Tag Archive: racing

It’s time to watch F1, you guys!

I’ll just come right out and say it: if you don’t watch F1 this weekend, you’re an asshole.

I can hear it already, “Blah blah blah, F1, cars driving round in circles, who gives a shit about NASCAR, whatever, boring, blah blah blah.”  And you’d be a millionth-and-one person who’s given me shit for spending far too much time with this fucking sport.

And that’s because you conveniently dismiss this sport because you have not even a vague idea of how brilliant it is.  Let’s change that, shall we.  Have an open mind, for fuck’s sake.

The thing is, F1 is for everyone.  (Hey, that rhymes, I should copyright that shit.)  Man, woman, child, dog, whomever, it’s for you.  If you have a fucking pulse, no matter how cloddish, you need to take a look at F1.

Jalopnik tried to pull together a helpful guide for F1 noobs, but I found it uninspiring and tedious.  The whole thing felt like a lot of fucking work and it told you NOTHING about F1.  So fuck it, I figure I’d give it a go.

Here’s the gist of the sport.  I’ll give you the meat-and-potatoes, and then I’ll throw in some garnish afterwards.

F1 is car racing.  All the cars look like winged rockets with wheels.  They’re not steel tanks like NASCAR because they have open wheels and open cockpits – neither is covered.  They’re also made largely of featherweight carbon fiber.  And they have big fuck-off wings that create downforce that keep the cars pressed onto the track.  They also have massive fuck-off tires.

In F1, every team has to build their own cars.  If you’re a car racing noob, it might surprise you to know that most other car racing series have teams buying their cars from suppliers, and all they need to do is tweak the car and go racing with it.  Not F1: each team needs to design and build their own chassis.  That’s part of why some of the top F1 teams have annual budgets in excess of $300 million.  In comparison, you can run a shitty NASCAR team for about $10 million.

These cars are the single-most sophisticated machines for sport, and are probably the closest thing to having a NASA space rocket mate with one of James Bond’s Q gadgets.  They’re the coolest fucking thing in the world, alright.

Inside each car is a V8 engine that generates something like 800hp and revs up to 18,000rpm.  Your average 4-door sedan probably sports a 4-cylinder engine that generates 200hp and you’d never rev it higher than 3,500rpm.  Do the math.  These engines can take these cars to over 200mph.  Try that in your shitwagon.  These engines sound like a dragon being put through a paper shredder.

Each team runs two cars – the two cars will look identical; easiest way to tell the two drivers apart is to by their helmets.  But TV commentators do that for you.

Enough about the cars.  Let’s talk about the race itself.  The race starts at 2pm Austin time.  In fact, with a few exceptions, all F1 races start at 2pm local time no matter they race in the world.  You can use that in your dinner conversation this Thanksgiving, you’re welcome.  Each race lasts between 1.5 hours (often) to 2 hours (rarely).

This is the track in which they’ll be racing in Austin: the Circuit Of The Americas.

(from http://www.flickr.com/photos/jbonvouloir/)

As you can see, it’s not a goddamn oval.  Because these drivers actually need to have two key skills lacking in NASCAR drivers – knowing how to brake for corners, and turning right.

Let’s get to the drivers.  There are 24 of them.  You don’t need to know all of them.  There are dipshit drivers in the back of the pack that if you got hit by a bus tomorrow and never knew their names, you’d still have lived a full life.  Don’t waste your time trying to learn everyone’s name.  Just the ones who are worth keeping an eye out for:

  • Fernando Alonso.  Drives a Ferrari (the only all-red car in the pack).  He is, by leaps and bounds, the best all-round driver of the lot.  Even if the Ferrari is not even close to being the best car out there.
  • Sebastian Vettel.  Drives a Red Bull (blue car with a yellow tip – yes, the energy drink company own an F1 team).  One of the best drivers driving arguably the best car of them all – that’s a hell of a combination.
  • Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.  Both drive McLaren cars (silver cars with red wings).  Both a brilliant drivers.  Hamilton is the Barack Obama of F1.  Unfortunately, however, is a colossal douchenozzle, and you should totally watch him to hate him.  Seriously, he’s a tool.
  • Kimi Raikkonen.  Drives a Lotus (black car with gold trimmings).  He’s Finnish and a raging boozehound!  And he’s fast!  That’s pretty much all you need to know.

Other drivers who might put in good showings are Kamui Kobayashi, Sergio Perez, and Nico Hulkenberg.  Fuck everyone else.  Oh, you’ll also hear Michael Schumacher’s name.  That’s because he’s old, he’s been racing forever, he’s the winningest driver, and he’s a smug, dirty, cheating bastard.

