Drive Casually and Turn Sometimes

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It’s always interesting to see what reactions I get from my blog posts, and the reward of cookies seems to be what gets the most attention.  Earlier this week, when giving dumb excuses about why I haven’t blogged for a while, I mentioned a sporting series that I hate that I love.  The guesses came in quick, and no one got the cookies, but since it was such a hot topic, I decided to run with it.  That … and I am full on a rant on it this week.

I was describing this as: “my fascination of the most boring sporting series in the world.”  What am I describing, you ask?

Formula 1 Racing

I hate Formula 1 Racing – yet on a given race weekend, I will watch between 2 and 6 hours.  Every Frickin’ Week.  I can’t get enough of it … and I CAN’T STAND IT!

For those of you who don’t know or know little about Formula 1 (or F1), it’s an auto race circuit born out of Europe but is now worldwide (though mostly in Europe).  There are 21 races in 2019, nine in Europe, seven in Asia, three in North America, and one each in South America and Australia (sorry Africa, not this year).  Tracks are mainly run on ‘road course’ tracks with different curves and straightaways, most of which are designed and built for F1 races though some, including the famous Monaco Grand Prix, are run on city streets.  They are open-wheel cars.  If you are familiar with Indy Cars or a fan of the Indianapolis 500, it is that style of car you can compare it to.  For the record, any comparisons I will be making will be more to NASCAR, the stock car circuit in the US.  I am not a follower of NASCAR but watched it enough over the years to be dangerously educated enough to rant properly.

First thing you need to know about F1 is money.  Money gushes in and out of F1 like tidal waves of greenbacks.  Like NASCAR cars and drivers get sponsorships, but they aren’t shoved down your throat at F1 – but because F1 is so global it’s followers that are vomiting cash for tickets, TV rights, and propaganda, they could possibly be lining the racetracks with gold if they wanted to.  The two driver teams in the circuit (there are 10 making up 20 cars in each race) also get backed by their owners, who in many cases are corporations or auto manufacturers using the series as a test bed (e.g., Ferrari, Mercedes, Aston Martin (racing as Team Red Bull), Alfa Romeo, Renault).  Since these cars are prototypes, a team can gain an advantage by investing more in the design, testing, and construction.  Or more to the point … the more money the team has, the better the car.  It’s a well-accepted fact that the fastest cars in F1 don’t need the best drivers … they just need the most money.   

A big part of my frustration comes from this, as Mercedes and their racers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas win every week.  That’s not a generalization.  Seven races into 2019, and one or the other won each race.  Not just that, they finished 1st & 2nd in five races, 1st & 3rd in another, and 1st & 4th in the last.  When they have a good week, they dominate.  When they are at a track that doesn’t suit them or if they make mistakes, they win anyway.  Team parody is so bad that it’s hard to see this changing soon, and if it does it is only one team Ferarri, that looks to be able to do something about it.

But let’s get past all this exposition and background … let’s get into my rant.

My big problem with F1 is that F1 hates racing, by that, I mean all the things you love about watching a race — like passing, or trying to pass, or trying to go as fast as possible — is either inhibited or prohibited.

When you watch NASCAR race, it’s pretty common to see a bunch of cars that led the race at some point along with massive packs of cars tight to each other.  Even tracks like Daytona, someone can gain or lose the lead multiple times in a single lap.  In F1, unless there is a wreck or a problem in the pits, overtaking (passing) happens so rare that they highlight a track as ‘overtaking is possible’.  There are literally less than a dozen overtakes in a race, sometimes none at all, not just for taking the lead but at every position.  This is mainly due to aerodynamics.  Stock cars in NASCAR are essentially bricks with wheels.  They don’t slide through they air, they plow through it like me at a BBQ all-you-can-eat.  Because of this, when two cars are close to each other, they create a ‘draft’ that makes both cars faster.  Since you are only inches away from the other car gaining speed, passing in NASCAR only needs room on the track, and oval tracks are typically one constant passing lane.  F1 and Indy cars have such a low aerodynamic profile with a high amount of downforce that when they approach other cars their ability to stick to the track becomes more unstable.  The closer one F1 car is to another,  the harder it is to pass.  F1 courses are neat and well designed, but the problem with road courses is that there are few opportunities to pass.  In the end, even if you have the fastest car, you have to be the faster car at one specific corner or one particular straightaway.  Now, these are all the nature of the beast, but it goes beyond that.

Another big difference between NASCAR and F1 is caution periods, where the race is slowed for a wreck or other issues on the track.  NASCAR tends to throw a lot of caution periods, even adding artificial ones for the ‘stage’ style of race.  It’s pretty common to get over a dozen caution periods in NASCAR.  They do this because:
– It tightens up the field leading to more passing
– It gives cars stuck in traffic a chance to compete with those they are faster than
– It allows pit stops to happen with less impact on track position
– It leads to more interesting racing

F1 will try to avoid caution periods like the plague.  Why you may ask? For the same FRICKIN reasons that NASCAR likes them.  F1 believes that slowing the field down and tightening them up is unfair to those who are already at the front — because God Forbid, it may end up making the race more interesting.  Called a ‘Safety Car’ instead of a caution period, these things come up so rare that, like overtaking, they will advertise a race as “We Could Get a Safety Car.”  Seven races into the year and there have been two safety cars deployed.  They even created a thing called the Virtual Safety Car – which substantially slows all cars down to the same speed so tracks can be cleared.  It makes the track safe but doesn’t let anyone … you know … have a reason to improve their position.

What all of this means is that qualifying periods are almost more important than the race.  If you get pole position on a track where overtaking is rare and a safety car isn’t expected, you can essentially park your car in the front and drive around like an elderly person looking for a parking spot outside of the drug store.  During a race, tire wear and fuel can come into play, but if you drive slow enough that doesn’t become a problem – and since no one can pass you, what are they going to do to make you go faster.  In the best example of this, the winner of the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix won the race after losing part of their turbo power with 20 laps to go.  Since they don’t refill the fuel, the car is massively lighter and faster at the end of the race, but this guy was going 5 seconds slower than his first lap.  There was a literal train of cars behind him crossing the finish line, but none could get through.  Slap a marching band in the middle of it, and you would think they were at the Rose Bowl Parade.

Sure, you can still argue … nature of the beast.  This is what it is.  Then this past weekend happened.  The 2019 Canadian Grand Prix was dominated by Sebastian Vettel of Ferarri.  He had the fastest times in practice, won the pole position, even crossed the finish line first; but Lewis Hamilton won the race.  Let me restate that … Vettel crossed the line first but lost.  Arguably, Vettel made one mistake the whole weekend.  He hit the breaks a little late going into a chicane (an s-curve), jumped a rumble strip, missing a wall, and got back control of the car.  Lewis Hamilton had to tap the breaks but wasn’t more than mildly inconvenienced.  In NASCAR, if that would happen there would be some cheering and screaming from the near miss and love for the hard racing … maybe someone would throw a punch, but that’s about it.  In Formula 1, that was considered an ‘Unsafe Reentry onto the track’.  Vettel was given a five-second penalty applied to how he finished.  Passing in F1 is hard, but Hamilton didn’t have to pass – the race stewards just said stay close and you got this.  One analysis and the former driver said about the penalty “F1 has to decide if they want a racing circuit, or just put on the most expensive parades in the world”.

There is literally so little interesting that happens in an F1 race, or in qualifying, or in practice.  These days ESPN will show all five sessions, which when you add it all up is a good 7 hours over a weekend.

And I still watch every bit of it … every race weekend … weekend after weekend like my life depended on it.

But what else I am going to do with my time.  Be productive?

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