Sunday, July 25, 2010

Racing Today Under the Banner of the Prancing Horse

I was watching the Formula-1 race at Hockenheim, Germany, on tv this morning. I haven't watched F-1 regularly almost since back when F-1 races were only telecast on cable tv around 2am in the morning. Nowadays, the races are on network tv. Every Sunday or every other Sunday on Fox. Every other Sunday because F-1 has an international venue. Every race is in a different country. Then moving on to a different continent. The drivers and crew need the two weeks to acclimate themselves to the new race tracks and the region's food.

During today's race, Ferrari was leading one-two when team orders directed the leading Ferrari driver to relinquish his position to his Ferrari team mate behind him by letting the trailing driver pass him on the race track. As you probably would have guessed, this did not sit well with the lead driver, at all. After a lap or two, the Ferrari pit again radioed their reluctant driver, "Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understood that message?" At this point, the lead driver, Massa, was at peril of insubordination if he did not take the hint and comply. So Massa let's his anointed team mate Fernando Alonso through. However, Massa did not simply move aside gracefully, instead, he feigned a driving error that no driver with F-1 stature would have made at that point in the race track as to set the record straight that he had not been outmaneuvered.

Fernando Alonso, the trailing driver, is a two-time F-1 world champion and was ahead in points than Massa for the individual driver's championship although not leading other F-1 drivers overall in that department. Little that mattered to Massa, the subject of the highway robbery in broad daylight. The Hockenheim race track in Germany is narrow by F-1 standards making it more difficult to safely execute a pass at 180-mph. And perhaps, Ferrari was simply trying to avoid repeating what happened to the Red Bull team earlier this season in the Turkey Grand Prix with Red Bull leading one-two when the trailing Red Bull driver attempted a pass only to crash into his team mate and deny Red Bull any team (constructor's) points in the final tally.

What makes F-1 viewer-friendly is the on-board cameras and occasionally the broadcast booth is even allowed to tap into the chatter between the pit boss and their drivers as it was so during this racing controversy on Lap 49 of 67. The tv announcers were starting to irritate me by condescending with the Ferrari orders on the basis that the fortunes of the racing team takes priority over the personal gains of individual drivers. How that particular rationale applies to this situation remains a mystery if for no other reason than when you're leading one-two, it doesn't matter which driver is ahead of whom, because the team still gets the same number of constructor's points irregardless of the order of finish. Hypothetically if two team mates were jockeying for position amidst heavy traffic further back in the pack I would understand the safety issue. However, in a one-two lead situation, the lead driver is being ordered to relinquish a win which he has an equal right to.


Luca Badoer said...

I used to set my VCR to record those early AM races. I used to go to Montreal every year to see the only race held on this continent. But every year, the general admission pass got you less and less access. The fences got taller and further back. Then the most exciting part of the track was taken away. Then they slowed the cars down with smaller and grooved tires. The wings got smaller. The engines got smaller. They started allowing refueling and the pit crew stopped wearing shorts. They straightened out all the really exciting corners. They removed the really long straights. They introduced the Safety Car and full-course yellow. Everything about it that was exciting went away for me, so I went away, too.

I watched that race yesterday. Just flipping around the dial and found it. Fell asleep.

Those team orders are rough. It's an accomplishment in itself to just finish a race. It's pretty rare for most drivers to win an F1 race, and it's the realization of a life-long goal. Now pull over and let your buddy pass you. It's HIS day today.

But if you aren't a points contender, let's not block someone else's shot at winning a championship. Those are pretty hard to come by, too.

RONW said...

Luca Badoer- yeah, the track at Hockenheim appeared to be "safer." The most exciting moment at Hockenheim was frequently at the start of the race where half of the cars were wiped out at the turn. Didn't happen yesterday. Those "team orders" is tantamount to asking somebody to throw the fight.

Luca said...

Throwing the fight. Exactly. No one wants to see that. You're right. Points or no, let the faster driver win.

And also on my list of things that ruined it for me: pit lane speed limits.

Sorry to get all excited, but I haven't really followed the sport in about 15 years, happened to catch a race yesterday, and HEY! There's a review right here on the Hotel Waikiki. Ain't that something?

RONW said...

Luca- actually, what Ferrari did was against the FIA rules and they are being fined $100,000 with possible further actions, which won't happen because of a larger controversy that despite the written rule, FIA looks the other way on team orders. It casts a poor light on F-1 for a lack of genuine sportsmanship.