And really, those are the essentials.  There are other nuances, but if you don’t know them, it won’t make the sport unwatchable.  But just in case, here are some of them:

  • Pitstops.  These cars come into the pits at least once to change tires.  That’s because a) the tires don’t last the duration of the race, and b) the rules state that they must race on two different types of tires (two compounds: one harder, one softer)
  • KERS.  This is a F1’s equivalent of a hybrid.  It stands for Kinetic Energy Return System.  The cars use braking forces to charge an onboard battery.   The battery sends and extra boost of 80hp to the engine – it’s a bit like Knight Rider’s turbo boost mode without the turbo.  It’s stupid but it’s in play.
  • DRS. Talk about an even stupider system.  It stands for Drag Reduction System.  When a car is trailing the car in front by 1 second or less, the trailing driver can push a button on his steering wheel that levels out the rear wing (reducing downforce) to help the car go faster to help overtake the car in front.  I have many reasons to hate this stupid system that I’m not going to go into here, but it’s in play, so fuck me.

Now, let’s talk briefly about the racing.  This isn’t like NASCAR, where you see a traffic jam going around in a circle for 4 hours, with cars overtaking each other ever 3 miliseconds.  Fuck that pointless bullshit.  No, what you’ll see mostly is a single-file of cars going around the track.  There’s definitely overtaking in F1, but because F1 racing is both an art and a science, this will happen mostly when cars dive into corners at the end of a long straight, trying to outbrake the other car.  The KERS and DRS systems help, too.

And that’s it.  That’s all you really need to know to watch F1 on Sunday.  That, and the fact that it’s on at 2pm ET (work that shit out in your own timezone), it’s on Speed Channel in the U.S. (better go find that channel now), and even though you’ll probably miss the early NFL games, you’ll have a shit ton more football the rest of Sunday to watch so stop being a pussy about it.

Now, don’t be a dick by blowing this off.  This is F1’s first race back in the U.S. after a 5-year absence.  This is F1’s only stop in the U.S.  It’s a big fucking deal.  You can afford to forgo football for a couple of hours on Sunday (your dipshit team will probably lose anyway).  You really can.

Just watch some F1 this Sunday.  Don’t be an asshole.



The most important film of the year

I’d waited for over a year, but on Friday, “Senna” finally opened here in NY.  Sold out screening – in fact, there was so much demand that at around 10pm, the movie theater decided to add one more screening at midnight.  I’ll bet that got sold out, too.

Of course: it’s goddamn “Senna”.

Admission: I’m a wannabe F1 hipster.  I wish I could say, “I’ve loved watching Ayrton Senna race since day one.”  I wish I was some sort of authority on Senna like a ton of F1 fans are.  But in truth, I got into F1 long after Senna’s demise.  I have no first-hand knowledge about Senna.  I have never watched him race.  I have never watched even a video of a complete race with Senna in it.  I have watched the occasional video highlight, and I’ve read many stories about the man in the early ’90s.  But I cannot claim any first-hand experience on this person who is universally considered the single-greatest racing car driver in the history of mankind.  Certainly in F1.  And for a slightly obsessive F1 fan like myself, there’s a slight hollow feeling from not having “been there” when Senna was racing.

So when this film was announced over a year ago, I was expecting this to help “fill in the gaps”.  I had secretly hoped that it would help me get up to speed on the one driver whom F1 fans still worship, get the inside scoop, be in the know like those who really did watch him race in the early ’90s, those who speak of him like they know him.  I wanted to be as well-informed that those whose fandom pre-date me.  But because I never watched him race, I don’t feel I’ll ever be part of this Senna “inside circle” I’ve conjured up in my head.  Still…

It’s not like we’re talking about an athlete (that’s right, fuck you, racing drivers are athletes, deal with it) who rocked the sport in your grandpa’s day.  It’s not like all the footage of Senna out there is in fuzzy black and white.  Senna was current, Senna was this generation.  Senna, technically, was my generation.

But one of the first things that hit me about the film was the immediate reminder that I have outlived Senna.  Like I’ve outlived all those rock stars in the 27 Club.  He was 34 when he died.  34!!  Fucking hell.

But as the film unfolded, I realized that I’d come into it all wrong.  Here was a film about an F1 driver, right?  F1 film = lots of racing action, lots of grand prix cars fighting it out on the track, lots on loud screaming engines wailing by, that sort of thing.  It’d be like a 100 minute collection of awesome YouTube F1 clips, but in higher quality and on a massive screen.  I thought it’d be an action movie.  I couldn’t be more wrong.  This was a film about the construct of a person.  And not just any person – this was a person who received god-like reverence and fear; who in turn, had such unshakable faith in God that he probably thought that God had made him somewhat immortal.  He raced with absolute abandon.  Of fear, not of responsibility.

