In order to understand the passion for Formula One you have to understand the Passion for Ferrari (demonstrated massively at Monza,
the Italian Grand Prix). Ferrari is not a brand, it’s an obsession. The proprietary passenger automobiles are not motorized vehicles; they’re living beasts that envelop their drivers who become integral parts of the car. Their owners/drivers are insanely passionate about them. The cars rarely diminish much in value with age and some of the older ones enter the upper ionosphere of value, with no end in sight. A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO became the most expensive car in history, selling in a private transaction for US$38.1 million.
This race at Monza marks 70 years of the Ferrari badge in motorcar racing. The first Ferrari-badged car was the 1947 125 S, powered by a 1.5 L V12 engine. Enzo Ferrari’s only real interest was racing so in order to finance these efforts, Enzo developed and sold proprietary automobiles to fund “Scuderia Ferrari” (Ferrari Stable). Ferrari is the most successful racing team in Formula One history, holding the most constructors championships and producing the most winning drivers.
That design originally graced the fuselage of a WW I Italian fighter plane flown by Italian Ace Francesco Baracca. After his death, Francisco’s wife asked Enzo to use this horse on his cars, suggesting that it would bring him good luck. Ferrari chose to have the horse in black (as it had been painted as a sign of grief on Baracca’s squadron planes after the pilot was killed in action) and he added a canary yellow background, as this is the color of the city of Modena, his birthplace. All racing Ferraris and most of the passenger cars carry this badge on the front flank of the car by tradition.
Only a few American drivers have consistently driven for the Scuderia, most notably of whom would be Mario Andretti, pound for pound maybe the most skillful driver still living. Through the years, Phil Hill from the 50s is included in the thin Americans list. I ran into Phil Hill at Leguna Seca in the mid 80s during my tenure as an assistant medical director of CART and we spoke a bit about the old days. He was a fantastic guy and I was lucky to know him. I have an autographed photo somewhere.
At any rate, Formula One has evolved to be one of the most popular and best-attended sporting events in history, commanding a total global television audience of 425 million (in the 2014 season). Many of the incredible technological advances are handed down to passenger cars including tire design, disc brakes, aerodynamics and many safety issues. It’s said that the engines in Ferrari passenger cars are essentially retired F1 engines.
Formula One cars are the fastest road course racing cars in the world, owing to very high cornering speeds achieved through the generation of large amounts of aerodynamic downforce. Formula One cars race at speeds of up to 233 mph with engines currently limited in performance to a maximum of 15,000 rpm. The cars are capable of lateral acceleration in excess of six g’s in corners. The cars are very dependent on electronics and are said by some to be computers chauffeured by humans. They have radically evolved and changed through the history of the sport. I have always suspected that Ayrton Senna was killed at San Marino 1n 1994 simply because his ability to out-think the on-board computer lapsed for an instant and the computer made a bad decision at speed Ayrton was too slow to correct.
Posers competing with Formula One include NASCAR and the reconstituted IndyCar Series (from CART- Championship Auto Racing Teams). I have never understood the lure of a huge pack of cars traversing an oval track in a mob, but that’s just a personal observation. I know Indy Cars well but it isn’t your father’s sport anymore. Many of the drivers came from Formula One or other foreign venues and all the guys I used to know are retired so it’s lost it’s interest value for me. It’s a very “American” endeavor where F1 is a truly global sport, encompassing races in 42 countries.
There are two things wrong with Formula One right now that really need addressing.
- Current World Champion Lewis Hamilton (UK) is winning too many races and it’s bad for the sport. The real competition in F1 occurs after the usual 4th place finish, back in the pack where there are some really excellent drivers. Watching Hamilton (and his team mate Bottas at Mercedes) win all the time is starting to get tedious, but the history of this kind of thing is replete in F1 (Michael Schumacher). Eventually the rest of the pack will catch up but the Hamilton era isn’t without controversy.Louis isn’t a particularly well-liked competitor and routinely gets boos from the crowd. Unclear why, other than his “jet set” lifestyle off course. Also unclear is whether Louis is really “that good” of a driver, his car being the winning component. The Mercedes “Silver Arrow” is clearly the fastest and most reliable car on the circuit. If Louis is on the poll, it’s very difficult for anyone else to pass him. It would be interesting to put some of the really strong middle-of-the-pack talents into Hamilton’s car and see how they did. Especially Max Verstappen (Holland) and Dan Ricciardo (Australia). It would not surprise me in the slightest if either of these drivers walked away from the pack in Hamilton’s car. That said, the two Ferrari drivers have done well, Sebastian Vettel (Germany) holding the lead in the points until Monza, but the Ferraris are simply not as fast as the Silver Arrows. They made a lot of advances from 2016 but not good enough. So Ferrari is still faster than Red Bull but they have to come up with a better car for 2018. Also, we’ll also see who’s sitting in what car during the “Silly Season”; drivers signing contracts with teams. Sometimes big surprises.
- The strict FIA rules regarding changes in the cars after qualifying and before the race need to be looked at because they’re unfairly penalizing the younger teams, still sorting out their cars. This race, outstanding driver Daniel Ricciardo got a “grid penalty” (dropping his previous line in qualifying) because his team had to change a gearbox. This is ridiculous. Daniel is an excellent driver and had a really good shot at the podium (finishing first, second or third). Instead he dropped to the back of the pack, as did hot shoe Max Verstappen for a similar technical offence, an out of place engine change. These rules hurt the sport and should be re-thought.
That’s it for the European races. Next race is Singapore Sept 17.