Saturday, 20 April 2013

Real Racing

Just recently on Twitter I've noticed a lot of debate over whether F1 is worth watching. A lot of people seem to think that F1 isn't real racing - quite a surprise considering that this is now considered the pinnacle of motorsport. A lot of this view is based on the fact that F1 revolves around technology, with some people arguing that the driving isn't really 'real' any more.

I agree that F1 is dependent on its technology. This is precisely why the cars are so quick, and this is one of the most impressive forms of motorsport out there. However, I'm not sure that I agree with the point that technological advances come at the cost of racing. Sure, there is a lot of distance between teams such as Red Bull and Caterham. There is a definite top class, mid-field and back-marker divide. However, does this now mean that we don't see 'real' racing? I'm not so sure.

The drivers in F1 do have to work out more than just driving alone in modern F1. They have to manage the tyres, figure out when to use DRS and KERS, and feedback to engineers about the car's set-up. All of this at incredibly high speed under the pressure of a race. Yes, sometimes the set-up that you get will influence your result. However, I don't think this detracts from the racing. Rather, it's extended the skills that the drivers need, and rewards the teams much more than some other sports where technology is less crucial. The mark of a good driver now is one who can manage the technology while still winning races. You can have drivers who are great at developing technology, but who lack the skills needed for racing (ref. Luca Badoer). Similarly, you can see moments where great racing drivers struggle with the technology (Jenson Button for example is notorious for struggling unless the car is perfect). The fact that you need to be able to balance the two doesn't mean you don't need a competitive driver.

Adversaries to F1 will argue that it is no longer a 'pure' form of racing. The drivers are unimportant, it's all about the cars. To see 'real' racing, you have to look to touring cars or Moto GP. Sure, I like those forms of motorsport too, and technology has a smaller role than in F1, but I'd never say that F1 isn't racing. I think F1 is racing in another form. You still get the on-track battles, where the drivers are competing against the other drivers, rather than against the other car - the controversial Vettel/Webber overtake in Malaysia was a perfect example of this. Alright, you're never going to have a straight fight between a Lotus and a Marussia this year, but you can see the evolution of the smaller teams bringing them closer to the mid-field.

I've written before how F1 appeals to me due to its record of rewarding intelligence. In so many sports it's just about the one guy in the competition, not about the people behind him developing the techniques. In F1 it's different. If an aerodynamicist comes up with a great design, then their efforts are rewarded when a car wins a race. The team effort of putting the car together before the driver gets near it is vital, yes. However, winning a race isn't dependent on the aerodynamics alone - it's still dependent on the driver's racing ability. You couldn't design the fastest F1 car in the world, stick me in there and get me to win races. I don't have the skill, no matter how good the car is.

Overall, I can't claim to understand why people believe that F1 isn't racing simply because of the technology involved. Sure, racing is now about tyres and aerodynamics and strategy. However, without that spark of racing, you wouldn't have a sport.