Boring races

Marco Andretti, Indianapolis 500, 2007 | IRL MediaTop F1 pundit Peter Windsor recently wrote this in response to a question on how he would improve F1:

I would change nothing. I think F1 is fantastic as it is. If you want to watch a million meaningless overtaking manoeuvres and lots of shunts go and watch NASCAR or bikes or IRL or something.

I don’t like to slag off other writers but I cannot fathom this attitude at all. Year after year we have seen the quality of racing in F1 decline to state it is in now where racing for position among the leading drivers is unheard of in dry conditions.

And his condescending tone towards other forms of motor racing is the very embodiment of the ignorance and arrogance that fans of America racing criticise F1 for – sometimes with good reason.

Here’s another quote from Windsor – this time his review of the French Grand Prix in August’s F1 Racing:

Kimi was quick enough on his second new set of options to secure P3 – on the clean side of the grid although of course he would not be sure of this until the session was over; the flip side of that risk was that he completed the lap (his tenth in Q3) only three seconds before the chequered flag fluttered. This was the critical moment.

Most teams try to have their drivers complete their quickest laps beneath the chequered flag, when the track is at its quickest; on this occasion though, Chris [Dyer] jumped on the radio, told Kimi to drop anchor… and Kimi duly completed the remainder of his last lap in a tardy 2’23.511s. He then took the chequered flag – and spent another three minutes returning to the pits.

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Magny-Cours, 2007 | Ferrari MediaYes, I did say this was from the race report. Only one paragraph actually talks about the race because, as we all know, nothing happened. Raikkonen was able to pit later because of these laps in qualifying and therefore beat team mate Felipe Massa.

Is this really what we want F1 to be? Races so processional that they are decided by who gets the best combination of qualifying position and fuel load in qualifying? This isn’t racing at all.

I’m not going to leap to NASCAR’s defence, but at least it, the IRL and the likes have recognised that motor races have to have some element of motoring competition in them. I happen to think that NASCAR uses some very artificial and unsporting devices to manufacture ‘racing’, and as a result I don’t watch it.

But the bulk of the American audience looks at F1, notes the almost total absence of genuine racing for position, and chooses not to watch it. I think F1 needs to react to that in a more sophisticated way than turning its nose up at them and calling their sports ‘meaningless’.

Happily it seems other people have recognised the need to do something about the lack of racing in F1. The Overtaking Working Group have conducted wind tunnel tests on a Ferrari F2004 to look at restricting (possibly even standardising) front and rear wing configuration, and banning winglets and the like, to reduce downforce and allow cars to run more closely.

F1 does not need – and should not have – NASCAR levels of constant side-by-side overtaking. But its driver do need to be able to race each other, and make moves for position on the track, not via pit stops.

I hope the OWG’s research bears fruit, and they take no account of the Peter Windsors of this world – who apparently would have happily watched Juan Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna engaged in a fearsome competition over who can save the most fuel on their qualifying in-laps.

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18 comments on Boring races

  1. Nathan Jones said on 14th August 2007, 8:59

    well said!
    look at the early 90’s and even 80’s races
    they werent all thrillers but at least a driver could pass on track
    imagine now if the races were in that format! with no pitstops!
    at least for fuel, they’d prob pit for tyres still

  2. Paul Sainsbury said on 14th August 2007, 9:13

    I couldn’t agree more, Keith.

    I remember reading this and shaking my head in utter bewilderment. I am a subscriber to the magazine ‘F1 racing’ of which peter Windsor is the race reporter, but I find it impossible to read his F1 race reviews, and have now simply given up even starting them. It would be difficult to find anyone in the entire industry with less of an understanding of what ‘motor racing’ is all about. Windsor clearly has great technical knowledge and understanding, and frequently uses such phrases as ‘polar moment of inertia’. This is all very well, but no substitute for one car overtaking another, if anyone can remember such an event.

    I have been watching Formula one since 1982, when I was 11. I have come to realize that processional races are always a possibility in F1, and they always have been. What I am simply unable to accept is that we have lost authentic qualifying. The farce to which we are now subjected is deeply, offensive to racing fans. We are a passionate bunch, we real enthusiasts, possessed of an interest seen in few other sports. To see the world’s great drivers fighting it out with cars of totally different weights is depressing in the extreme. Every time I hear the phrase ‘fuel-corrected qualifying time’, I actually wince.

