Tuesday, 24 April 2012

5 Reasons Why I Love Formula One (Part 1)

He's been following Formula One since 1997 (that's Jacques Villeneuve winning the championship up there), when on the advice of a good friend he tuned into the last couple races of the year. It was the finale at Jerez that properly sucked him in though. After the astonishing qualifying session and everything that played out during the race, the deal was sealed and he's been hooked ever since. But why does he love this sport so much? 

David Galton-Fenzi explains

#5. Performance

Lets get this one out of the way early. They’re called cars, but they’re not cars as we know them.  A modern family saloon will have somewhere between 150 to 200 bhp. (thats Brake Horsepower, though if you’re lost already perhaps you should stop reading now) A current 2.4 litre V8 F1 engine puts out up to 750bhp! Now I hear what you’re saying. Its a 2.4L V8, it’s bound to have that much power..... but you would be wrong! Just plain wrong. 

Caterham build a high performance engine called the RST-V8. Coincidentally enough, it also happens to be a 2.4L V8 and you know how powerful that is?.....550bhp. Oh, did i mention it's also supercharged? An F1 engine is only normally aspirated and STILL demolishes that output. At 18000rpm an F1 engine revs so fast that the pistons are subjected to over 8000g with every ignition (Thats 8000 times the force of gravity for those still struggling to keep up), and for those of you not keeping count that happens 150 times per second per cylinder! Just look what that does to the exhaust! Thats 1500 degrees celsius, more than hot enough to melt solid chunks of aluminium! 
Pictured - Surface temperature of a freaking star 

Formula One gearboxes blatantly ignore the laws of physics. They can change gear in 50 milliseconds. Like everything on these cars, that’s quick. For reference, a fast blink of your eyes takes 300 milliseconds, so these Newton-defying marvels of engineering could change up from first gear to their top gear, seventh, in the time it takes you to moisten your corneas! Oh, and they also have seamless shift, which means as one gear is being used, the next is spooled up ready to go so when the driver selects it they suffer no power loss in the transition. Boom! 

Which would come in handy if you were trying to drive upside down, as an F1 car can. Everyone has heard it before but it's actually true. All those wings and that sexy sculpted bodywork grab the air passing over it by the scruff of its neck.....or whatever air has, and they have their wicked way with it. They cane that air. They torture that air, and when its not being sucked into the screaming banshee engine at a rate of 450 litres a second, it's prodded and poked exactly where the car wants it to go to provide, literally, tons of downforce. 

The end result is a car that can generate 3.5 times it own weight in downforce out of thin air! So, build a track with a corkscrew and see what happens. Basic physics (which I admit these cars only adhere to when it suits them) states that when the downforce generated equals the weight of the car, bingo! You can invert it. 

You’re doing it wrong! 

All those points of downforce (That's what the aerodynamicists call them. Points. Because they’re keeping score against the wind.....and they’re kicking its arse!) are also put to good use going around corners. When the car is being pushed to the track like that it means they can corner at loads over 5g. I’m sure we all know what it feels like to throw our own cars around a bit, but a normal car will lose grip and slide when the cornering force exceeds 1g, so think what 5g feels like......actually, you better make that 6. 

Carbon Fibre brakes! Big, bad, ridiculously expensive and so ferocious they try to tear your face off. They’ll slow an F1 car down at 6g. It's enough to take the sweat off your brow and plant it on the visor of your helmet. It’s enough to take your lungs and slam them against your ribcage, forcing you to exhale every time you stamp on the pedal. It’s also enough to heat the discs up to 1200 degrees celsius as they suck up all that rampant kinetic energy. Is there anything on these cars that doesn’t glow red hot with awesomeness?


Add it all up and you have a fire breathing, newton-defying, red hot speed machine that can go from zero to 160 kilometres an hour and back to zero again in 4 seconds!

#4. Drama 

Everyone loves a bit of drama right? A lot of people are happy to get their fix through shameless tv soaps, while others prefer the theatre. The less fortunate live through their drama’s day in and day out and the profoundly hapless watch reality tv to get their fill. Me? I’m happy to get my fix through sports, because I like my drama real, with gripping story lines and believable characters, and nothing comes as close to this as Formula One. 

So much better than that time Toadfish’s fiance died.

Where F1 has the edge over all other forms of drama though is in terms of scale and consequence. The impossible can happen, the stakes are much higher and it all happens at 300 kilometres an hour. From big time political wrangling, to espionage, Sex scandals, blatant cheating, epic rivalries, glorious comebacks, heroic sportsmanship and of course, tragic death 

A Formula One race weekend starts quietly, with a genteel media day gently fanning the flames of intrigue. The calm before the storm. Then throughout the practice sessions and the intensity of qualifying the drama just keeps building, finally culminating in an orgy of frantic action that is the race itself. Legends are born, reputations can be destroyed and flash points erupt that can boil on for years, but what do you expect with 24 drivers all vivaciously vying for victory..... and the champagne facial that follows. 

