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Engineers, not racers, are the true drivers of success in motor sport (economist.com)
137 points by DyslexicAtheist 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 149 comments





Depends on the motorsport. Take drag racing. top fuel driver after reaction time is mostly along for the ride, depends on quality of engineering to win/lose. Alcohol FC is immensely complicated to drive, also pro stock which is pure driving skill.

MotoGP motor cycle racing is highly skilled and is IMO far, far more exciting than Formula One which used to be the fastest/most expensive formula amongst multiple divisions and is now largely an inventors/engineers domain.

As others have noted different eras of racing cars (late 60's early 70's formula one for example) required very different skills and bravery levels.

David Coulthard drives Jim Clark's Lotus 25 https://youtu.be/_L1tHavnd9w lovely bit of informative film


MotoGP obviously doesn't have the same level of tech as F1 but it is the apex of racing series IMO. Dorna has done a great job with the rules to keep the series competitive in recent years. It's amazing that there are 5 out of 6 manufacturers legitimately able to produce wins this year!

MotoGP is having an exciting season because the previously dominated rider has been out for most of this season. This highlights the skill of the rider compared to engineering for MotoGP.

There also seems to be a psychological thing happening, where riders are in general less consistent then previous seasons. There’s a lot of emotional toll happening to the riders.

Furthermore, lots of tech built in MotoGP sees itself trickle down consumer level motorcycles. There is a lot of competition going on in 400-1000cc sport/naked bikes for consumers leading to some really great bikes.


Two wheelers are inherently difficult to balance/ride design than a four wheeler.

Ex- vehicle engineer at a three letter company.


My favorite expression of motorsport is the Isle of Man TT. Mostly because it’s a freak show.

Here’s a serene introduction for the uninitiated: https://youtu.be/zbaO8mzByvw

Once you’re done with that, search YouTube for “Isle of Man TT onboard” and prepare thyself.


Oh man, I used to love watching IoMTT videos until I actually started riding a bike. Now they're legitimately terrifying.

I use those TT headrush onboard videos as motivators, they are really intense. Milky hitting the wall https://youtu.be/-Nzq2GorVH4 The great Michael Dunlop first person https://youtu.be/YWZG1nhgwgg Like watching speeded up video rushes

I get tunnel vision just watching these damn videos. I don't know how they do it with so much at stake, especially when it's down to the wire and they are passing back and forth on roasted tires. It feels superhuman. Then you hear Guy Martin 'talk' and it all makes sense. :D

There's also the Azores Rallye.

The Lotus 25 is the most beautiful F1 car ever. Love the stinger exhaust!

i have a lotus 23 of the same era. they are wonderful cars. uncomplicated and incredibly good handling feel.

I'm very envious!

come drive it? if i ever get the engine back...

this is what it looks like in action. https://jalopnik.com/don-t-feel-bad-if-you-get-passed-by-a-p...


(i am the driver in the yellow car. I'm doing close to 100mph in that video, and the guy in the porsche is probably north of 130?)

where are you running? Laguna Seca?

F1 is an extremely difficult position these days. How can a team(s) increase lap speed YoY, have competitive racing, make money, stay safe, and still have incentives for OEMs to participate? The answer is they can't. At least in the current formula. I think Bernie did a great job running the sport as a dictator, but he set up a house of cards that was doomed. I don't think Chase Carey and Liberty really had a chance. Also, the talent pool has become increasingly level. With the advances in simulator technology and aero dominating the sport, I think the driver / pilot has much less factor. I don't think there is really any room to argue. Kimi is still out in Q1, and the Mercs are 1 2. There will always be different eras and arguments as to who is good, blah blah. But the fact is driver salaries are going down, and the margin between the drivers is shrinking. This isn't 2003 where Schumacher and Ferrari would run 3000 miles of testing every other week.

Let's be honest; it's about the car. There is a reason Adrian Newey has won titles with 3 teams. There is a reason MClaren is going back to Mercedes. There is a reason why Toro Rosso only wins in the wet. There is a reason driver salaries are down. There is a reason we have 18 year old drivers.

I think the only way to go back to exciting racing is bringing back more variables. Less Tilke / new age tracks (more track diversity), refueling / more tire manufacturers and the like, go back to the old school points system, and get rid of these crazy stewards that are killing races like the one Vetell had in Canada. Have a technical regulations package that has a diminishing return past a certain amount of $ spent. Make it more about mechanical grip and less about aero.

