Car racing? Who watches that? It’s called Formula 1, and I do

Formula 1: Lewis Hamilton in the lead at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Getty Images

On the first day of my new job, I was ushered into a room for an introductory meeting with one of the top guns of India’s leading national daily. “Do you follow any sports?” the spectacled man, sporting a tuft of grey hair, asked me with the undeniable intention of making me feel at home in unfamiliar surroundings.

Instinct, and years of experience, helped him notice a glow in my eyes. I didn’t need to answer his question. “Do you like any one in particular?” he said.  “Yes, sir. Formula 1.” With a puzzled look, he adjusted his glasses, before saying, “Is it really a sport? Should it be considered one?”

The world of motorsport racing or Formula 1 in particular is still considered unworthy of discussion among many. People spend hours belittling my beloved Manchester United, or speaking graciously about the ‘down-the-line’ winners  by Roger Federer.

Hell, even though many of my friends are not NBA fanatics, they still dabble into conversations about the emergence of Stephen Curry.

Why does Formula 1 remain so shunned?




 

It’s a rich man’s game

Okay, not everyone can make it big without significant financial backing, but if it was the only criterion, why aren’t there any world champions coming from the Gulf?

The road to becoming a Formula 1 driver may be a costly affair, but it is still a sport based on talent.

Formula 1 isn’t the only sport where it’s expensive to make a mark. A simple internet search would tell you the average amount of investment it takes to pursue golf.

With the right backing, can any of us become top-notch drivers? Running has always been free. How many batchmates of yours made it big in athletics?

 

… But the wealthiest team always wins

Let me list the highest spenders in 2015. Red Bull topped the list, followed by Mercedes, Mclaren, Ferrari, Williams, Lotus, Toro Rosso, Force India, Sauber and Manor.

The top four teams spent in excess of €400 million each while those below them shelled less than half or even a quarter of that amount.
The constructor or team standings at the end of the year were Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams, Red Bull, Force India, Lotus, Toro Rosso, Sauber, Mclaren and Manor.

Sure, money does buy titles, but when have they not dictated terms in other sports?

Let’s take the example of football. PSG, Manchester City and Chelsea have quickly established themselves as premier teams in Europe after heavy investment. Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona aren’t shy to flash the cash either. That’s just part of sport. Get used to it!




They just sit and drive!

When Formula 1 drivers apply the brake to take a turn after touching speeds over 300 kmph, they experience up to 4G, or the pressure of four times their body weight being pulled in the opposite direction at an acute angle. This isn’t a one-off. These blokes continue to do this for a few hours at a stretch.

Also, it is beneficial to hit the brake as late as possible, as podium finishes are often dictated by a matter of milliseconds.

Inevitably, their body undergoes more trauma.

They lose about 4 kgs of their body weight after every race. Let’s not even get into how long it takes to shed that weight in the gym.

Oh, and by the way, beyond 3G pressure on your body, failure to control your breath results in losing consciousness. Imagine passing out while going full throttle. It’s bad enough when it happens at the end of a night of heavy drinking.

 

I can’t see the person. Where’s the connect?

Broadcasters have tried to deal with this. They have placed cameras inside cars and also hooked up driver-team radios to a live feed. Modern Grand Prix races have become much more interactive. You can hear drivers voice their feelings and also see their line of sight. Every overtake, crash or tyre lock-up is shown from their perspective and also from a third person angle.

From Sebastian Vettel’s rant to Nico Hulkenberg’s cheeky ‘see you later’ while passing Valtteri Bottas, there is now a truly human feel to these races.

 

It lacks sportsmanship 

Tell that to the guys at Ferrari. You’ll probably get a kick on your backside and a delightful assortment of the choicest Italian abuses.

Blood, sweat and tears are just some of the elements that go into making each car that finds its way onto the track. Two drivers in a team aren’t always friends; they are there to prove themselves as individual competitors.

Formula 1 is one of the only sports where the term ‘teammate’ offers a completely different meaning. Rosberg-Hamilton, Prost-Senna, Mansell-Piquet, these were all-time greats pitted together by the same manufacturer. Their goal, though, was of bettering their “teammate”.




These cars can never be driven on normal road

Yes, just as wearing the protective gear of a hockey goalkeeper wouldn’t be a feasible idea, a motorsport car is not really built to make trips to work or get you across to the closest grocery store.

The money poured into the cars, though, is not just for sport – most of the engine, safety and suspension technology used in modern cars is first tried and tested on Formula 1.

Direct-Shift Gearboxes (DSG), clutch-less manual transmissions, push button ignition, modern suspension & tires, disc brakes and even the rear view mirror came from the race track to the car you drive today.

Where does the thrill factor come from?

Perhaps, it is the thrill of watching elite cars trying to screech their way ahead when the race begins, the sense of a little prayer involuntarily reaching your lips as the fleet approaches the first corner. Or maybe, it is just the childish euphoria of seeing one car overtaking the other.

Yes, sir. Formula 1 is, and always has been a sport.

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