Here in the northeast United States, motorsports are not exactly a priority. Nothing could be more taboo than a gas-guzzling beast, shredding its tires as it goes around a track, polluting the world. We generally prefer football or baseball. Down south, the story is little different.
The Daytona 500 kicked off the 2018 NASCAR season on Feb. 18 and drew a crowd of over 100,000 screaming Floridians. If we move out west to the Indianapolis 500, crown jewel of the Indycar championship and self-proclaimed greatest race in the world, the 2017 incarnation drew 300,000 people: more than one-third of the city’s population. Racing in the United States is synonymous with the South, the Heartland, and the Republican Party. For many northeasterners, a general distaste of racing lies as much in culture differences as it does in the sport itself.
In others part of the world, motorsports are less viewed along political lines, nor are they considered boorish. The art of speed and precision is embraced. Last week, Formula One teams unveiled cars to be used for the 2018 season, beginning with pre-season testing in Spain this week.
The cars bear no resemblance to the big body of a NASCAR. Instead, they are lower, sleeker and faster; more like a large go-kart than a minivan. They take no influence from roadgoing counterparts as the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion NASCARs do. Instead, it is Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren that draw technology for their exclusive roadgoing machines from these technological masterpieces, representing the true pinnacle of motorsport. Manufacturers like these compete not only to gain a pedigree around the world for their customers, but also to test their most advanced technology in a competitive environment.
Believe it or not, many technologies that we find in road cars today were created or are developed in racing environments. The World Endurance Championship (WEC) is instrumental in the continuous development of fuel-efficient hybrid engines, as the long races make apparent the relevance of fuel efficiency. Toyota directly implements technology it develops at the WEC into to its Prius and other hybrids. The new Formula E championship established in 2014 is the first-ever all-electric racing series, and manufacturers like Audi and Renault – and soon Porsche and Mercedes – compete to further develop electric racers, and the future of the automobile itself. Even Formula One has moved on to less noisy, cleaner hybrid V6 engines since 2014, specializing in capturing all excess energy from motion and heat around the car and turning it back into power.
Formula One is an international sport, with drivers hailing from all across the world. There will be 21 races in 2018, each in a different country, covering five continents. The tracks themselves are each unique, with tons of corners and elevation changes: a stark difference from the ovals of NASCAR. A Formula One car must be able to accelerate, brake and change direction in an instant, and they can. Drivers often experience forces of up to 6G as they brake or corner sharply, and stresses over the course of a race can cause drivers to lose many pounds of water weight. Completing a race has been likened to running a marathon. Thus, Formula One drivers are highly tuned athletes, more akin to fighter pilots than the stereotypical NASCAR drivers. There will be 20 drivers in 2018, each part of 10 two-car teams, and they are the best drivers in the world.
Formula One teams will spend the next few weeks testing the technologies that they spend millions developing each year, and the drivers will prepare and hone their craft of pushing each car to its absolute limit. So when the lights go out in Australia on March 25, instead of sighing and thinking how boring it will be to watch cars go around a track, remember that it’s much more than that. We all love fast-paced sports, played by athletes at the top of their game, performing with the utmost precision. So why not give Formula One a try?