I remember listening to a beyond the grid podcast with Juan Pablo Montoya. The host kept trying to pull the whole "what was it like to race with Michael" ooze fest. Juan simply stated he was in the best car, and when he was at Mercedes he didn't do that well. All the drivers on the grid are good. All of them. The difference between the champions is some skill and a lot of luck, and managers making the right moves.

Don't get me wrong; it takes skill. But (especially today) to say that drivers are not second place to the cars is somewhat ignorant. The only pair of teammates on the grid right now who have any legitimate gap are Albon and Verstappen. Other than that, it's par for the course.


I watch F1 for the engineering, but unfortunately it's not covered much due to the secretive nature of the sport.

> The only pair of teammates on the grid right now who have any legitimate gap are Albon and Verstappen. Other than that, it's par for the course.

Abon and Verstappen are no the only legitimate gaps; Leclerc vs Vettle and Ricc vs Ocon are also substantial.

A better driver can take 250ms off their team mate - something that would take multiple millions of dollars a year to obtain via regular engineering.

That said, I agree that a great driver such as Ricciardo has no chance to compete for the WDC in his car.


I'm not sure I count Lec & Vet. Vet is leaving next year and I am sure he is a pure testing car right now. You are spot on about Ric and Oc. Ric is driving superb compared to him.

I've idly thought that if I was the F1 Czar I'd ban all transistors in the cars, except for in safety equipment. Not even a radio. Have the operation of the car be up to driver skill, not computer programmer virtuosity. (And I'm a programmer!)

Of course, it is possible to make mechanical computers, but they are very costly to develop, heavy, take up lots of space, hard to modify, etc. Besides, it's a lost art.


Formula 1 is meant to represent the pinnacle of technology. (Although arguably it doesn’t now, thanks to the myriad restrictions).

Your idea would probably give us a great racing series, but it wouldn’t be Formula 1.


You are spot on. At the core F1 is less about racing and more about the pinnacle "formula."

Transistors have been in racing cars since 1967 when the Cosworth DFV engine, with a "transistorized ignition" system, was put to the back of the Lotus 49, driven by Jim Clark and Graham Hill.

Going all mechanical would be going back to an era long gone. It would be difficult to attract funding for a formula racing series (not a spec series) based on obsolete technology.

That said, the early 1960s era of 1.5 liter V8 engines produced some of the most eloquent racing machines ever.


My 1972 Dodge came with a "transistorized" ignition. It was one transistor!

(I replaced it with an MSD ignition box.)


Sounds like you would like NASCAR.

Its all fun and games until you lose a couple billion in your sport from tobacco sponsors.

Another poster had a YouTube link of a famous F1 driver. I couldn’t help but notice all the Marlboro advertising.

Apart from watching on TV and the movies, my only brush with this world was a 1/2 day spent interviewing at McLaren in 1990. It was very clear from every engineer I talked to that they had fairly low opinion of the drivers. One of the projects we discussed was a new telemetry system, its primary purpose to allow them to prove conclusively when the driver did something stupid.

I didn't take the job if anyone was curious, for personal reasons. Too much travel required to F1 events..


McLaren’s driver duo in 1990 were Ayrton Senna and Allen Prost.

Are you sure the engineers weren’t just petty little creatures trying to get some spotlight?

I can assure you that no engineer could win a race against either one. Additionally, Senna has proved that he do “well” with much inferior cars, there must be something going on there as well...

As someone who races every now and then for fun, I can assure you that there is skill involved and domain knowledge. A lot of domain knowledge.


> I can assure you that no engineer could win a race against either one

You could turn that around and say that no F1 driver could design a car that would win in aero dominated F1 (mid 70s? onwards).

The car dominates in modern F1, you need look no further than the current Mercs.

Sure a good driver can outdrive the car but do you honestly think that Hamilton would've won in 2015's McLaren?


I took one of those 3 day racing courses (lots of fun, highly recommended!). We drove Formula Fords, with classroom lectures interspersed with track practice.

Early on, we were limited to 50 mph, and were sent out to practice racing lines around Watkins Glen. We thought we were hot stuff wheeling hard around the turns.

