For the past 7 or 8 years, I’ve been following Formula 1 – really since Lewis Hamilton was so spectacularly denied the 2007 Driver’s Championship in his inaugural season on the final lap of the final race of the season at the Brasilian Grand Prix. It was a hell of a moment to be introduced to the sport, how could I not be drawn in ?
It was a sheer coincidence that I even caught a glimpse of the race in the first place. I just happened to be watching TV one Sunday afternoon and there was clearly nothing better on, yet since that moment, I’ve been hooked. With a sport as irregular and sporadically timed as F1, my interest naturally waxed and waned over the years, but even the low-grade casual interest that served as my baseline was saying something.i Professional sports have never been a particularity passionate hobby of mine even if the somewhat transcendent qualities of World Cup do manage to hold my attention now and again.
What always attracted me to the upper echelon of open-cockpit motor racing was 1) The technical abilities and designs of the cars, 2) The global diversity of the circuits, and 3) The history of the sport. Interestingly, the drivers themselves never really held much interest for me, quite possibly because none of the current crop have that once-in-a-lifetime quality that usually urges me to root for an athlete. Rare though it per definitio is, no driver in F1 possesses the sublimity of the likes of Tiger and Lebron. The F1 drivers of the past decade are little more than flat corporate cut-outs.
So not only are the drivers themselves dull as Dawn dishsoap,ii but their steeds, the latest cars, outfitted as they are with “green” turbo-V6s and an origamists orgasm of carbon fibre detailing so intricate and ornate that Justinian I would’ve called it “Byzantine,” are so annoyingly aerodynamic, so unapproachably complex, and so black-ops secretive that both live and TV viewers are completely in the dark, very much like the unknowable idiotboxen that replaced physical keyboards in your home. Given the depth of analysis offered by technology in other sports,iii technology has made F1 cars “better” without also adding a depth of understanding for the audience. While people don’t seem to much mind this in their electronics, the ongoing financial struggles of F1 and its non-automaker-non-softdrink-backed teams would seem to indicate that more technical analysis is sine qua non in modern sports.iv
So what can chief executive Bernie Ecclestone do to rekindle the magic ? There’s nothing in the world, no design regulation no matter how specific and no tire/fuel policy no matter how contrived, that can protect the more poorly-funded teams from the better-funded teams. Even if Williams sneaks in the odd podium, as they did in Canada at the hands of Bottas last weekend, and even if another Brawn GP comes up out of nowhere and finds another loophole that gives them an insanely exciting performance edge, the big boys – Red Bull, Mercedes, and Ferrari – are not to be overcome just for the saying of it. And even if a budget cap were introduced, between creative accounting and just paying for overage fines out-of-pocket as they do in Major League Baseball, the deepest pockets will still rule the roost.
That’s not my concern. My concern is that the races are fucking deathly boring and that, as a resident of the Americas, the scheduling of most of the races are such that they start between 4 – 6 am. So unless there’s a bloody good reason to, I won’t be bothered to wake up at that hour just to stare at a screen for 90 minutes unless it’s pretty damn compelling.v The race itself has to be involving – it’s not enough for there to be fluffed-up “drama” around the edges, in betwixt and between chequered flags.vi
So what to do ? Well, what makes motor racing exciting in the first place ? Well, crashes, passes, and mechanical noise.
These simple and pulse-raising objectives can be achieved by introducing :
I. Narrower tires.
II. A variety of tire suppliers.vii
III. A limit to the total surface area of the car.
IV. Naturally-aspirated engines.
V. More published data.
Narrow tires mean less grip in the corners, which means more opportunities for passing. Allowing a variety of tire suppliers and the ability to switch between suppliers mid-season will allow for competition and variability in the most important element of the vehicle : that which touches the road. Limiting the total surface area of the car will constrain designers in their application of complex carbon fibre folds and curves that optimise aerodynamics and improve the defensiveness of cars, thus opening the door to more offensive manoeuvres. Naturally-aspirated engines sound better to the audience and offer better throttle response for the driver – it’s a no-brainer and it does away with the pathetic green-washing of the current hybrid-electric-turbo shit. More published data on everything from the instantaneous temperature of the left ducted sidepod to the velocity of the air over the front nosecone to the oil pressure in the engine – everything the teams use and record – should be made available in real-time to the audience, giving them the opportunity to come up with their own analyses and metrics.viii
There you go. Five steps.
The consequences for failing to heed these suggestions are the same as anything else where the cool kids have left the building or, even worse, turned a blind eye and never showed up in the first place. Ask Twitter, Google Glass, and yes, even your adorable little Apple Watch.
Simple enough, really.
___ ___ ___
- “Casual” enough to hop out of bed at some truly unreasonable hours.↩
- Yes, it does have to be megacorp dishsoap, this is F1 after all.↩
- Corsi and Fenwick, anyone ?↩
- The best technical armchair analyst in F1 is currently Craig Scarborough, but he’s a bit off in the wilderness.↩
- And no, I don’t have a PVR. I don’t even have cable TV, nor have I for some years. Besides, recording sports and watching them later is just plain lame. It’s like paying for dinner and tipping the waitress before you’ve even sat down at the restaurant. Timing matters.
Just ask all the Bitcoin derps from 2013 for whom the ship has sailed because they refused to wash the shit out of their eyes and went to sleep every night saying 5 secular hail marys of “The kumooniteey is smarter than MP.” Go ahead, ask them. ↩
- Not that I’m the only one to notice this, Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso was recently quoted as saying that driving an F1 car is like piloting an airplane, and not in a complimentary manner, though he didn’t specify what kind of airplane. Maybe he meant this one ?
Then there’s Jeremy Clarkson (a former hero of mine) who recommends that F1 turn into a celebrity racing junket in order to appeal to the masses. Sure, why not turn the whole world into a UK daily rag ? Think of the ratings !↩
- Pirelli is the only supplier currently. Continental and Bridgestone should be in the mix as well. And sure, let Nexen play ball. The shitty teams need something they can afford !↩
- Yes, most of these will be derpy and pointless and so on, but this is sports after all and that’s kinda the point. Sports fans aren’t any different from armchair economists, they just drink beer instead of wine.↩
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