Why You Should be Watching Formula One
By Kevin Gordon
Formula One (F1) is one of the greatest expressions of automotive passion. It is the world’s largest showcase of advanced automotive technology, it provides compelling story lines, and the competition has never been better. The time to watch F1 is now. If you love cars and competition, it is time to turn on your TV early in the morning (in the United States) to catch the greatest four wheel showcase going today.
Formula One does not have a mainstream following in the United States despite being the third most watched sporting event in the world. For example, I was recently in Las Vegas, NV on an F1 weekend. While in the city of sin, no one aired the race and not one sports book would take a bet on the race. There was a time when North America showed a little more interest. In the 1960s and 70s, F1 cars could be found lapping the track at Watkins Glen, NY. Recently (2000) organizers spent north of $50 million to build a road course inside of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which hosted races for eight years. In Canada, a Grand Prix was hosted (with two small breaks) from 1961-2008. Now, F1 has completely left North America. If you are a diehard fan in North America with a fear of flying, no worries – you can drive to Brazil to see a race. The reasons for this lack of interest could be debated endlessly, but the basic arguments against viewing seemed to be a lack of passing, a lack of parity in the field, and a steep learning curve to understand what was going on during the race.
These issues have been addressed through technical/rule changes and excellent television coverage. Speed TV is the primary host for viewing F1 in North America and their commentators do a great job of explaining what is happening for first time viewers. For some races Fox has purchased rights to air the races, but practice and qualifying can be found of Speed Fridays and Saturdays.
So why should you be watching F1?
To start, you are going to be able to see the highest caliber driving talent in the world. The only other comparable drivers are World Rally (WRC) drivers. Feel free to argue in the comments, but the reflexes, endurance, and skill of the modern F1 drivers cannot be matched in any other form of four- wheeled motorsport. Next, you cannot find a more advanced automobile on the road. The engine of an F1 car alone are more technically impressive that most other racing cars. The specifications tell the tale; naturally aspirated 2.4 liter V-8s that produce approximately (manufacturers protect the real numbers) 800 horsepower (hp). They produce this kind of power while being technically limited in their development and physically limited to 18,000 RPM. Rumor and speculation state that if these motors were not limited they would be revolving more than twenty-two thousand times per minute. This year they have introduced KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) which is a regenerative breaking battery powered system that can provide an 80 hp boost for a limited period of time per lap. KERS has come across as a bit of a gimmick, but it is helping to advance battery technology in a world with enormous research and development budgets.
F1 does not just provide an exciting race; it also has introduced a qualifying process that is always exciting to watch. They have moved to a system that has three rounds of knock out qualifying sessions that lasts an hour. The first session, also known as Q1, lasts fifteen minutes, includes the entire field and eliminates the five slowest drivers. Multiple times this year leading drivers have been left out of the next round by not posting a fast enough time. The second session (Q2) resets the drivers’ lap times and they run for another fifteen minutes. This session always results in the fastest times as the cars are allowed to run on very little fuel. After Q2, ten cars battle in the final session (Q3) for pole position. In this session cars need to carry the amount of fuel they want to use at the start of the race so times are slower, but progressively get faster as the session proceeds. This qualifying process was met with initial resistance from fans and critics, but once underway there is almost unanimous support that this is the best qualifying process in all of motorsport.
The final and most important reason to watch Formula One now is that this may be the last year of the astronomical budgets that have made F1 the playboy’s playground that it has been for the last few decades. As an example, Toyota’s F1 operating budget in 2008 was $445 million. They spent almost a half a billion dollars without any impressive results to show for the expenditure. Next year the head of the governing body of F1 has talked about a budget cap of $60 million. Teams and drivers have taken sides on this proposed budget limit, but it is becoming clear that some type of spending limit is coming and it will greatly impact this magical motorsport.
Tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM EST the Monaco Grand Prix is live on Speed TV in the U.S. Get up early, brew yourself a cup of your favorite caffeinated beverage and enjoy the spectacle that is F1.
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