six; and two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso lost his track virginity at the age of three. In contrast, the Real McHoy learned to drive at the age of 21 and didn’t take up car racing until his mid-30s. Can any of you sports fans name the last F1 superstar with a similar backstory? Tick. Tick. Tick. Too slow. The answer is… no one, obviously.
Formula 1 is the home of the elite
Citing Victoria Pendleton and Freddie Flintoff’s sporting career changes as proof that the true greats can excel in any arena is like saying that your friend could be a model because the barber put his picture in the window. Yes, Flintoff won his professional boxing debut, but his bout was viewed by one expert as “a laughing stock” and another as “a novelty”. And yes, Pendleton won a horse race, but it was for amateur jockeys. In Formula 1, there are no amateurs or joke opponents. It is home to the elite of the elite, and the idea that Hoy could go chicane for chicane with them is laughable.
He’s too old
Sir Chris recently blew out the candles on his 40th birthday cake. And while the old adage claims life begins at this age, in Formula 1 this simply isn’t the case. In the last 45 years, just one driver aged 40 or over has sprayed an oversized bottle of champers from the top spot of an Formula 1 podium: 41-year-old moustache-on-wheels Nigel Mansell, at the 1994 Australian Grand Prix, fact fans. Add this to the stat that the average age of the 23 drivers who have appeared on the Formula 1 grid this season is just 26.9 and it’s clear Formula 1 superstardom is a mountain not even Hoy’s gargantuan thighs can climb.
He couldn’t fit in the car
Talking of Hoy’s larger-than-life thighs, when these human tree trunks were last measured they each had a circumference of 27 inches. This wasn’t an issue when his job involved slipping into some padded Lycra, but it’ll be a big problem if it involves slipping into a Formula 1 car. Put simply, maneuvering the Scotsman’s quads into Lewis Hamilton’s slender driver’s seat would be like trying to get a three-seater sofa up a spiral staircase – no amount of pivoting will force it through.
Have you heard of Max Verstappen?
An Olympian entering Formula 1 might make a few headlines, but if you’re looking for a heroic story that’ll run and run then seek out Max Verstappen. Red Bull’s flying Dutchman became the youngest Formula 1 driver of all time when he competed in last year’s Aussie GP at the age of 17 years and 166 days. And the now 18-year-old became the youngest ever Grand Prix winner when he stormed to victory in Spain earlier this season. Max is the future of one sport with pedals and Chris is the past of another one. Let’s send him on his bike and keep it that way.
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