Is Formula One Boring?

Michael Schumacher - 2000 European Grand PrixAs some of you may know, BlogF1 is a proud member of the 9rules Network. Over at 9rules Notes, there are lots of great discussions going on all the time, and when I asked for opinion on my style of writing, I got an interesting side-thought from one of the commenters. The interesting comment timed up nicely with a post over at doctorvee.co.uk, and I have decided a question needs asking, and an answer found.

The commenters side-thought: “I find F1 intensely boring, I’m afraid”

The post (which you can read later): Meanwhile, In America

The question: Is Formula One boring?

Now, many of you will already know what my answer is going to be, the fact this site is here should prove that alone. But during this entry I’ll try and look at both perspectives – the fan and the non-fan – and attempt to decide if Formula One really is boring.

My View

Eleven teams, twenty two cars and drivers, eighty eight wheels, two hours, eighteen times a year. It is quite simply not enough to keep me fed. I love motor racing, and in particular, Formula One.

It probably started at school when I was in my teens. I was never particularly good at other sports, and other than kicking a ball around, I wasn’t interested in the overly-competitive nature of football and rugby. The guys who tended to play these sports were intimidating at the time, and this probably put me off trying to improve my skills. I simply didn’t bother. But I soon found solace in watching F1 on television. It was a sport that I could enjoy on my own without the need to participate or even talk about with others. At the time, Formula One was mine.

So from this timid part of my life developed a fascination with how these teams made a four-wheeled car travel so fast around a circuit. I wanted to know the ins and outs of how it was all achieved. I wanted to understand and I wanted to learn. So while my friends were outside playing football on the grass, I’d be inside reading about how the drivers tackle corners and how teams evolve their cars over the course of the season.

Naturally, my current view of F1 is somewhat biased.

But even today, a mere twelve years later, I am still fascinated by it all. And while my knowledge has greatly improved (along with my social skills), I still have a yearning to know more about how the sport is put together and how the teams are managed. It really is never-ending.

So from this point of view, Formula One is far from boring to me. But from an on-track view, I must be honest and say that I have caught my interest wane a few times. With modern F1 cars, overtaking is difficult, and thus it tends to not happen very much. The skill, it seems, has moved away from the drivers and into the minds of the strategists who plan the pit stops and know when a driver needs to pop in a quick lap. The strategy side of the sport is interesting to me, but I’m aware I’m in the minority on this one!

Even though overtaking is less-regular than I might want, the action is still interesting. The fact that a car can go through Copse at Silverstone (an almost 90° blind right-hander) at 177mph is mind-blowing to me. How that is possible without crashing into something defies belief. The thrill of watching is enough to keep me engrossed for all 60 laps of the Grand Prix.

Aside from the little nuances of F1, a few memories stick out when I think about Formula One; Damon Hill’s title winning year in 1996, Mika Hakkinen’s 1998 title, the whole Schumacher-dominating-era, Suzuka 2005. A few pleasing moments, and one that was, I’ll admit, particularly boring from a general standpoint. Schumacher winning all the time did little to encourage new followers to F1. But from a fans perspective, some of his drives were incredible.

Watching Hakkinen take the challenge to Schumacher in 1998 and 1999 was particularly sweet as well, and to understand why the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix stands out in my memory you’ll need to check out the YouTube video linked at the bottom. Fernando Alonso’s pass on Schumacher was breath-taking to put it mildly.

So yeah, sometimes even I do find F1 a tiny bit boring, but overall, when I look at the giant picture from afar, I am still awed by the whole operation of the sport, from the logistics to the racing, from the training regimes to the traditions. But some people don’t get it…

The Boring View

…I think the lack of action plays a huge role in this. For sure, some races can be very monotonous, and even I have commented about this in some race reports. Generally speaking, when people say “it’s just a bunch cars going round, and round, and…” they’re not too far from the truth. It isn’t until you really open your eyes to see what is happening all around the track that you realise that it isn’t necessarily just cars going around a track for two hours. I do understand when that comment is made though, I really do.

Formula One is such a precision sport, that it leads to the view of 22 cars following each other. When teams go testing, they rarely try visually new parts, they’re looking to lap a circuit 0.1s faster than previously done. To many, that is mind-numbing. On the off chance that a team does bolt something weird onto their car, the media get into a bit of a frenzy simply because they can publish a photo with their story, which they know will help increase the readership of their article. But reporting on how a team spent two days and absolutely shed-loads of money doing 200 laps of Jerez, just to improve the average lap time by a tenth or two, doesn’t make for great reading.