The race footage in the film showed me just how frighteningly quick he was.  I never really had a proper appreciation for his ability to really thrash his car around the track and make his rivals look like they were standing still.  I never properly understood just how he overwhelmed the entire sport with his speed.  But what I walked away with most of all was a firm grasp of Senna’s unbending will.  An action movie doesn’t get you these things.  This film was much, much more than that.

This film also showed a side of the sport I had never known – the chaos of pre-race driver briefings, the I-don’t-give-shit attitude drivers had about wanting to race for other teams because they didn’t think their current team was any good, the anxiety drivers openly expressed to their team.

And the anxiety of the audience… watching “Senna” is quite like watching “Titanic”: you know exactly how things are going to turn out in the end.  And the foreshadowing of Senna’s end puts a good and proper knot in your stomach.  You want to reach through the screen when Senna says that he wants to leave McLaren to drive for Williams, grab him, and say, “No, for the love of God, don’t go!”  Your heart sinks the moment Williams announce Senna as their new driver.  The second you see him in that Rothmans-sponsored race suit, it’s like watching a countdown, you know that you’re watching the beginning of the end.  And there’s nothing you can do to stop it.  And every second leading up to the moment is agonizing, sad, and frightening, all spun together.

But that said, the dork fan in me also walked away feeling like there were lost moments in the film.  Stuff that I knew about, but wanted to see covered in the film.  Like when Senna walked down the pitlane to punch Eddie Irvine in the face because he’d had the balls to pass him on the track.  The 1993 Donington opening lap.  When Nigel Mansell gave Senna a lift after Senna ran out of fuel on the track.  When Senna pulled over to help another driver who’d crashed.

But that’s not the point, is it.  Those were single episodes in the grander course of Senna’s life.  Interesting markers along the way, not life-defining milestones (OK, maybe the Donington lap – correction, definitely the Donington lap).  Was the film a lesser film for their omissions?  Of course not.  And besides, I was already quite well versed in those episodes.  I needed this film to “fill in the gaps.”  What this film did was explain the meaning of Senna.

This film will inform.  And this film will make your heart bleed.  And that’s why this is the most important film of the year.

I’m one of those idiot adults who genuinely liked Cars.  Anthropomorphic iterations of my favorite inanimate objects?  Sure, why not.  It gave me a great way to connect with my elder kid – then 3 – as I was still fumbling around trying to figure out what the hell do I do with children (I’ve made marginal progress since then, about 0.05%).  He loved it, I fucking love it, and we went on to collect pretty much every fucking diecast model of the cars from that goddamn movie.  I’m not naive, I know how merchandising works, and I run headlong into it when it comes to my kids.  Whatever, I gotta do what I gotta do.

So, when we all heard about the making of Cars 2 a couple of years ago, naturally we got really psyched.  As psyched as kids can be about something they can’t really see yet (“Cars 2? WOW! Oh look, a shiny object over there…”).  Anytime a leaked still or a storyboard sketching made its way to the public, I’d show them to my kids.  I don’t know if I was doing to keep them psyched or to fuck with them.  Either way, the opening weekend came, and I was already having a dreadful feeling about the movie I couldn’t explain.  After seeing it, now I can – here’s why (spoilers, natch):

