Practise Comes Perfect

Since the BBC regained the rights to the Formula One coverage for the 2009 season, we have been able to experience the Friday and Saturday practise sessions in a number of ways, be it online, on the radio or on ‘the red button’.  In a stroke of luck, this coincided with the ban on in-season testing, which has helped to turn practise into a spectacle itself.

The lack of testing during the season means that the two Friday practise sessions are now the only opportunity the teams get to try out new components and setups on their cars.  A few years ago, teams would have tested all new parts to destruction at their own tracks, and the practise sessions would have been used for tweaking car setup and letting drivers learn the tracks.  The increasing use of simulators by most of the teams means that drivers already know the tracks when they arrive, so have much less work to do in this area over the actual weekend.

This means that practise sessions throw up a lot more excitement than ever before, with drivers pushing hard while on track and taking risks we wouldn’t have seen in previous years.  This early action can influence the whole weekend, as Fernando Alonso found out in Monte Carlo when he put his car into the wall during P3 and was forced to miss qualifying.  Missing a practise session can leave you playing catch-up all weekend, as everybody else has had extra time to work on their car, as Lewis Hamilton showed in Japan this year, when crashing out early in practise put him on the back foot for qualifying and the race.

Several teams have used first practise on a Friday to test out new drivers, as Force India have with young Scot Paul Di Resta, who has proved his pace throughout 2010, and is now in a much stronger position to look for a race seat in 2011.

The BBC’s Friday coverage has also been a revelation, with regular commentators David Croft and Anthony Davidson often able to delve into a level of technical detail that is arguably missing from the BBC’s qualifying and race broadcasts.  Several high profile commentators have been recruited to fill in for Davidson when he is fulfilling other racing commitments, and contributions from Paul Di Resta, Gary Paffett and Karun Chandok, amongst others, have been insightful and have often give a whole new perspective on issues.

While 4.5 hours of F1 before qualifying has even started might be overkill for the casual fan, it has become a hugely important part of the weekend for hardcore followers, and gives much bigger picture of the whole Grand Prix.

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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.