Fastlane

Why Americans should care about Formula 1

Formula 1 can be extremely exciting. Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

First of all, they are the fastest cars on the planet around a racetrack.  This is not in dispute. They have shared tracks with NASCAR and Indy car and completely blew away the former and were several seconds faster than the latter. They’re also significantly faster than MotoGP, aka the fastest motorcycles on the planet. So, if you’re into the fastest cars, these are them.

As far as G-forces go, no other profession routinely endures the level of G-forces that F1 drivers do. Fighter pilots are capable of it, but as a matter of course, they do so only rarely. An astronaut being launched to the space station will very briefly take on a load of about 3 G’s during the launch. An F1 driver will take as much as 5 G’s in a turn and in excess of 6 G’s during braking and do so repeatedly throughout the course of a race. Because this begins to approach the limits of reasonable human endurance, the “Formula” is a constant battle between rules makers trying to slow down the cars and engineers trying to overcome the rules to make them faster.

The Formula 1 paddock is like no other. With a global audience of nearly 400 million viewers the F1 paddock is THE PLACE for international celebrities to be seen. There are models, athletes, musicians, movie stars, captains of industry, and royalty all twittering about between the likes of the Ferraris, Red Bulls, and Mercedes prior to the race. Lewis Hamilton, 4 time world champion and current points leader for Mercedes AMG, is a frequent attendee on red carpets of all kinds all over the world.  

One of the common criticisms from American motorsports fans is that the style of racing is boring, with very little overtaking as compared to Indy car or NASCAR. The difference, to use a baseball analogy is very similar to the difference between a 10-8 home run derby style game and a 1-0 pitcher’s duel.   When you have 2 first rate pitchers at the top of their game, they are very nearly unhittable. They locate their pitches within fractions of an inch and strategically choose their pitches to keep the hitters off guard, first one to make a mistake loses. The battle at the front of an F1 race is often about he who makes the fewest or even no mistakes. The cars are placed inch perfect lap after lap even as conditions change with regards to fuel levels and tire wear. The margins for error are so unbelievably slim.  A fast pit stop can literally be the difference between winning and losing. What’s a slow pit stop? In excess of 3.5 seconds. A fast one is less than 2.5 seconds with a 3 second stop being fairly average.

And then there’s the races in the rain. Most motorsports stop for rain, but not F1. They have wet and intermediate tires with large grooves capable of dispersing nearly 23 gallons of water per second at speed. Multiply this by the entire field over the course of a racetrack, and they can move an Olympic pool’s worth of water every 3 laps or so. Because the setup of the cars is not allowed to be changed between the beginning of qualifying and the start of the race, the potential for upheaval due to rain is quite large. Often the fastest cars on a dry track are the slowest on a wet, sometimes this is a strategy based on the weather forecast.

What about the drivers? Are they better? Obviously this is very subjective, however, Formula 1 drivers who have had small amounts of success in F1 have generally gone on to do great things in other series. Most recently, 2 time world champion Fernando Alonso won Le Mans and was leading the Indy 500 2 years ago when his engine let go. Other notables include Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansel, Emerson Fittipaldi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Alexander Rossi and the list goes on. Not to mention, the best F1 drivers are far and away the most highly compensated racers on the planet. There are 2 currently making close to $50 million this year. (Sebastian Vettel for Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes AMG) It’s not a stretch to say that as competitive a breed as race drivers are, wouldn’t they go after a prize that large if they could get it?

There is now a purpose built Formula 1 track in the United States. The Circuit of the Americas in Austin has hosted Grand Prix since 2012. It has become a very popular race for the drivers and teams. Their enthusiasm for American fans, food, and culture is obvious. We also have an American team, Haas F1, owned by legendary race team owner, Gene Haas. While we don’t yet have an American driver, it seems inevitable that we will soon.  Alexander Rossi was a reserve driver and did actually drive in a few Grand Prix before getting a full time ride in Indy Car and winning the Indy 500 in his rookie year.

The ownership of Formula 1 recently changed hands. The new owners, Liberty Media, are Americans and have expressed a desire to make the sport more accessible to the American audience. Regardless, if you like fast- if you like brute force- if you like strategy- if you like flash and you’re not already checking out Formula 1…you’re missing out.

THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Ford Ecoboost 500 preview

Martin Truex will try to send his team out in style. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Sunny Homestead-Miami Florida for the final race of the 2018 season, The Ford Ecoboost 500. After 36 weeks of battle, this race decides who will represent the sport as champion. Homestead-Miami  has played host for the season finale for the last 16 seasons. This is arguably the biggest race in all of NASCAR considering what is on the line and there is no better place in the world for it to take place. This track is a mile and a half in length and is known for its 18- degree banking in the corners. Over the years, the track has produced some of the best finishes in recent memory and with everything that’s at stake this week should be an all-time classic.