  • Pixar animators have likely started a cycle now in which live action filming will be fucked forever.  The rendering of textures of things like water and fire are absolutely bewildering.  You actually believe it’s real.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Their ability to animate life-like landscapes – and cityscapes alike – defy comprehension.  Yes, the animated humans are quickly coming, but they’ve still got work to do.  Watching Cars 2 is like watching the death of location shoots.  And if I start running out of reasons to go out to L.A., I’m gonna be pissed off.
  • It took them about five years to not be able to decide what kind of movie to make.  The first Cars movie was simple, straightforward, and made it really simple for kids to track with the story.  Here you’ve for some fucking spy caper wrapped up in some horseshit environmental agenda, with some semblance of a racing movie, further skewered with some horrendously disingenuous “just be yourself” message.  My younger kid actually got bored halfway through the movie.  How the fuck do you make a kids’ movie in which a 4 year-old gets bored halfway through it?
  • When we left the movie theater, I asked the kids what their favorite parts of the movie were.  Both of them, with no hesitation: “The guns.”  WTMF.  Is this Cars or Funnybot?  Literally, like Funnybot, there is a scene involving a pair of gatling guns and a mountain of spent shells.  Now, I’m all for violence in cartoons, I think it’s hilarious.  And it teaches the kids something.  I don’t know what, but look at how much Tom & Jerry we all watched and most of us turned out OK (I may be overestimating here).  Anyway, with Tom & Jerry, the violence was inventive, thought out, and screamed with variety.  In Cars 2, leaving much of the action to weapons is just fucking lazy writing.
  • Eddie Izzard was a complete waste in this movie.  Even the writers of the excruciating Ocean’s 12 or 13 knew how to squeeze in a bit of his stand-up references in the scripts (“Gunther?!”).  He had none of that.  Just a humorless wank of a role that might as well have been played by that Harry Potter kid – not Daniel Radcliffe, the ginger one whose name no one can ever remember, him.  Even someone like Michael Caine wasn’t given any nuggets to work with.  Would it be that hard to work in the line, “You’re a big car, but you’re in bad shape. With me it’s a full time job. Now behave yourself”?
  • The new characters are completely unlikable.  The kids like the F1 car, Francesco Bernoulli.  And let’s face it, they like him because he’s an F1 car.  And they like an F1 car because their dad eats, lives, and breathes F1.   There were no really interesting cameos like the previous movie (except maybe Lewis Hamilton?  But he’s a bit of a dick, so fuck him).  As for the old cars, they made them complete douchebags.  It was basically the Mater movie, and how much Larry The Cable Guy can you listen to before you want stab your ears with rusty spoons?  Any affection you felt for the characters from the old movie goes right out the window after you watch how tepid and completely uninteresting they’ve become in this new movie.
  • They couldn’t get the cast to agree on how to pronounce “grand prix”.  Nothing shreds my ear more than listening to the Amurrcan pronunciation of “grand prix”.  It’s a fucking French word, pronounce it the way it’s supposed to be pronounced.  You’ve got half the cast pronouncing it correctly, and then you’ve all the Yank voice actors saying “graynd pree” the rest of the time.  Fuck off, learn to pronounce it correctly, and for fuck’s sake, Lasseter, put some effort into some consistency in the dialogue.  Lazy wank.

Of course, I know this won’t be the end of it.  My kids will invariably beg for all the merchandising, ask to buy the DVD the minute it’s out – even the 4 year-old – and then we’ll be subject to this whole ordeal all over again.  Oh, I can’t wait.

Maybe that title is a bit of an overstatement.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s an overstatement, but I like the way it sounds so I really can’t be arsed to change it.

In any case, about this most pointless of streaks.  Most people are able to boast of a streak – or streaks – that are worthwhile.  Baseball is full of ’em.  But it’s not only relegated to pro sports, is it.  Shit, someone who’s been a vegetarian for any extended amount of time is on a streak.  A ridiculous, highly unnatural meat-free streak, but a streak nonetheless.  I’ve got other friends who have streaks, some bragworthy, some WTF-worthy: running around Central Park every day for 15 years plus, seeing every area Springsteen concert since the 1984, and so on.  So what have I got?

I have watched every Formula 1 race since 2000.

That’s it.  That’s all I’ve got some.  A 10-plus year habit of watching a fucking two-hour car race every two weeks from March through October.  On a whim, I turned on ITV one Sunday in March in 2000 and was instantly hooked on watching 20+ open-wheeled cars with wings fly around a track at 200mph for two hours.  I could barely tell one driver from another, one team from another, and yet I was riveted.

But let’s be clear here – I’ve spent the better part of these 11 years bitching and moaning about F1.  Everything pisses me off about F1.  The consistent inconsistency of the rules.  The perennial parade of incompetent drivers who couldn’t parallel park a Ford Focus but yet gain race seats because some rich fuck of an uncle who owns a chain of tanning salons in Peru and generously hands bags of cash over to shitty F1 teams.  The misguided technical philosophy that overemphasizes aerodynamic grip over mechanical grip.  The stupid forgettable teams that have come and gone.  It all fucking pisses me off.

And yet I can’t tear myself away from the sport.  My fortnightly weekend schedule is driven (ugh, pun not intended) by these races.  Even when I’m sick of how a race season is progressing, I still watch practically every lap of every race.  I can’t stop.  Somehow in my head, if I miss just one race, I stop being a qualified F1 fan.  Somehow I lose my ability to be knowledgeable on this insane sport.  Also, in my head, missing just one race would mean I’m a colossal failure.  Like that even makes any lick of common sense.   I can’t bring myself to stop this record of watching these races.  A record with which I can do absolutely nothing.  It’s not a skill, it’s not an achievement that anyone else aspires to, it’s not something that I can bring up in interesting conversation, and folks go, “Wow, that’s brilliant.”  Instead, I’d get quiet looks that scream, “What a complete fuckwit.”

It’s such a stupid streak to keep.

And when I look back at this stupid streak, and all I can imagine is me sitting in front of my TV watching a race one day – and being at the receiving end of an incoming ICBM – and muttering, “Oh, I’ve wasted my life.”  I don’t want to be Comic Book Guy.  The Comic Book Guy of F1.