Paddock poker gives F1 a human touch

The image of Formula One s elite squatting outside a motorhome, whiling away the last hours of daylight over a deck of cards seems almost out of sorts with the glitzy celebrity-driven milieu of the paddock.

Yet stroll down to the Force India motorhome on the eve of a grand prix and that is exactly what you will see as the likes of Fernando Alonso, Robert Kubica, and veterans Rubens Barrichello and Giancarlo Fisichella exchange pleasantries over a game of poker before doing battle the next day.

It s a humbling sight, or perhaps thought, and evokes emphatic parallels with carnival sprit (a long time metaphor of the Formula One circus) as the performers, bound by their sacrifice to the travelling entourage, share tales, reflect on life and prepare for the following show.

Alonso and Kubica, close friends in and outside of Formula One, embody this in particular, bound by their love of driving F1 cars fast, and their mild disinterest in everything celebrity that comes with being able to do that. It is comforting to know that no matter how publicly and commercially driven Formula One becomes, the human element can still be found in the paddock.

Of course, that has not stopped the sport s ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone jumping on the commercial opportunity presented by this secret enclave. And at the German Grand Prix the poker-going drivers were lured out of the confines of the Force India motor home and into the exclusive Paddock club where they played with stakes of $1000 a piece in front of the world s media joined by Michael Schumacher, Flavio Briatore, and Vijay Mallya no less.

But you can t help but feel that real fun and games will continue to take place behind close doors, where paddock gossip and banter between close friends is in free flow, much to the agony of the World s media.

“We definitely do have the chance to socialize even on a race weekend,” says Nico Rosberg.

“It s like playing against anyone you have to win,” added Robert Kubica in this month s F1 Racing. “Lately we ve had quite a good group who play and we have a lot of fun. In F1 the atmosphere can be a bit too cold and I think it s nice to sit down with Fisico, Fernando, Rubens and some other drivers, and sometimes with Flavio and Bernie.”

It may be a far cry from Monte Carlo s Casino Square but that is the nature of the game. Poker and other card games are just as much about socialising as they are gambling. Thankfully, with the growing popularity of online casinos the internet has revolutionised gambling and various social betting sites ensure you no longer have to meet Monaco s tax exemption rules to get in on the action.

So for those not yet fortunate to be invited to the steps of the Force India motor home, we can, for now, practice our hand at such sites as, readying ourselves for the day we may join the heroes and World Champions of Formula One in a game of poker!