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I’ve developed a few online friendships over the past year or two and it’s primarily Formula One that binds us together. A more disparate group of people you couldn’t find; each with their own unique ideas, cognitive framework of scrutiny, emotional biases and of course lives. Rich, poor, black, white, old, young, street-smart, academic, bald, hairy, wise, naïve, emotional, logical, pragmatic, idealistic, Hamilton-fan, Vettel-fan, fanboi, disinterested, are but some of the terms that could be used to describe various members of a ragtag group of Formula One aficionados, and possibly it could describe all members at different times.
Over the course of many discussions/arguments/taunts/fights, the term ‘arrogance’ occasionally arises with respect to a driver, past or present. Sometimes when describing Schumacher’s disposition during his prime career, or Hamilton’s persona presently, or Rosberg’s “stupid, smug and arrogant face!” This week following the Australian Grand Prix, a spike in the use of the word ‘arrogant’ was observed by yours truly. A spike in its use, not only amongst my friends, but also across Formula One’s fan base. Why? Well this time it’s in relation to young Verstappen and his juvenile yelps of displeasure during the race.
But before we begin discussing the next Fangio, Schumacher or Senna et al. I ask, what is arrogance? I don’t think I quite know – well not succinctly and clearly. I couldn’t explain it precisely to my child with confidence. It seems to be a hybrid of different elements and is perceived uniquely by each individual given their lives, nationality, culture, ethnicity, education level and even mood at the time of discourse. It’s not clear to a mind like mine what it actually is and what one is supposed to infer from its use. I, of course, understand that it’s supposed to be negative… I’m not that stupid. Or am I?
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘arrogance’ as:
1.the quality of being arrogant.
It also defines ‘arrogant’ as:
1.having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.
Ooookay… let’s check some other dictionaries.
Other definitions of the word in question simply present as opinions, which is possibly why I don’t quite understand the term’s use and have to continue to contextualise a person, and why they are using the term, in order to better understand what they are trying to say. Often the use of this particular term infiltrates rhetoric that is filled with an accusers own cognitive biases, over and above what’s normally acceptable in non-academic human interaction..
You get my point… I hope.
So, what are people actually seeing / saying when they want to describe a driver, or anyone, as ‘arrogant’ or having displayed ‘arrogance’ of some kind?
Let’s cut the word into two distinct parts. From my observations, arrogance tends to boil down to this. Once the concept of ‘arrogance’ is cut up, we see the purer parts that form the hybrid notion. In one hand we have ‘entitlement’ and in the other we have ‘overconfidence’. For a moment lets remove the ‘over’ part from ‘confidence’ and just hold onto the two origin ideas that combine to make someone normal (not me) perceive arrogance.
Both of these words, ‘entitlement’ and ‘confidence’, enjoy very specific and clear definitions. Definitions of both words are consistent among all dictionaries and thus both terms are used accurately by most people without too much emotional bias. We immediately know what they mean. There is little subjectivity to the terms ‘entitlement’ and ‘confidence’ with any substantial subjectivity limited to the context in which either term is employed… unlike arrogance.
Now that we’ve clarified, perhaps erroneously, the subsets of how people might use the word ‘arrogant’, what Verstappen showed during the Australian Grand Prix, and in fact many times last season, is pure ‘entitlement’ and nothing more. As the simple set of definitions from Merriam-Webster explains, Max has shown a “condition of having a right to have, do, or get something”, as well as, “the feeling or belief that you [he] deserve[s] to be given something (such as special privileges).”
In contrast, in many cases where the hybrid notion/word of arrogance has been used with respect to Schumacher (or Senna), it’s my opinion that the above definition of ‘entitlement’ does not hold true. I don’t find evidence that supports that Schumacher felt he had the right to win. Or that he deserved to be given something he didn’t work for, be that track position or unearned status at Ferrari. To my eye, Schumacher simply had an innate belief that he was very good, and probably the best, and that he worked the hardest in and out of the car, and subsequently he fought ferociously and ruthlessly for himself and his team – both on and off the track.