Then the instructor told us to get in the van and he'd drive us around giving us pointers. He drove with his left hand on the wheel, and his body turned around facing backwards at us while he lectured us. He was sliding the van around the turns at 70 mph, and I doubt his heart rate exceeded 70 BPM.

It was a very humbling experience.


I've watched a couple documentaries on Senna. They'd all say Senna just drove faster than the others. Nothing said about just what Senna did to be faster, which was very frustrating. I didn't believe that Senna did anything magical.

He drive differently

He used techniques that helped the car to use the maximum possible grip, avoiding sliding or throttle partialisation

For example at Monza, in times of manual gear, he could switch from 4th to 5th in between the two turns of Lesmo, nobody else could, it meant gaining a tenth of a second every single lap and the pole position

For reference, this is how Senna throttle technique sounded at Monza's parabolica

https://youtu.be/LId5SKxljqs


Thank you, that video and the explanations is great.

This video might help explain specific techniques that he used to be faster: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4kcLyYhThE

Very illuminating, thanks! I've also heard you can get slightly more lateral grip in a turn by rapidly moving the steering wheel back and forth - for the same reason as the throttle stamping and brake stamping.

Senna and Gerhard Berger in 1990. Alain Prost had switched to Ferrari.


That is mostly about politics and blame shifting in high stress high pressure situation. And us vs then dynamic.

That does not actually show the drivers regularly do stupid things or that it would be easy for human to stop doing things the engineers considered stupid.


I totally understand where this article is coming from but it still doesn't take away the appreciation of a good driver for me. I see lot of people coming to conclusions such as "drivers don't matter" after reading such articles. I don't agree with that.

No one is gonna put Albon or Giovinazzi in the Mercedes and think "he'll be fine, we'll still win". Hamilton and Schumacher kinda put themselves up there to be in the position to dominate with the right team of engineers. They put themselves up there with their driving and team building skills.


I'm on the opinion that both Albon and Giovinazzi have a lot of potential but they both face several problems. Albon is in the back seat at Red Bull and he is in the same position as Raikkonen when he was at Ferrari: as far as everyone at Ferrari was concerned, it was 90% Vettel, 10% Raikkonen. In that sense, Albon is pretty much alone. Giovinazzi on the other hand made a very big mistake initially - he had Raikkonen of all people to learn from. Even beyond the experience, Kimi is quite possibly the most knowledgeable driver out there, not only as far as setting up a car but also sportsmanship. And it seems Giovinazzi eventually figured that out. When he started off, he acted like a truck, not an F1 driver. These days he is a lot more composed and is getting really good results, considering he is in one of the slowest cars out there. I'm pretty sure he has Kimi to thank for that.

Hamilton is a very different story - let's face it, he is the silver spoon boy. I really don't think there's a single person in F1 history who had it as easy as he did. While Michael was always riding with one foot over the edge of the rules.

It's not to say that all of them aren't incredibly talented. But it does seem to me that for most of them circumstances played a much bigger role than their actual skills. Hence the reason why I wouldn't rule out either Albon or Giovinazzi as potential champions.


Hamilton, the working class boy from Stevenage whose Dad had to work multiple jobs to support him being able to go racing in karts, is the “silver spoon boy”?

As I said, all of them have immense talent, but apart from the Red Bull-Vettel dominance era, Hamilton has always been in the best car and he was initially pushed forward by Ron Dennis of all people. I honestly can't think of anyone in F1 history who can say they were at all times backed up by people like Dennis, Fry, Lacey, Hakkinen, Wolff, Lauda from their first day in F1... No one comes even close to that. He's had it incredibly easy in F1.

Maybe he was just good enough, young enough, to get people behind him? What is with this insistence on stripping him of his agency in his success? Are people threatened by it?

At the end of the day life isn't fair. That's said, if you look at last year's season when Ferrari had a more decent car (far worse thank Mercedes still), Leclerc with all his lack of experience and poor judgement at times, slaughtered Hamilton in qualifying. That genuinely makes me question if Hamilton's success isn't largely a consequence of Merc's well known superiority. On that topic, I think even Bottas has all the qualities and skills to beat Hamilton but he is mentally losing the battle. Imagine if Hamilton had to face someone like Leclerc, Vettel, Sainz, Russel, or even Raikkonen despite his age or even Riccardo or Hulkenberg. If you look at the biography of each one of those, they had it considerably more difficult than Hamilton.

