The cars go round and round – discovering the unexpectedly interesting

I’ve long held to the theory that anything can be interesting if you look at it in enough depth. The pleasure of listening to Mark Kermode’s film reviews doesn’t come from expecting to see the films but from listening to him talk intelligently and passionately about a topic he loves. Books on fonts or map making can become enthralling by taking the right angle in addressing their subject.

But there are certain topics I have always thought of as unutterably dull, and one of them is motor racing. I mean seriously, they just drive round and round in circles making noise and smoke – what’s so exciting about that? The only time it gets interesting is when it goes horribly wrong, and I don’t enjoy seeing people go through real life car crashes. If I want that sort of entertainment I’ll watch a Jason Statham movie – the camera angles will be better and there might be a fight scene too.

But today I had to read about motor racing for a piece of freelance work. I was writing about changes to Formula One rules this year and the challenges this raises for people building and designing cars. I’m no engineer, I’m no car enthusiast, and I’m certainly not someone with a deep and abiding love of rules and regulations. I was all ready to yawn my way through this one.

And yet, to my complete surprise, it fast became fascinating. Looking beneath the bonnet of motor sports, seeing how designs arise from competing interests of safety, excitement, aesthetics and even environmental concerns. Recognising the huge chains of people and organisations involved in making the sport work. Appreciating the precision engineering that goes into every detail of car design, making some of the articles read like passages from a book on spaceships. Even the cursory reading needed for a single blog article involved varied and complex combinations of engineering and game design.

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to start watching motor sports, or that I’ve got over my deep and abiding loathing of Jeremy Clarkson. But maybe next time someone mentions Formula One I’ll pay a little more attention.