Last year I tackled a difficult subject here at BlogF1, that being how Formula One is sometimes perceived as boring. The article went down quite well with fans and non-fans, and some great comments were left. A couple of commenters touched on the time taken to absorb Formula One, its complexities and nuances. And indeed it does take quite a commitment to follow properly, or even just to grasp a basic understanding of what is actually happening on the track. Today, I revisited the subject in my mind and realised that perhaps part of the problem isn’t necessarily the long-haul commitment needed over time, but rather the short-term dedication; actually watching the races. Are they too long?
Currently in Formula One, most races last for about 90 minutes. This isn’t fluke or handy coincidence, they are actually planned that way. A lot of factors need to be involved in determining the length of the races, notably actual human ability, and to a lesser degree daylight, car stamina and audience attention span. Sometimes events at a race can cause it to over run; a restart, poor weather and safety car laps all add to the total length of a grand prix. To get around this, the FIA have a rule that states a maximum time of two hours. The rule has been enforced in the past, although the occasions are very rare and far between.
However, Formula One is one of only a few motor sports that have such long events. In lower European formulae the races aren’t nearly as long, or they include two races over the course of the day or weekend. Let’s look at a two other categories and how they format their race meetings.
Formula One’s feeder series has a race on Saturday and another on Sunday. The Saturday race lasts for 180km, or about 60 minutes, the result of which decides the grid for Sunday’s race. The Sunday Sprint lasts for a shorter 120km, or about 45 minutes and points are scored in both events, although the amount varies slightly between the two.
Dubbed the World Cup of Motor Sport, the A1GP series pitches nations against each other in a series that has been reported to provide some excellent racing. Although very much in its infancy and not as nearly as popular as GP2, the series is gaining some momentum, and like GP2 offers a slightly different schedule to the racing weekend. The sprint race is set to around 50km with a maximum time limit of 29 minutes. The feature, or main race is set to 180km or 69 minutes. Again, points are awarded in both events.
For sure Formula One has a larger following than both GP2 and A1GP combined, but that doesn’t necessarily mean F1 is getting everything right. Many fans have expressed desires to see more during a Grand Prix, but without the necessary time commitment needed. This kind of correlates with many European countries having a good economy and residents being money rich/time poor.
Until now I’ve thought that the weekend format was okay. I have strong feelings about how the FIA have mangled and destroyed qualifying, but as far as the race length went, it was great. But now I’m questioning this and wondering if it could be better. Part of me does feel, just as I did when the one-lap-wonder format for qualifying was introduced, that the FIA shouldn’t adjust something that has worked well for so long. And indeed, grand prix lengths have largely remained untouched for a very long time. But could shorter races, and perhaps more of them add to the spectacle?
Just how long should a race be?
Image courtesy of Williams/Allianz.