A New World Champion | Pushing the Wave

A New World Champion

Culture, 5 August 2023
by L.A. Davenport
Fish and Chips at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
Fish and Chips — Sussex, by David Buonaguidi, at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.
Last week, I saw a new world champion crowned. A British one at that, who received a standing ovation from a capacity crowd of 40,000 spectators.

The event in question was the penultimate race of the 2022/23 ABB FIA Formula E World Drivers’ Championship, and the driver who lifted the trophy was Jake Dennis.

The racing itself was interesting and the circuit, which threaded it’s way through and around the ExCeL London convention centre, was spectacular.

The start–finish straight and the pit lane ran the length of one side of the building, which allowed the organisers to play with the lighting and atmosphere. It made the end of the race more exciting as the sound in the enclosed space gave the sense of being at a music gig.

Alongside that, the organisers did some things very well. Using the entire length of the other side of the convention centre for the fan village seemed a bit too much when we arrived, as everyone was watching the qualifying at the time, but it made complete sense as soon as they poured across the boulevard and filled up all the spaces once the chequered flag had fallen.

For me, a childhood dream was fulfilled when we came across a giant Scalextric track. I have to admit I would still love to create something similar at home, but maybe it’s for the best that we don’t have anywhere near enough space. In any case, I was roundly beaten by my young son, after I apparently coached him far too well on how to take the step up from his Micro Scalextric James Bond 007 Race Set.

However, I found, overall, that the razzmatazz surrounding the event got in the way of the racing and, compared to Formula 1, which has of course been running since 1950, I thought the approach taken by Formula E to be a little juvenile.

Then again, I found the entertainment at Excel London race a tad less tasteful and polished than that at the ninth round of the championship, in Monaco. (Although it has to be said that Ella Eyre, who I didn’t know, put on a really good show for the crowd.)

But what of the race itself?

Oddly, the ‘show’ got in the way of the start, and the drivers set off seemingly without any prompting. Also, the cars are unfortunately too similar in speed for much real racing to happen, unless they take the gamble of the power boost, which feels a little gimmicky.

And then there was the ludicrous entanglement with three laps to go that took out the entire field, bar the three leading cars. That led to a restart involving a hastily created solution to a problem that I couldn’t imagine occurring in Formula 1.

But in the end we got a new champion, crowned on home soil, and to that extent the race delivered.

Strangely, the only national newspaper to cover the results the day after seemed to have been the Independent, although the BBC also gave it some space online.

That seems poor given that a world championship in a major motorsport was won by a British driver, at a unique venue in London, after a chaotic race, in front of a capacity crowd. That sports editors either weren’t interested or couldn’t be convinced that it was a story is a bit concerning and shows Formula E has some work to do, even if they have already achieved a huge amount through word of mouth, and some innovative fan engagement from which many other sports and events could learn a lot.

But maybe it’s all the razzmatazz that is the problem. If you don’t take yourself seriously, nobody else will. Or rather, in the words of Bruce Willis in his 1987 version of Respect Yourself: If you dont Respect Yourself / Aint nobody gonna give a good / Ca-hoot.
Goats Cheese Date and Honey Sourdough Toast
The day after the race, we went looking for brunch, and ended up in Mayfair.

While that may seem an extravagant choice, I like visiting that area. Not because I want to rub shoulders with the rich and famous (if they are taking a break from Knightsbridge or Chelsea) or because I buy luxury goods at luxury prices, but because it is one of the few areas of London that has not altered dramatically over the past few decades.

It seems to be a rule of thumb in the capital that neighbourhoods that were either very poor or very rich in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, before the traditional side of London came to be better appreciated in the 2000s, did not suffer too much desecration and remain largely untouched, while those in the awkward middle have been redeveloped out of all recognition.

In Mayfair there also seems to be sense of community and place, as well as that clear link to the past through the architecture, that has largely been erased in the rest of central London.

There are some great pubs and cafes, no more expensive than anywhere else in the West End, and we settled on the Caffe In, just off Shepherd Market.

I plumped for a slice of sourdough toast with goats cheese, thinly sliced dates, hazelnuts and honey, sprinkled with fresh rosemary and chilli flakes (see above). It was original, and delicious, although I thought that a more mature goats cheese or even crumbled feta would have worked better in that particular combination.
Replete, it was time to head back to the Summer Exhibition for one last look around before it closes.

The fascination of a second visit is of course that you see things you missed entirely the first time, as the sheer number of exhibits is staggering. Another thing that struck me this time around was our ongoing British obsession with ourselves and our history.

One could dismiss it as self-indulgent navel gazing, or celebrate us find ourselves and the space in which we inhabit fascinating, but the result is we pore over maps of our cities and countryside, and refer endlessly to minute daily details, the more prosaic the better.

Moreover, we seem to find great amusement in aspects of life that are almost identical to those in other countries but we seem to think are utterly unique.

The picture at the top of this page typifies this perfectly. To write ‘Fish & Chips’ in bright red letters over an old and battered map of southern England is utterly banal, and tells us almost nothing about who we are, other than that we want to celebrate the mundane and trivial. And artistically it is so unambitious as to be risible.

Yet there is another part of me that is amused by the concept, by the execution, and by the ludicrousness of submitting it to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (not to mention it being accepted and then placed on the gallery walls). I can think of no other context in which it would work, and to have it as the last picture one sees before leaving seems almost like a stroke of idiotic genius.

That it has already sold so many copies suggests that plenty of people agree with the latter rather than the former critique.
I don’t really have too much to report about projects in motion, other than that a brand-new short story of mine will be published next week exclusively on Amazon, and I am very excited about it!

See here for the cover reveal.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

0 ratings
A New World Champion | Pushing the Wave