What do you mean the champagne is a metaphor?

Of course, the ultimate aim for all the drivers is to become World Champion, and just as the drama builds over a single race weekend, over a whole season each race story becomes intricately entwined in a broader narrative that evolves completely organically, and the drama keeps building to a deafening, sometimes explosive, crescendo when the Champion is eventually crowned, and sometimes that can happen very late in the season indeed. 

Such as the last Grand Prix of the 2008 season, held at Sao Paulo Brazil, where on the last corner of the last lap, Lewis Hamilton managed to overtake a Toyota struggling on the wrong tyres to give him the single extra point required to deny local hero, and the race winner Felipe Massa the World Drivers Championship. Seriously, if Hollywood had written it we’d all be crying ‘bullshit!’. To see an actual soul getting destroyed, then you can watch the video here. It comes at 1:36 when Massa’s celebrating father realizes that millions worth of sponsorship deals have suddenly evaporated in front of his eyes.

 Massa took it like a champ, but hasn’t won since.

But frankly, we just wouldn’t give a shit unless the drama is happening to people we care about, people we can relate to, which surely deserves a point of its own;

#3. The Protagonists

Deep down, I hate all the drivers. I could have been a Formula One driver! it was only circumstance (and a very distinct lack of any sort of driving ability) that held me back. They’re all jammy bastards being paid extortionate sums of money to travel the world while driving the best cars in the world, shagging the best looking (though probably stunningly vacuous) women in the world living in the biggest fanciest houses in the world....but it could have been me dammit! 

If it wasn’t for that arrow to the knee! 

Except I can’t really hate them, they’re awesome. They’re all just so god damn talented! Well.... nearly all of them. Yeah, I’m looking at you Ricardo Rosset!

Is this him? He was so shit I’ve got no idea. Seriously, I just googled his name... 

Watch Lewis Hamilton drive through the tight Swimming Pool section at Monaco you might notice his car slide mid corner in a brief moment of slap-happy oversteer, (The kind where it if it happened to a mere mortal such as yourself, your arse would inhale your trousers) then when it happens on the next lap, and again on the next you realize his car is not loose, its deliberate. He’s inducing it, then controlling it at 180kph with nothing but the sheer power of his testicular fortitude, using the cars’ momentum to change direction faster, buying himself a tenth of a second? a couple hundredths? It’s the mother of all scandinavian flicks but it happens so fast and with such unerring consistency not many people notice it. These guys are godlike in their car control, and for that I worship them. 

You don’t get into Formula One just by being fast though, you’ve got to be hungry for success and possess a competitive streak that borders on outright hostility. Formula One is the Top Gun of racing, it only accepts the best of the best (Hell, even Rosset won races earlier in his career), but strapping a grid full of alpha-males into the meanest racing cars known to man can sometimes lead to some pretty explosive scenarios;

In 2010 Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were two team mates locked in a savage internal power struggle, both with prior intimate knowledge of the other thanks to a dangerous liaison in Istanbul. The feisty young German versus the more experienced (older) steely Australian. It was the British Grand Prix, where after Vettel’s newest development front wing had basically fallen off, they thought Webber wouldn’t mind if they handed his over to Vettel and replaced it with the older, slower version. They couldn't have been more wrong. Webber erupted with frightening competitive intensity and easily won the race despite having the inferior car, showing the most Aussie grit since Cathy Freeman beat the rest of the world whilst dressed as a condom. 

Because that’s how we roll! 

#2. Innovation

I’ve already banged on about the earth shattering performance that these prototype racing machines are capable of, but where do you think that all comes from? I’ll tell you where!

Big, fat, ultra intelligent, uber geeky, rainman-esque, nerd organs! aka - Brains.

Formula One teams employ some of the brightest engineers currently walking the Earth and these ingenious poindexters are employed for one reason and one reason only - make the car faster.

They’ve a very strict set of rules and regulations to work with that are framed specifically to cut out loopholes or any region of uncertainty about what is allowed and what is not. But because the engineers are just too damn smart for their own good, they keep finding these grey areas anyway, and exploiting the bejesus out of them.

