Formula One motor racing has always been a circus. It has a ring master, lions and tigers, bears, a snake charmer and a trapeze act. Granted it has over the years had a bearded lady or two with questionable tyre compounds, stupid politically driven decisions, daft regulations and incompetent management. But when that circus hits its groove, and the fire eaters, acrobats and human cannonball hit their marks on time every time, you can’t help but leap off your sofa and punch the air.
An F1 car will go from 0-100-0 in 5 seconds. The aerodynamic downforce it produces enables it to corner so fast that drivers can experience gravitational force more than four times the normal rate. The current 2.4 litre V8 engines are putting out almost 750 horsepower in a car that weighs slightly more than Kojak’s hair. At top wack they can do 230mph. There are 22 of these things sharing the tarmac in one race. That prospect cannot be described as dull, even before their engines, that red line at 18,000 revs, burst into life with a sound like a million tortured banshees. Or would you prefer rallying? I suppose if one car against the clock sounding like a cement mixer splashing through the mud and dirt is your thing, then you should just stop reading now. There are some big words coming up.
The first F1 world championship race was held at Silverstone in 1950 and since then we have had heroes like Frolian Gonzalez in short sleeves and bicycle helmets strapped loosely into bathtubs on wheels. These heroes usually drove sideways through the Nordschliefe on tyres so skinny you could put them on a modern mountain bike. We have had professor-like quiet types in Alain Prost who could pilot an 80’s era turbo with over a thousand horsepower around the thin ribbon that is Monaco inch-perfect lap by lap. We have also had the Goliaths like Senna and Villeneuve whose talent was frankly beyond anything or anyone, to the point where they would run a race with only three wheels attached or fight so hard they would collapse with exhaustion when they got out of the car. Gladiators like these could only be beaten by the clock, as their deaths came too soon, in a mess of splintered carbon and twisted metal.
Formula One is a visually spectacular sport, and should be regarded as such, rather than the mega-money world tour of celebrity that is shown on television pre-race. The grid walk full of interviews with the mumbling A list actors who don’t know their Michael Schumachers from their Jimmy Shoe makers has nothing to do with the thrill of watching a Ferrari and a McLaren racing so close they rub tyres at 180mph.
Allow yourself to get sucked into the political shenanigans of Bernie Ecclestone, and you will miss the point. If you lurk deeply into some of its darker secrets, and some of the less palatable private embarrassments of the suit and tie wearing non-drivers who have slithered through the paddock over the years, you will be shocked, and again miss the point.
If you sit down, and do a little research, immerse yourself in the stories of the teams, the drivers, their struggles, their heroes, their tears and their joys, and then watch races like Canada, Monza, Spa, Silverstone, or Brazil, you will begin to understand. You will be drawn in by the noise, the speed, the technology, the bravery from the best and if I am honest the comedy moments supplied by the worst.
I promise you, you will begin to care. And then you will be up at three in the morning to watch Japan, secretly hoping, halfway through, that it starts to rain.
Article by Jon O'Rourke aka The Mannish Boy