Monday, May 28, 2012

"Racing" - Purist vs Spectacle

Head's a bit foggy this morning but hopefully some jet black coffee and jams will clear that up. On the latter, not sure what I'm in the mood for. We'll stick with a good go to for easing into the day. Later on this Memorial Day will feature a healthy dose of the Beastie Boys.

But I digress...

Most of this will be in the context of F1, though it is equally applicable to NASCAR or Indy Car. After spending yesterday watching the biggest day of the year for racing (GP Monaco, Indy 500, Charlotte Coke 600) ... I was most disappointed with the F1 race. It was quite boring, aside from some interesting action with rain drops toward the end. In general I haven't followed much F1 in recent years because it just hasn't been entertaining.

Before we get into why, let's get some ideas of what makes for a good race or season...

  • Competitive - have a field where there are more than a few potential winners every weekend. I.e. not a year of complete and utter Ferrari or Red Bull domination (as we've seen in F1 in various years)
  • Accessible - sponsors and teams come and go, so to continue and grow the sport it has to be at least somewhat attractive to a new team or supplier - i.e. not prohibitively expensive
  • Earnest - a victory should come down to which driver or team has won the race, rather than who hasn't lost it. An old football quote goes something to the effect of, "more games are lost than won." More on that in a bit.
On the note of competition and parity, this is something that has been sorely missing in F1 for years. At best, a couple teams would have a shot at the title and leave everyone else without a chance in hell. At worst, one team would run away with it from the first race and the season would become entirely predictable. To a point this goes hand in hand with accessibility, or lack thereof. If you had hundreds of millions of dollars to burn every year, you would probably have a chance of winning races (Toyota a notable exception!). Otherwise, the smaller teams - forget it? 

While we want some parity we also do not want a spec series. That is very much against the "identity" of F1. Personally I would be very much for a tight, regulated budget cap and a much more open rule book. Low budget cap makes things more accessible to smaller or newer entries. Open rule book emphasizes creativity and diversity. If you want to encourage innovation - allow people to innovate!! Hell, give the teams a fixed amount of fuel for practice, qualifying, and the race (not unlike tire allocation in NASCAR) and then let them go nuts. Unlimited displacement as far as I'm concerned, as well as cylinder configuration. However you want to burn the fuel is up to you. Make KERS unlimited too. Seems silly to put in a regenerative system under the guise of road relevance and then severely limit it.

As for earnest wins - enough of these tires that go to shit after the first lap. At Monaco by lap 7 there were radio transmissions telling tires to conserve tires. That's shit - it isn't racing at all. I think we see similar things in F1 and NASCAR here. In the latter, once tires go off badly everyone settles in for similar lap times. Very hard to make a pass if you have no confidence of tires or stability under you. In the extreme case of Atlanta a few years back, even fresh tires were terrible and it was a defensive battle of trying not to wreck rather than actually being able to get after people.  If I'm a driver or engineer I want my tires to be consistent and predictable so I can tune the car and get after the competition. If the tires are so delicate that one failed pass means they're garbage and you can do no more passing... what good is that? Right now the tires make it a crap shoot. Tires with massive fall off are in my opinion no better than deciding races by mechanical failures or whose engine blows up. 

Of course there's also the issue of being able to close on someone. To some degree I think parity helps that. Each major series (Cup, Indy, F1) at least have something good to this effect. In Cup, using full course cautions rather than local gets the field closed up and makes for additional opportunities. At the Indy 500 there was a big slip stream effect and lead to a number of position changes. In F1, while at first I wasn't a fan of DRS as I saw it as a crutch for lack of good racing - it does get the job done and gives you some "push button slip streaming."

But that's my opinion. When I watch a race I want to see - you guessed it - drivers racing each other. Not an effectively random outcome. 

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