An American's Interest in Formula One

#formulaone #formula1 #f1 #autoracing #motorsport

Formula One is not traditionally seen as an American sport. Most of the American's who have been involved in the sport do a terrible job at it. Logan Sergeant was in his rookie year last year, so his performance was forgivable, now that he's in his second year... not so much; I'm still rooting for him, and I'll be watching Williams to consider them for my fantasy teams, but he's definitely the weakest link, and the most disappointing driver in the entire sport. But there are only 20 drivers, so it's an incredibly competitive position.

Why do I even care? What IS Formula One? And, why is it better than NASCAR?

All of those are interesting questions to answer, because auto racing and motor sport was never anything that I grew up with... that is to say my father has never been interested in racing so I didn't inherit an interest in racing cars from him (genetically?) or through it being on the TV all the time growing up (osmosis?). At least, that's how I imagine most people become fans of the sports that they're passionate about. I did have several friends growing up, and over the years, that were interested in cars and auto racing, and who in-turn shared their passion with me.

A little personal history.

My best friend in 3rd grade was a kid named Jimi. Well... His legal name was James, everyone called him “Jimmy” and he preferred to spell it “Jimi”. For good or ill—in modern society—our personalities are generally defined by our hobbies and interests. Jimi was interested in two things that dominantly describe his personality: NASCAR and Jimi Hendrix. Both of us used to like to draw too, so whenever there was free time in class—a few minutes in the morning in homeroom or maybe during lunch or recess—we'd share our drawings with one another. He would bring in NASCAR magazines and we used to draw our own made up racing cars. Even back then, I was fascinated by the look of the cars as much as the liveries. So it was fun to come up with new color combinations and patterns. Eventually my family moved and left New York for California, and I never kept up with NASCAR.

Living in Long Beach, stuff like NASCAR is seen as being a “redneck” hobby, and unsophisticated. Rural areas tend to vote Republican, so the inhabitants of the insular liberal bubble of LA County choose not to concern themselves with the things that are typically more popular in rural areas of the country. However, Long Beach does have the IndyCar grand prix, so there's an interest in what is referred to as “open-wheel” racing.

IndyCar does share some similarities with Formula One, but by most comparisons that I've seen, F1 cars are much faster in objective ways that aren't always tied to maximum speed or raw power, but in lap times (the combination of agility and horsepower). There is a bit less innovation in IndyCar with aerodynamics and things of that nature because there is only one constructor for all the chassis (Dallara). Indy also races on oval tracks, the most famous event being the Indianapolis (Indy) 500.

So when I lived in Long Beach I had a friend who was really into open wheel racing. Him and I even went downtown and snuck into the Grand Prix one year even. There's an atmosphere at a professional racing event that is quite unlike anything else. Although, from where I lived (Cherry and Wardlow) you were able to hear the cars on Sunday for the race that day. It was something the whole city was involved with whether they really cared for it or not. That, and the car culture in California does permeate a lot your existence living there. Everyone is acutely concerned with what you're driving and your level of knowledge concerning cars; both in terms of manufacturers and brands, as well as the mechanical realities. Other areas of the country have their gearheads, but because the weather in California is good for cosmetically maintaining cars over long periods of time, and the urban areas grew out (instead of up, like New York City or Chicago), the automobile is a different beast there.

Eventually I moved out to Vegas, feel in love, got married, and would do the things that married guys do.

Personally, I had avoided paying for or watching any cable television for several years before I met my wife. Somehow she convinced me that it would be a good idea to get cable again. Up late one night, I happened across a live broadcast of an F1 race, probably back in 2014 or 2015.

Something about it sucked me in... Men in particular in American (and dare I say all of Western society) are socially pressured to be interest in sports of some kind. Although I played football in junior high, I honestly didn't have an interest in it the same as other boys my age. I saw it more as an opportunity to maybe get accepted into the popular click, but that didn't happen. Instead I was just ostracized inside of the team. Running up and down a field isn't all that interesting to me, I would much prefer if they just all got roided out and beat the crap out of each other. And if given the opportunity to do so when I was that young, I probably would have taken it.

Race cars on the other hand are just fascinating machines. So F1 fulfills several aspects for me; it's mentally stimulating to have something to watch that is visually compelling (cars going fast) but also full of physics and engineering, and it fulfills the obligatory sport that every guy should be interested in. So I just sort of gone all-in with learning about it.

