Dull Monza race shows up Italy’s ugly underbelly

Sebastian Vettel yesterday won a rather uninspiring Italian Grand Prix at Monza. He was followed home by the doggedly heroic Fernando Alonso, punching far above his weight as usual, and a front-wing damaged Mark Webber in the other Red Bull. The only men with theoretical pace enough to challenge the front runners, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen, finished ninth and 11th respectively after a combination of poor qualifying, misinformed strategy and bad luck contrived to force them both out of contention.

One of the advantages of being able to watch the footage back at one’s own pace, however, is that one can pick up on things that others may have missed. Especially considering the flaccidity of the action on offer. Commentators’ best efforts to wake the masses up focused on the possibility of gearbox failure of one or both the Red Bulls, and you know things have got bad when even F1 nuts are praying that something happens to the leader. A friend of mine once said that during the Schumacher procession years, he sometimes wished he could run onto the track wearing some thick shoes and jump onto the back of Schumacher’s car, to slow it down a bit and make a race of it. Such fanciful notions might have returned to him yesterday.

But anyway. Given the lack of entertainment on the actual racetrack, one is forced to focus on something apparently deeply unsavoury that happened just off it. Lap 8. First Lesmo. Lewis Hamilton has just hove into view tussling with a Toro Rosso and a McLaren. A thrown object flickers across the camera screen. No one appears to notice. Sky+. Rewind. Play. Pause. It is a banana skin.

Now. If one wanted to take a patrician, kindly, benevolent view, one would argue that lots of people eat bananas, and lots of people toss bananas to the four winds – out of car windows, onto city streets, and yes, onto racetracks. And that same person could also contest that it was a coincidence that the only black driver in F1 happened to be passing at that very moment.

But then that does seem rather a stretch. Context is everything. The Ferrari fans in the crowd, just like in Spain, don’t like Hamilton because of his history with their darling Alonso. Just like in Spain, crowds are not averse to making their feelings known by any means possible. And this contextual evidence is quite apart from the real issue Italy has – racism.

Ask Kevin Prince Boateng. Ask Mario Balotelli, then ask him again. Ask the first black politician in Italy, Cecile Kyenge. High profile cases, all of them. So this latest pathetic incident is a drop in the ocean. But what was singularly depressing here is that one has an idea of F1 fans as generally fair-minded folk, only in extremely rare cases given to vitriol. Racism, another step beyond the pale, just isn’t ok.

Obviously, the vast majority of the crowd yesterday wouldn’t have dreamed of doing such a thing, and a sizeable number would equally condemn it. But one racist incident is too many, and it makes me feel physically sick to think my sport might be the latest arena for the airing of racist abuse. In fact, despite this being a tiny minority, they have sullied the image of Monza. And the chorus of condemnation should be loud and it should be long.