    You know, in life there is very little that is certain. One might reasonable expect to have work or relationship problems, financial issues or whatever. But one thing I always thought, was that through thick or thin, I would always have my sport, Grand prix racing. Nobody could take that away from me.

    But I was wrong. They can. And they have.

  3. I was actually thinking about this in the car the other night – how refreshing it would be for a driver to go as fast as he could from the minute the lights go out right up to the chequered flag without worrying about fuel levels or tyres going off etc.

    Yes, F1 should require a certain amount of brainpower, strategy and cunning but this should not be at the expense of seeing the best racing drivers in the world actually racing!

    I too subscribe to F1 Racing magazine, but only very rarely do I read the race reviews at the back as they are generally speaking the dullest part of the magazine.

    If this is really what Peter Windsor thinks, then is he going to go the same way as James Allen in the fans’ minds?

  4. Robert Mckay said on 14th August 2007, 10:10

    Good article. I’ve only just started watching Champcar and IRL (got Sky TV recently) and I’ve been watching F1 since 1997. I don’t think any of them really get the balance right. IRL works on ovals, if you like that sort of thing (which I don’t, really), but they don’t seem to produce overly interesting road races. Champcar is pretty good for passing (the Road America round was great) but the number of full course cautions and races being decided almost by luck annoys me. F1 is still my preferred series, but the sport now hangs on such minutiae of detail, like fuel burns in quali and outlaps and pitstops that it’s almost on the point of anal, rather than exciting. F1 is almost like watching a spreadsheet for a weekend, a sport held up by the degeneracy pressure of the politics and dramas off-track rather than what happens on-track.

  5. I tried very hard to work up a contradictory viewpoint (someone has to play devil’s advocate) but failed. We all would like to see more racing and less mathematical or legal calculation – that’s fairly obvious.

    Peter Windsor has a point, however (no matter how snootily expressed) – we don’t want continual and meaningless overtaking. What he doesn’t see is that it should be possible for a faster guy to overtake a slower guy or there really isn’t much point in racing.

  6. My collegue over a SofaF1 has proposed a Tour de France style (without the drugs) setup which I find interesting. His idea is that the championship could be decided by the shortest time to complete the whole of the championship. That way overtaking would be at a huge premium because you don’t want to be sitting behind a slow driver. And it gets rid of the silly points business.

    Of course it still doesn’t stop somebody who has never won a race from winning the series…

    Oh and isn’t it Peter Windsor who does the interviews in the press conference after the race? Is that right?

    Whoever it was completely failed to press Alonso or Lewis for an answer about what had happened in Qualifying. Lewis basically only started talking about it by changing the subject.

    Really annoying that was.

  7. Dan M said on 14th August 2007, 15:18

    I watch an F1 race everyday on my way to work:

    If I don’t qualify in front (leave in time) I get stuck in traffic and cannot manage to pass the much slower Toyota’s running in the fast lane. Occasionally a Ferrari will come up from behind, I am forced to move out of his way to pass (in awe, not a blue flag). Finally I manage to get to work, later then my boss would like. I should mention that my boss is Flavio.

  8. Fer no. 65 said on 14th August 2007, 17:59

    No way F1 can be compared to touring car racing this years… There is where you see close racing and cars touching to pass like Massa-Nando without drivers crying for it…

    It’s sad but true. F1 needs emotion despite being the best of the best among motorsports.

  9. Peter Windsor has been consistent on his “F1 doesn’t need improving; everything will be OK if the money is kept secret and in Bernie’s hands” outlook. He was saying it in July 2004 (3 issues after I started my F1 Racing subscription), he said it this month, and if he’s still in F1 then, he’ll be saying it at the last F1 race that gets held. That not many people agree with him occasionally gets mentioned in his columns, but is generally brushed off.

    I don’t ask for lots of overtaking – F1 is supposed to be about quality of racing after all. But to see a quality overtaking move, overtaking has got to be possible in the first place!

  10. I think I don’t know enough about bicycle racing to know how they deal with retirements; you wouldn’t want Alex Wurz and David Coulthard out of the world championship just because they had to retire from Australia, do you?

