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An Argument for Formula 1

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On: Tue, Oct 29, 2013 at 12:14PM | By: Nick Bakewell

An Argument for Formula 1

This weekend marks the beginning of the end for 2013’s Formula 1 season. For those not in the know (forgivable, the sport isn’t especially popular in the US), F1 is the absolute top tier of motorsport. It’s an amalgam of superlative facts and figures: the fastest cars, the biggest budgets, the most advanced engineering, and the most extreme driving talent all come together to form what I consider to be the most exciting sport in the world. Even for those who know nothing about it, the names of some of the top teams might ring a bell: Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren, Lotus, and so on.

Throughout the season, the F1 circus travels all over the world to some of the most famous race tracks, ranging from venerable and storied circuits like the Monaco Grand Prix to shiny new facilities like Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. This round, the 16th of this season, takes places at the Buddh International Circuit in New Delhi, India. By this point in the season, owing to a series of commanding race-day performances by Infiniti Red Bull Racing (the full name of the Austrian energy drink conglomerate’s F1 team), the championship is all but locked up. Red Bull’s star driver, a young German named Sebastian Vettel, needs finish only 5th, and the title is mathematically his. Due to the highly developmental nature of F1, each season the regulations are revised in varying degrees to force the teams to redesign their cars and seek new ways of gaining performance advantage, and for the past several years, the regulations have suited Red Bull to a T. If they put in the kind of performance they require to win the title this weekend, it will be their fourth consecutive championship.

I realize that this makes the sport sound boring, and to those of a more… NASCAR-y persuasion, it might seem that way. In contrast to other, less high-profile forms of motorsport, overtaking in F1 is a relatively infrequent affair, more often the result of razor-precise maneuvering and careful racecraft rather than brute force and bullheadedness. Given the constantly changing conditions, from race track to race track and weekend to weekend, the drivers must exhibit almost superhuman skill to wrestle their unruly, bewinged chariots around corners at speeds of up to 180mph while withstanding up to 5G of cornering force. It’s enough to practically pull a normal person’s head off, and they’re able to do it lap after lap, all while tracing a perfect racing line and fending off overtaking maneuvers from 21 other drivers. The more you watch it, the more you begin to appreciate the kind of transcendental skill and focus it takes to be an F1 driver (and consequently, why they get paid so much).

With such a narrow field of competitors (each of the 11 teams fields just 2 drivers), each season becomes something of a soap opera as rivalries erupt on and off track, a natural consequence of a group of young men placed under such high pressure. Each race becomes a series of thrilling dramas as varying groups of drivers vie for position, knowing that the millions of dollars and thousands of man hours spent developing and building the cars come to rest, ultimately, on their shoulders. The drivers are the teams’ façade, but it’s very much a team sport, and no expense is spared in employing the greatest talents in each of the respective disciplines required to field an F1 car on the grid.

In summary, then, I can understand the rationality behind a certain cynicism towards F1. Perhaps you think it’s too aloof, too grandiose and inaccessible. That, though, is part of the allure of the sport. F1 is combination of the greatest talents in engineering with the utmost skill in driving, and it evolves constantly, so the field is ever-competitive. Like soccer, or tennis, it’s a sport with style and panache, a sport that makes heroes and legends. It may seem boring and technical, prima facie, but dig deeper and you’ll find that it’s one of the pinnacles of human achievement, the sporting equivalent of Concorde or the moon landing. After all, as Ernest Hemingway said, “There are but three true sports—bullfighting, mountain climbing, and motor racing. The rest are merely games.”


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