The political side to Formula One does little to help the image, the brand in fact. When a team tries something radical, it usually winds up being banned because other teams get jealous and frustrated. This has been going on for decades though; it’s just that the innovations have become less and less obvious simply because of the threat of the other teams spoiling the party. Tyrrell once raced a 6-wheeled car (as did some other teams before them, but with less success). Banned. Lots of interesting driver aids were developed and introduced (traction control, active suspension…). Mostly banned, and then banned again. So when a modern team tries something new, because it is less obvious, it is seen as boring.

A good example of this was McLaren’s second brake pedal – it was nothing short of genius in my eyes. Basically, as traction control was prohibited in the late ’90s, McLaren developed a way of controlling the brakes on the rear wheels of the car. When a driver planted the throttle, the second brake pedal was used to give greater control to the rear wheels to prevent too much spinning and assist the balance of the car. It was only spotted when a magazine photographer quite innocently took a shot of the interior of the car and noticed the extra pedal.

To me, that is fascinating.

There are also the obvious comparisons to other motorsports. MotoGP bike racing for example is very exciting when it comes to on-track events. Overtaking everywhere, last lap lunges, bikes off all over the place. Yeah, MotoGP is interesting. The races are a little shorter as well, which I think helps with the TV-generation attention spans.

Touring Cars is another series that seems to gain interesting comparisons to Formula One. Quite why I’m yet to fathom out, but people make the connection none-the-less. Touring Car racing is full of overtaking, cars spearing off left and right and plenty of last minute dare-devil passes for the lead. But, I would hasten to add, the cars can take much more abuse. With enclosed wheels, reduced speeds and covered cockpits, the drivers have less to lose by making an attempt at a pass.

Again though, I do understand the comparisons that people make, and more should be done to improve the popularity of the sport.

Improving Formula One

Allow me to make my own comparison: Formula One vs. IRL. Yep, the Brits versus the Yanks.

Okay, honestly, in my humble little eyes, IRL is boring. They just go round, and round, and…

…Oval racing to me is mind-numbing. But is it popular? You bet your bottom dollar it is! Or a fiver, whatever happens to be in your pocket. The Indianapolis 500 drew massive crowds to Brickyard last weekend, and despite the poor weather, the spectators seemed to really enjoy themselves. The on-track action was lively, overtaking was in plentiful, the rain caused a few interesting moments, and generally speaking the event was a success. I just don’t understand how driving around an oval for 500 miles can be interesting. At least in Formula One they have to contend with both left and right hand corners.

So how come IRL is so popular? The whole show is put on better. For fans at the circuit, there seems to be much more to do, the atmosphere is more like a party and everything seems much more focused towards the fans. For the TV viewers, it seems this joy is translated well, and the commentators probably do a better job at filling in the less-exciting moments.

I also think the speed comes into play a little. There definitely seems to be an attraction to the sport simply because of the speeds the cars are able to get up to, and this is something that is constantly being limited in Formula One.

At this point, I think you deserve a little rest from my post, so I’ll take this opportunity to make you head over to doctorvee.co.uk and read Duncan’s thoughts on the American racing series. I pretty much agree with what was written and the post highlights why the two sports, although similar, don’t always see eye to eye.

Meanwhile, In America.

Be sure to come back though, where I’ll wrap up this post and let you get back to work.

Welcome back!

So, you know why I love Formula One, and you know why some people think the sport is boring. But what do you think? I imagine most of my readers are already F1 fans, but in case someone slipped through the net, be sure to leave a comment below. And to those already caught up in the whirlwind that is the 2007 season; feel free to add to what I have already mentioned. Do your friends bemoan you when you try and talk about F1? Are you forced to watch the races in a separate room? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

External Links and Credits

  • BBC Article: Cornering Copse – Mark Webber describes one of Formula One’s more demanding corners.
  • Alonso Passes Schumacher – Suzuka 2005 – The video also contains other footage that is worth watching, but that first move you see was done around the outside of a corner at about 180mph.
  • 9rules, The note with the comment (#1), doctorvee.co.uk.
  • Formula One, F1, IRL

    Comments 19

    1. Richard 30th May 2007
    2. Neeraj 30th May 2007
    3. Christopher 30th May 2007
    4. craigblog.co.uk 30th May 2007
    5. Oliver White 30th May 2007
    6. Tom Marshall 30th May 2007
    7. Oliver White 30th May 2007
    8. Chris 30th May 2007
    9. Alianora La Canta 30th May 2007
    10. jacky 2nd June 2007
    11. Matthew 2nd June 2007
    12. Luis 16th July 2007
    13. Oliver White 16th July 2007
    14. Jeff 7th October 2007
    15. TOM 19th May 2008
    16. Alianora La Canta 19th May 2008
    17. dennis black 13th September 2008
    18. zugu 26th March 2009
    19. Bob Jones 4th November 2009

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