What big fan? Oh THAT? yeah thats for...uh...cooling

In 1982 the normally aspirated Cosworth powered cars were struggling against the mighty turbocharged Renaults, so they came up with a cunning plan. Formula One cars all need to be a certain minimum weight see, but this weight limit at the time included all the coolant and lubrication required to run the race, so what the Cosworth teams did was strap whopping great water tanks to their cars which they claimed were required for brake cooling. The race would begin, the tanks would suddenly empty themselves and the cars, now being 50 kg’s lighter than the minimum allowed weight, would fly. The one race this was attempted, Cosworth cars belonging to Williams and Brabham finished 1st and 2nd respectively, both ahead of the disgruntled 3rd place Renault turbo. Though technically the winning cars were legal they were disqualified after a French protest, which I assume involved throwing cheese in Cosworths direction and many discussions about surrender.

They appealed their disqualification, but just to show how much they thought the Cosworth teams had taken the piss, Ferrari turned up at the next race with a car that had two rear wings. Individually they were the required dimensions as stipulated in the regulations, but the rules foolishly had no limit on the number of rear wings that cars could run with. After finishing 3rd it was, of course, also disqualified on the grounds that it went against the spirit of the rules.

Nothing to see here! Move along!

I'ts a bit different these days, as McLarens Paddy Lowe has recently stated regarding the spirit of the rules;

It’s a term often used but the rule book is just text that has a meaning, and you decide what that meaning is and you work to them.”

If I may paraphrase here, what he is really saying is, “We’re actively looking for loopholes and when we find them, and we WILL find them, we’re going to rip them in half with our giant brain penises!” and he wasn’t kidding, hence the dubious interpretation that resulted in double diffusers in 2009. The FIA (them that set the rules) had tried to outlaw the rear of the car being used so powerfully with the aim being to improve overtaking opportunities for following cars, but several teams, Brawn (as Honda), Williams and Toyota all found a totally ingenious way around it and rather than the FIA banning it on the grounds that it was ‘against the spirit of the rules', they condoned it, then made changes to the regulations for the following season to close the loophole, which was the same thing as saying ‘Fair play, we’ll let you use it for a whole season before we take it away because you were so damn clever to think of it in the first place’ before politely giving the teams involved a little golf clap. The same thing happened with McLarens’ F-Duct the following year and will probably happen with Mercedes’ DRS-duct this year.

The FIA keep amending their rulebook, surely thinking to themselves each time ‘This time its watertight’. But sure enough each year, one of those eggheaded boffins comes up with something so mind bogglingly ingenious the FIA rulebook goes down faster than your Mum on the blow-job deck of the Titanic.

 “I’ve had better”

#1. The Sound

Formula One cars sound amazing! Listening to them on tv just does not do them any justice. Their noise is like a drug and once you’ve heard them in the flesh, your whole life is just passing time until you can hear them again. They’re so loud, you don’t so much as hear them as they scream past, you feel them.

Oh the humanity

The loudest car of 2011 was the Mercedes MGP-W02, which was measured at 127.8 decibels. For reference, hearing damage starts with noise as low as 90 decibels and if you were to sit on the front row of a Metallica concert you’d be subjected to around 115 decibels. Now the difference of an single F1 car to a loud rock concert is 12.8 decibels and if you’re looking at that thinking, ‘thats not really a lot’, then you clearly don’t know how the decibel scale works.

You see, noise is not measured on a normal linear scale, where a sound that measures 120 decibels is twice as loud as a noise of 60 decibels. It’s measured by a base 10 logarithmic scale where a noise that is 60 decibels is 10 times as loud as one that is 50 decibels and 100 times louder than one that measured 40 decibels. So in the example above, 120 decibels is a million times louder than 60 decibels! So try and tell me that a difference of 12.8 decibels is not a lot now!

A single Formula One engine is so deafening it’s painful. The gear changes alone thump through your chest cavity and vibrate your ribs, and if you’re ever fortunate enough to be present at the start of a Grand Prix when there are 24 of them at maximum revs, well, then you know true bliss.

    Unimaginable auditory carnage!

So there you have it. I love everything about this sport, in fact I love it so much I’m going to marry it! Dont watch it for the crashes! Don’t watch it for the babes! Watch it for the reasons I’ve listed above and if you’ve never been to a race before go book a trip now! Well? What the hell are you waiting for? Go! Just don’t forget to pack your ear plugs.

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  1. Thats the most amazing intro anyone could possibly ever give for f1. Im yet to see something that beats this. Well done sir!!(or madam as the case may be). FIA should consider using this as an advertisement.. (That goes for you too bernie) :D

  2. F1 is a business playground where the race has tiny part. The race itself is boring not racing but a happening where funny looking cars drive in a gueue and sometimes by accident someone passes the another driver.