Fastlane

Why Americans should care about Formula 1

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.

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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