Now Euro 2004 and Wimbledon are over, the big TV sporting event of the weekend will be the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Alas, I have never understood the spectator appeal of the Formula 1 circuit, which to me looks like nothing more than a televised traffic jam. Perhaps racing drivers once possessed a reckless charm. They were men who might have dodged Messerschmitts over Kent or, more likely, given the dominance of the Nazi-backed Mercedes team in the 1930s, have flown them. But the modern racer is an anodyne action man who has more in common with a City trader, his performance dependent on banks of computers back in the pit lane, and who is in it for the lavish lifestyle and tax-free address in Monte Carlo. He is just a pilot inside a branded billboard.
But there are more substantial reasons for hating F1. It is, for a start, the most segregated of global sports, partly because access is largely a matter of wealth, with aspiring drivers often required to buy their way to the top. Most of the drivers come from privileged European backgrounds, the only colour provided by flamboyant South American playboys and Asians placed by the car manufacturing giants of the Far East. This is a sport that raced in South Africa until 1985, long after the sporting world had signed up to boycott the apartheid regime. Meanwhile the only women to be seen in the pit lane are the ones draped over the cars between photo shoots for Loaded.
F1's cult of speed has fairly obvious effects. The claim on the website of the sport's governing body that its aim is "the protection of the motorist in a safer and ecologically responsible environment" strikes me as akin to the World Wildlife Fund endorsing seal-clubbing as a means of protecting fish stocks.
Then there are F1's notorious links to tobacco, which has led the World Health Organisation to describe it as a "non-stop commercial for cigarettes". Despite plans for all tobacco advertising to be banned across the EU by next July, half the F1 teams remain defiantly dependent on cigarette sponsorship. For years, teams have circumvented legislation by changing or removing the lettering on their cars while retaining the distinctive livery of cigarette brands. Now the sport responds to any proposed curbs on tobacco sponsorship with threats and bullying. Belgium was stripped of its Grand Prix last year after a government clampdown on tobacco advertising. There is talk of moving the whole series outside Europe to countries where rules are less strict - and, given its recent expansion to China and Bahrain, don't expect F1 to bother about democracy or human rights.
With many F1 teams based out of industrial estates along the M4 corridor, its British defenders argue that the sport, like the arms industry, creates jobs and promotes engineering expertise. Yet Britain's two most successful F1 teams, BMW Williams and McLaren Mercedes, both now produce their cars in partnership with German engine suppliers.
For once we may have something to learn from the US. The Americans may be the most automobile-dependent people on earth but they have never loved motor sport. Nascar, America's most popular motor racing series, is a marginal pastime enjoyed by the same Southern folk who keep two shotguns in the wardrobe and fly the confederate flag on the porch. If F1 cannot be banned here, it ought to be treated with the same derision: driven to the margins of acceptable taste, denied the oxygen of serious coverage and recognised as the antisocial, speed-glamorising corporate carnival that it really is.