    I only see Windor’s point in that we have something to watch this year in the driver’s championship and the usual desperation of the backmarkers messing with their cars and drivers. There’s also a part of me that sadistically enjoys watching him get ignored on the paddock when he tries to do pre-race interviews for Speed TV in the USA. (He might wrestle a sentence out of someone at best and otherwise gets pushed aside by other reporters quite regularly.)

    I wonder if the goal of FIA is to create something that watches more like WRC on a flat surface, and if that’s the case, why race simultaneously, and why race on circuits?

    By the coincidence of what I was physically able to watch, I saw the NASCAR attempts at road racing in Circuit Gilles Villenueve and Watkins Glen over the past couple of weeks, and I agree completely with the fellow that said that controlled racing watches more like you win by luck than skill, and of course, the Nascar vehicles look like school buses in comparison to single-seaters.

    I saw the obvious difference in the spectators that come to watch, as well as what occurrences they applaud. The best drivers and cars did not win either race, and frankly, most of the American series’ reach to the full caution way too quickly, and allow cars to reenter races that frankly shouldn’t.

    Am I the only one that noticed that ChampCar at Road America and American Le Mans at Road America aired at the same time?

  11. Peter Windsor is kidding himself. Maybe if he had to pay to attend a Grand Prix rather then BEING paid to attend, he would consider whether F1 needs to be improved or not. I would love to go to the Australian GP every year but $500 for a good seat to see… cars drive past in formation is not good value. As for everyone getting shirty about NASCAR style overtaking, aren’t the slipstreaming fests at the old Monza feted as being classic races?? As I recall, P.Windsor himself gets misty eyed about these events! I suspect he has the purple haze about Jim Clark in Lotus 49 but can’t stretch himself over to the same feelings towards Billiy Bob in a Dodge. Now in F1 we can’t even reward proper slipstreaming. Recall if you will the US GP when Nando did everything right to get past Lewis and then got jammed on the rev limit and couldn’t squeeze past. Ridiculous.
    Sorry to rant but Peter Windsor is wrong wrong WRONG!!!!!

  12. Carldec said on 15th August 2007, 9:23

    if you think the main reason most americans dont follow F1 is because there is not enough passing or on track racing… I think you have it all wrong. That said, as a f1 fan I would love to see more overtaking and better racing. But better racing is not what keeps americans from watching the sport.

    Americans dont watch because:

    1) There are no Americans to root for (two years of Scott Speed finishing towards the back really didnt change that much.) Getting an American dicing for the WDC would do more than anything else to bring US viewership up. See what Lance Armstrong did for bike racing.

    2) Most races are on very early in the morning here in the states. However, the networks would be clamering to show time delayed broadcasts if we had a winning American to root for.

    3) the network that shows most of the races is a very minor network only sent to a limited number of homes. They treat F1 as a bit of a stepchild… the majority of their racing shows are about Nascar.

    Just improving the racing won’t make that much of a differrence.

  13. Vertigo said on 15th August 2007, 18:25

    Windsor is right. With the current rules, we are having one of the best seasons for a decade. Tinkering with the format is pointless – which has been proved by the constant stream of rubbish qualifying systems (although the one we have now is good).

  14. Paul Sainsbury said on 16th August 2007, 13:34

    The thing is, vertigo, the fact that we are having a great season is despite the rules and not because of them. We have only had proper racing when it rained, the other races have been useless.

  15. Ogami said on 16th August 2007, 15:20

    The problem is absolutely NOT the amount of downforce.

    Group C cars and GTP one had over 5 tons of downforce at 30km/h and more than 2 tonns a 250km/h yet close racing was possible.

    The real problem is HOW the downforce is produced, and this problem just comes from…the restrictions made by FIA.

    Increasing the ride height of cars,banning understray’s channel (thus making the need for a enormous diffuser), increasing the front wing height (making it far more sensible to turbulences) and restricting wing’s width made a need for very agressive profiles and a lot of vortex lift generators that end in turbulence.

    By far the main problems are the diffuser shape and the front wing height and guess what? the OWC decided to reshape the diffuser and possibly lower the front wing height.

    By 2011 overlapping appendages will be banned.

    To me so far, the problem is just that you can’t overtake easily, this is not normal.

    Besides that, i have no problem with strategies, fuel savings (to save fuel and still be competitive=that’s racing) and thus F1 is very fine to me except that overtaking problem.

    F1 is definitely not for me a “super speed racing series” it is another series with different parameters, just like endurance is different, nascar is different ,IRL too..

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