Born into a Carnatic music loving South Indian family, I had some tough choices to make. It had to be either Subbalakshmi or Schumacher, Barrichello or Balamuralikrishna. For me, the veneer and clamor of the Formula One car always held out over the Ragas and the Gamakas at that age.
Today, as we are looking ahead to another season of Formula One, I see many complain about the not-so-exciting nature of the sport. That has forced me to mine my memory and reflect on things that made me fall in love with the sport.
It is not all about overtaking
Racing, especially Formula One, is not all about overtaking. Overtaking in F1 is akin to the most satisfactory orgasm, achievable only after a prolonged and teasing foreplay. You have to hunt the guy in front of you, chip away at those seconds lap after lap, and only then do you get the chance to go past him.
Even getting close to the guy in front of you is not enough. He can still shrewdly position his car on the straights and in the corners such that he can block any overtaking manoeuvre. He can also employ the aid of technologies like the DRS to keep the guy behind at bay.
The efforts of both the driver defending at the front and the driver attacking from behind are equally exciting.
Overtaking can be done in other ways as well. If you are faster than the car in front of you and can't seem to find a way to get past him, you can always get past him during pit stops. To execute this perfectly, you need a great ‘in’ lap – the lap leading up to your pit stop – and also a great ‘out’ lap – the lap immediately after you get out of the pits.
Stunning drivers, stunning skills
Watching Formula One also gives you a chance to witness the best drivers in the world. Have you ever driven a Kart? If yes, have you felt the challenge involved in going through a chicane without losing much speed? Now imagine if you had to do all that while overtaking someone else.
These are just some of the challenges the F1 drivers face. And all this at some very high speeds, where the margin of error is close to none and at times dangerous.
An F1 driver is basically expected to better his performance lap after lap, subject to the conditions. This type of pressure is perhaps unique to the sport. You can relax after taking a single in cricket or when you are not in the thick of play in football. But not in F1. Once the driver starts his mind, he has to be on it all the time.
With advances in technology, the modern driver also has to worry about so many things other than just driving. Adjusting tyre pressures, wing pressures, planning pit stops, talking strategy on the radio with the engineers – he basically has to fit several activities into one, all while dealing with the highest of speeds in the most challenging of circuits.
Another thing that is often forgotten is how physically demanding the sport is on the driver. While we all marvel at the ability of the F1 car to speed up and slow down at such remarkable rates, all of that comes at the cost of challenging mother nature. And someone has to bear that burden. It is the driver who does that.
An F1 car has the ability to go from 300 kmph to almost a standstill within just three seconds. So when a driver slows down at the end of a straight from top speeds to slow speeds, he has gravitational forces acting on him which can be as high as five times his bodyweight. There have also been reports of drivers losing upto five kg of weight after a race, especially in places like Sepang (Malaysia) where it is hot and humid.
Another ocassion where an F1 driver is really tested is when it rains. When Michael Schumacher was at his peak, him driving on wet tracks was a sight to look out for. A low margin sport at the best of times, racing on a wet track takes the challenge to another level altogether. With the car in front of you throwing up lots of water and visibility basically down to nil, keeping the car on track is a huge challenge, let alone overtaking.
Technology, physics and all that geeky razzmatazz
There are very few sports that require as much use of the brain as F1. And it is mostly about physics. The F1 car is a marvel of science; just consider some of these facts –
1. Gears can be shifted from 1st to 7th and back to 1st again in just 1/5th of a second.
2. The car can achieve 100 kmph from standstill in about 2.6 seconds.
3. An F1 car is composed of around 80,000 components.
4. F1 cars are capable of negotiating corners more than 90 degrees in angle at full speed.
These are just some of the many astonishing facts about F1. Of course, some of these numbers are subject to change with the ever changing rules, but the figures are roughly in the ballpark.
Watching F1 makes you aware of these incredible achievements of science that will broaden your horizon and scope and dare you to dream bigger and better. You can also witness all the major innovations in the field of automobile technology through the sport, and sound cool in a conversation with your friends with lines like, ‘That car goes faster because it has a better aerodynamic design’ or ‘This car has more oversteer/understeer.’
The sounds and sights of it all
You might have been a bit confused about my carnatic music – F1 analogy at the very start of this article. That was because feeling sound is everything, both in music and in F1. Although F1 engines have, over the years, come down in terms of their power, the sound that they generate still gives you a high. The sound of the car has got to be one of the reasons why you watch F1.
Another awesome thing about an F1 race is the pit stop. These breaks are the embodiment of efficiency and team work. Here is the Ferrari pit crew at work,
Another great thing about the F1 is how the season takes a trip around the world. The challenges that different circuits present and the beauty of the landscpae of each country the circuit is in give a whole different dimension to the sport, unlike any other.
The Monaco Grand Prix for example happens on the streets of Monte Carlo, taking us around the casinos and cruises of the spectacular city. The Spa in Belgium and Hockenheim in Germany, meanwhile, are just based in beautiful locales.
At the end of the day, it is all about speed and adrenaline
All said and done, what Formula One really is about is speed. And as a spectator, feeling that incredible speed gives you a unique thrill. There is always this sense of excitement about doing something ‘normal’ at extraordinary speed, while dodging errors.
While I admit that the various rule changes have robbed the sport of some of its sheen, if watched the proper way the sport still remains exciting. The nature of F1 is such that you will not see decisive actions like an overtake every minute or two. The whole race is about processes that lead to a final result, which is exactly what the sport as a whole is like.
If F1 is to be enjoyed, the processes that lead to a decisive spurt in excitement have to be enjoyed too. Drive safely!