Las Vegas in particular has spent the past couple of decades (the entire time I've been back) courting different sporting events. From what I've heard, no one wanted sports teams here because Vegas is where you would go to bet. Back then the mob still ran things too, so it would have been stupid to have a sports team here because it would have just attracted unwanted attention from the feds. The Golden Knights were a good addition to the city, and I think the Raiders have had some positive influence on the city—the unfortunate accident involving Henry Ruggs notwithstanding. Hell, I used to drive past the monument that still sits there every day on my way to work. In fact I was late to work the morning after the accident. LVMPD had the whole place locked down and were being very meticulous about the crime scene. It didn't make sense in the moment, but soon became pretty clear after I read the news.

As an aside; I did used to like to watch basketball, but I'm annoyed that they don't let them play anymore. Every time someone sneezes they gotta call a foul, so a lot of the records that are being broken for points scored and shit aren't accurate. Neither are comparisons of modern day players with legends... It'll be interesting to see if Vegas gets an NBA team now that we have practically everything else. I know that they've tested the waters by hosting NBA pre-season games at Thomas & Mack, but I haven't heard anything about getting an NBA team.

But that's probably a story for another time. That statement is true for Formula One as well, there have been 52 drivers who have died, but the majority of those (51) were all prior to 1990. The sport has gotten quite safe, but not any less exhilarating.

What IS Formula One?

It's a rich man's sport—like all sports are, I suppose—but this one is surprisingly nerdy, even if it is particularly haughty. There is quite a bit of brain power behind it. It's not just about the human element and whether or not an athletic man can physically assert themselves as superior over the other men involved in a competition, there are all of the nuts, bolts, and carbon fiber that go into it; each team employs hundreds or thousands of people all working together to build a car and make it go fast around a predetermined path. As a fan, understanding the mechanics of it all is really half of the fun, and infinitely more complicated with the rules and guidelines layered on top.

The past decade of the sport has effectively amounted to two eras; the Mercedes-dominated era and now the Red Bull-dominated era. Each with their own famous driver; Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen (respectively). Some of it has to do with the driver, but a lot of it is a combination of a good driver and a competent team that is able to build what the driver is going to be good with. You can't just stick anyone in the best F1 car and expect that it will be #1 at the end of a grand prix. But, if you have a good driver that understands why their car goes faster than the others, that's fucking gold. To a certain extent all the cars are really similar, that's what the constructors' rules are for. Unlike other teams sports, each team in F1 has two drivers that are not only competing for the team, but also against one another. This gives the brains behind the go-fast an opportunity to try different things and still compete when they have mechanical failures on a car, but it also means that if one particular team has two really good drivers, the one coming out on top can say that it isn't solely because of the car, but also their skill.

Why is F1 better than NASCAR?

It's really not, I just needed an outrageous statement to put at the beginning and end of this post so you keep reading. Honestly, it really should be “why do I prefer F1 to NASCAR?” And to answer that question it's really just a matter of what type of engineering I find interesting, as well as the viewing experience.

A race car built for NASCAR is engineered to go around an oval track for hundreds of laps, it's about ultimate reliability and pure speed. That is definitely interesting and requires all kinds of skills and is just as infinitely complex and impressive as F1, watching a car do a hundred or two hundred laps—flat out—just making left turns... It doesn't have the same drama as watching a car speed up, slow down, and navigate varied and intricate racing circuits or courses built from regular streets.

Not only it is just watching the particular style of racing, but F1TV is a superior experience to “Peacock” as well. There is no dedicated NASCAR streaming service... They're missing out on capturing younger and geekier fans for the sport. F1 lets you toggle between the cockpit of any driver and at any time during the race, you can view different real-time telemetry screens, and they have a whole lineup of different shows that talk about different aspects of the races and cars and the teams, and it just goes on and on. Not to mention you can always go back and dig through the archives as well, so there are quite literally hundreds or thousands of races from the past that you can go back and watch.

Because of all that, I paid for the annual F1TV subscription.

Honestly though, until now, I've only really had a passing interest in the sport. This the first year that I'm committed to watching all of the races, and thus far I've watched all five races in near real-time. Sometimes they're on at odd times of night or really early in the morning. So in those instances I'm usually just watching the race the next morning.