It could be said that he was ‘overconfident’… but what is OVERconfident? These people are international level sports stars and athletes. I interpret confidence as self-belief in one’s abilities, which is a key mindset at the very top of not only sport, but anywhere in competitive life. Perhaps one can be OVERconfident in that their confidence outweighs their displayed abilities to that point in the fourth dimension (time)… but even in that I’d applaud the person for that particular mindset. I personally have no issue with confidence, OVERconfidence (too subjective for my tastes) and a cultivated self-delusion of increased ability in order for that delusion to perhaps osmotically permeate reality somehow in the Aristotelian way of one becoming the act, over time, and the like. It’s the nature of ambition in competitive environments. It’s what serves sports people and athletes their whole career until the day they hit their true limitations.
Like Schumacher, this notion of arrogance has also been levelled at Hamilton on many occasions. Once again, I can’t quite grasp that notion and have had to try to understand the person saying it first, and how they use it, before I understand exactly what they mean and what they’re trying to highlight. Looking at the two separate foundational words that make up most people’s version of arrogance – entitlement and confidence – then I can’t see any genuine evidence of Hamilton feeling entitled to anything; not in the Villeneuve Jr., or Montoya way. Hamilton is confident, yes. Is he OVERconfident? His outstanding career results suggest not. He’s ferocious, like Schumacher was. He thinks he is the best, like Schumacher was, and frankly he is only equalled – or potentially bettered – by Vettel depending on how one analyses things. That element is subjective anyhow, but by definition Hamilton isn’t OVERconfident, nor is he entitled, thus, he isn’t arrogant. His confidence is in line with his achievements and status. Even if it wasn’t, who cares? That’s a required sporting/competitive mentality. But entitled he certainly isn’t.
Self-belief isn’t arrogance. I find it more revealing of the person that uses the word and notion than the person it’s actually levelled at. You can learn a great deal about people in that way, when someone doesn’t like Rosberg’s “stupid, smug and arrogant face” or feels “Schumacher was arrogant when he was trying to win all the time in such ways” or states “Hamilton thinks he’s so good how he acts; he’s arrogant!” None of these people are arrogant, in my opinion, simply because they didn’t/don’t show that one most annoying element that forms the core of arrogance, which is entitlement. Confident? Yes. OVERconfident? Dunno. Who cares?
At this early stage of his career, Verstappen shows large amounts of entitlement. Let’s hope that melts away as the years add up for him; though it didn’t for the likes of Villeneuve Jr., or Montoya, whose squealing rarely abated.
Entitled people tend not to want to learn. They have no desire to do so. They don’t quite realise the damage they do to themselves by not continuing to actively learn. It is as if it’s a weakness to them.
Verstappen has shown this trait regularly – Monaco last season in particular – and he’s in a sport that is too complex to mentally isolate oneself, not to mention he is too young to stop the learning process now. I am aware he is young, but, that’s largely irrelevant; this is his challenge now at the very unforgiving pinnacle of motorsport. True success in Formula One, from what I have seen, isn’t just about pure talent, of which Verstappen has it in spades. Watching him ring the neck of the Toro Rosso at the Australian GP during the greasy sessions was quite remarkable. Let’s hope that talent can flourish, and that someone tells him to fight, fight hard, but keep his mouth shut and keep working. The last thing Verstappen needs is enablers telling him that “even the best fought hard” etc. Fighting isn’t what he is doing. Squealing is.
In the end, no one reasonable will lambast him for over-enthusiasm, or extreme ferocity, like both Schumacher and Hamilton had. They will for entitlement. The youngster can know he’s good, there is no issue there, but he has to earn his success and track positions with ferocity. Not squealing like a pig. The team said “race”, so Max, I suggest you just fucking get on with it and race.
I hate whingers; I think I’ve mentioned that.
Tomorrow I will publish Part 2 to this opinion piece where I more rigorously look into Verstappen’s junior racing pedigree, the disconnection between said pedigree and the hype, and thus perhaps go some way to explaining how this inflated sense of entitlement sprang forth.