Last week at Phoenix, Kyle Busch took the checkered flag to officially cement his spot in the championship four. He did so after his brother Kurt Busch was involved in a multi-car crash involving him, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott. In the closing stages of the race, Hamlin entered turn four and got into the side of Kurt Busch causing both to hit the wall bouncing back into Chase Elliott.

Hamlin was criticized for his “lack of respect” for the situation that Busch and Elliott were in contending for a championship. At first glance it was easy to understand why fans were upset but upon further review of the video, it would appear that the track was not maintained properly by NASCAR’s clean up crew.  On NASCAR Race Hub Radioactive segment, Defending champion Martin Truex Jr. was quoted as saying “they didn’t clean up the bleeping track for one thing. Everyone went down there and it was like ice. They just don’t get it.” His Crew Chief Cole Pern responeded by saying “yeah they do, it creates excitement. That’s their plan.”

These are fairly serious allegations but it isn’t so farfetched seeing NASCAR has made some pretty dumb calls regarding track maintenance in the past. For example, last season at Dover, they decided to restart the race without fully cleaning the backstretch. This oversight caused Ty Dillon to spin and collect multiple cars with him in the crash. While it may not be intentional and it is definitely difficult to manage these instances but they are proof that NASCAR could do a much better job at track maintenance and cleaning up the track. Let’s hope they have learned their lesson from last week because it has cost two drivers a chance at a championship.

Of the four drivers, Joey Logano enters Homestead as the only one who has never won a title. He has however made it to the championship race three times including this year in 2018. Each attempt has ended in heartbreak whether it be dropping the car off the jack during a pit-stop in 2014, or being involved in a late race crash in 2016. This year Logano hopes that history won't repeat itself and will finally claim his first championship. If he is to win it, it will have been well deserved seeing how he has an excellent season. This year, Logano has 12 top fives, 25 top-10s and two victories including the win that got him here at Martinsville. While he has lurked in the shadows of his competition, he has consistently been in around the front all season. While Logano has a good chance to win the title, the one variable that he must be weary of are the drivers that he  has upset over the duration of the season including Martin Truex Jr and Aric Almirola. Regardless, Logano looks to have a real shot at winning his first title.

Easily, Martin Truex Jr, enters this race as the sentimental favorite to win the championship. As most fans know, Furniture Row racing will cease operations after this race. Truex and his crew chief Cole Pearn have been the spark that have made this team a championship winning organization and now he has a chance to come back and send his team off with one last championship, This has been a rollercoaster type season for him though and while he has been in contention, Truex has yet to win a race since the announcement of his teams closure. In the end though, I don’t foresee this being an issue at Homestead. This is a track where Truex has struggled although as he has the lowest average finish of the group but he has shown that he can win here. Truex has a lot working against him but he still has a great shot at winning his second title.

After last week’s debacle, Kevin Harvick comes to Homestead with a chip on his shoulder. After his win was disallowed two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, he looks to come in and prove his doubters wrong by claiming his second championship. If he does pull it off, he has definitely earned it with how incredible he has ran this year. Overall He has 22 top fives and 28 top tens with an average finish of 9.0! In percentages, he has finished in the top 10 in 80 percent of the races this year. This has easily been the most dominant season of his career as he has won more races now than ever before even in his championship winning season in 2014. Come Sunday, Harvick is going to be hard to beat.

While Harvick has had the best season statistically, Kyle Busch has come pretty close to matching the success of his championship rival. This year, Busch has eight wins, twenty-one top fives and twenty-seven top tens, nearly identical to the stats that Harvick has been able to put up. After winning last week at Phoenix, Busch comes to homestead with the most momentum on his side and when you get this 18 team in a rhythm they are hard to catch. Besides no one has made it to Homestead more than Kyle Busch as he has only missed the final round one time since the sport adopted this format in 2014. Look for Busch to be around the top three for most of the day as he looks to clinch his second NASCAR Championship.

Over the past four years that we have seen this format, I think this is easily the best four drivers we have ever seen make it to Homestead. Unlike the previous years, we won’t see a driver who got on a hot streak at the end of the season like we did with Ryan Newman in 2014 or Jeff Gordon in 2015. This is the cream of the crop and that’s why I think this will be one of the most memorable championship battles of all time. I look forward to seeing who gets to hoist the trophy come sunday evening.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

 

 

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