An Introduction To The Pinnacle Of Motorsport…

The 2010 Formula One World Championship is being hailed as the greatest of all time, and not without just cause.  It seems as if the competition has never been closer and the races never been more exciting.  However, for me this intense competition is not the main reason I love Formula One.  Although 2010’s twists and turns have doubtless added a new dimension of excitement, as well as several million extra viewers, Formula One itself will always be exciting for me, regardless of what happens on track.

The current crop of Formula One cars are the most advanced racing cars in history.  Although relatively recent changes to the engine regulations have slowed them down slightly since the middle of the decade, the levels of innovation and technical genius has never been higher.  Close competition has forced teams to raise their games, and the levels of technology in a modern Formula One car come closer to what you would find in a jet aircraft than an ordinary racing car.  You don’t even have to know anything about the sport to see how advanced these cars are, just take one look at the various flicks, flaps and folds in a front-wing, and the incredible level of meticulous research that has been put in is obvious.

Of course this comes at a price, wind tunnels and supercomputers do not come cheap, nor do designers and engineers who wouldn’t be out of their depth working on a space program, and this is the main reason why F1 has become so intrinsically linked with big business, for better or for worse.

As with nearly all motor racing categories, the main aim of all this research and development comes down to two things; grip and speed.  The better grip your car has on a track, then the faster it can go round corners.  Most of the grip on a modern Formula One car comes from downforce generated by the car’s aerodynamics (the shape of the car and the various wings and winglets), which means they can fly around corners as if they were on rails.  Each car generates more than twice its own weight in downforce, which means that not only could they theoretically drive on the ceiling, but could drive on the ceiling while carrying another car.

Formula One drivers, in the same way as their cars, are at a level that is difficult to even comprehend.  Although motor racing is hugely popular across the world, there are only ever 20 or so Formula One drivers at any point in time, and they are as integral to a team’s success as any component on the car.

The skill set they posses puts them closer to fighter pilots than ordinary racing drivers, as they have to have the ability to smoothly control an incredible amount of power, while also maintaining total mistake-free accuracy and precision the entire time they’re in the car.  The tiniest mistake, be it slightly too much throttle or braking a fraction of a second late, could put you into a wall with potentially serious consequences.  To go as fast as possible, the drivers have to constantly be what is known as ‘the limit’, driving the car at the absolute edge of the grip, so that going into a corner slightly faster would spin you off, or braking any later would cause you to completely miss the corner.  This is where skill meets bravery, when pushing any harder would mean an accident, but get it right and you can achieve the fastest possible lap time.

The drivers’ status as athletes is often ignored as well.  During an average race, lasting between 90 minutes and 2 hours, a driver could be subjected to forces of up to 5G (five times the force of gravity) at several points on each lap.  The cars are also very hard to drive, as there is no power steering and the cars are so powerful, so the drivers have to be extremely fit.  Add to this that several layers of heavy, fire-proof clothing has to be worn, and that many of the races now are in countries like Abu Dhabi, Malaysia and Bahrain, which means each driver needs huge reserves of strength and stamina to even just finish a race.

This is just an introduction to Formula One, you can follow the sport for decades and still be constantly learning new things, but I hope this serves to at least partly explain my love for it.  It is, for me at least, the most exciting sport on the planet, certainly one of the most competitive, and right now, it’s never been better.