I love auto racing – especially F1 racing – but I have to admit that the last few years have been pretty weak. NASCAR, F1, Indy . . . BOOORING!
Here’s the bottom-line – racing is too predictable. The teams with large sponsorships have a greater advantage than teams without sponsorship. The governing bodies of the different organizations mandate specific rules (cars must weigh this . . . engines must be this size . . . fit this template, etc.), but there is a HUGE amount of wiggle room to get extra horsepower out of a car. Teams with money don’t have to cheat – they can just spend the money on R&D and for specialized components, which are fully legal, but give an extra 10 – 20 horsepower. In racing, that equates to a lot more speed than the competition.
The primary driver behind auto racing is the fan. If nobody watches or attends, then there is no sponsorship money – no endorsements – no manufacturer involvement and so on. What’s a governing body to do? Listen to the fans, that’s what.
Paul Marks writes in NewScientist magazine that Michael Schumacher got quite a shock when he tried Formula 1’s latest crowd-pleasing technology in Valencia, Spain, last month. “The system really gives you a boost on the track,” the seven-times F1 champion told New Scientist. “I wasn’t expecting the effect to be so big, to be honest. It will take some getting used to.” The Mercedes GP driver was testing the kinetic energy recovery system, or KERS, which has been reintroduced for the 2011 season. It is one of two speed-enhancing innovations that F1’s governing body (FIA) hopes will make the sport a more compelling spectacle.
The FIA is taking action because surveys of F1 fans reveal that many think races are becoming processions in which cars of similar ability get in line after the first few laps and stay there until the end, unable to overtake unless accidents or breakdowns occur. Alongside KERS, the FIA is also introducing a moveable rear wing that reduces drag. Both pieces of technology will only be allowed to be used intermittently, but the hope is that they will allow for more overtaking, giving back the racing edge that has been missing.
Whether these technologies will end processional racing remains to be seen. Ted Kravitz, F1 pitlane reporter for BBC TV says that if the teams all use KERS at the same time there might be little difference. “The moveable rear wing has the potential to make races more exciting, but we won’t know until the first race.”
What I think is more interesting than the technology is the willingness to be so responsive to the fans in the first place. NASCAR could learn a thing or two here. The Daytona 500 was exciting because an unknown won, but it wasn’t an exciting race until the end. Had there not been 3 yellows to cause a Green-White-Checkered finish, people would have been bored out of their minds. If you disagree, who won the last two races? Yeah – and one of them was won by a guy who led 340 out of 341 laps (I made that up – it seemed like it though).
I grew up racing – my Dad and Uncle both raced as well. Real fans don’t watch for wrecks – the watch for the risk of wrecks. Wrecks slow down a race, but side-by-side bump and grind racing makes it seem like any car could break loose at any moment – and cause a big wreck. That’s exciting. I know that there is a balance between safety and excitement. Football gets it right. There used to be too many touchbacks on kickoffs – so they moved the kickoff back to make it more exciting for the fans. Kickoffs have gotten a bit unsafe, so they’ll probably move it back for more touchbacks, but they tried. The listened to the fans and made the changes necessary to keep their product exciting.
I think that’s a good lesson for anyone.
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