They said the same thing when Maria Sharapova beat Serena Williams.

> That's said, if you look at last year's season when Ferrari had a more decent car (far worse thank Mercedes still)

If you follow F1, you'll know that there are far more variables than this:

1. The cars perform differently at different tracks, due to their fundamental design

2. The setup is often a balance of qualifying pace and race pace, and teams may approach this differently

3. The cars are constantly developed during the season (with improvements are somewhat unpredictable) meaning the balance of power in a season can shift

.

> Leclerc with all his lack of experience and poor judgement at times, slaughtered Hamilton in qualifying.

Not sure that 7 vs. 5 pole positions is "slaughtered". Over the season, LH comfortably out-qualified everyone [1], and of course comfortably out-raced them as well [2].

[1] https://www.racefans.net/2019-f1-season/2019-f1-statistics/2...

[2] https://www.racefans.net/2019-f1-season/2019-f1-statistics/2...

.

> That genuinely makes me question if Hamilton's success isn't largely a consequence of Merc's well known superiority. On that topic, I think even Bottas has all the qualities and skills to beat Hamilton but he is mentally losing the battle. Imagine if Hamilton had to face someone like Leclerc, Vettel, Sainz, Russel, or even Raikkonen despite his age or even Riccardo or Hulkenberg. If you look at the biography of each one of those, they had it considerably more difficult than Hamilton.

We're so far apart on this, it's probably not worth continuing much further. But I strongly agree with the other person who replied to you: Hamilton hasn't "had it easy" - he's put himself in strong positions (McLaren, then Mercedes) and has been supported by strong people (Dennis, Lauda, Wolff, etc.) because he's seen as the best overall driver on the grid (qualifying, racing, speed, tyre management, racing temperament, developing and setting up a car, adaptability to different cars & driving styles, etc.). During Hamilton's time, probably only Alonso (IMO) comes as close as such a complete package.

Ultimately, F1 is a dog-eat-dog world. If Hamilton didn't make himself valuable to his team bosses through his performances --didn't make it totally in their interest to continue to employ him-- they'd drop him and move on to someone else. So ultimately, either you're saying that multiple smart successful team bosses are wrong... or maybe Hamilton really is that good.


Not F1, but super/hypercar related:

Christian von Koenigsegg is my soul brother. Engineer/CEO committed to excellence in extreme automotive manufacturing like:

- Cam-less heads (which I was always wondered why they didn't exist when I was kid 25 years ago because it would trounce VVTI).

- Complete carbon fibre wheels

- Optimized hybrid EV testbed models

- In-house, scratch-build EMS

- Highly-efficient (power per weight) motors

- Shooting for straight course speed world record

- Incredible styling and aerodynamics


Whenever any of the 'old folks' of F1 are interviewed (Lauda, Stewart, Williams), they talk about Fangio and Clark.

It's not surprising to me that they're at the top.

The in-car footage of Fangio is breathtaking.


Mostly because modern F1 is more less about driving and more about optimzing fuel consumption, tyre wear, pitstop strategy and KERS. The driver is merely a pilot doing what is instructed over the radio, unlike the V12 , V10 era where the driver had more autonomy.

>The driver is merely a pilot doing what is instructed over the radio

I think this severely understates the skill of some of the highest paid athletes on the planet.


Not taking away anything from the drivers. All of them are exceptional and possibly the best on the planet. That said, when you are racing over ~20ish races , as a team, it pretty much boils down to long term strategy and tactics.

Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey were 2 epic motorcyclists in the 90s. Schwantz had more individual wins, but it was Rainey that had more championships titles, because he was more consistent in his races and made fewer mistakes (Even Schwantz admits this in an interview)


This is kind of fascinating to think about from an evolutionary perspective: Does it pay off more to have truly exceptional individuals that can outperform everyone else at times, but may be lost due to risk taking - or - is it better to have people that can perform consistently at a very high level?

Consistency is the true mark of a good racer. I can’t remember who the quote is from but it goes like this: ”Yeah I was a great driver! On a good day I could beat anyone, Senna, Schumi, Prost I was up with the best and beating them. But that’s the thing, on a \good\* day. The real champions, they don’t have good and bad days. They’re always great. At every race, every corner.

They have immense skill. The problem is the competition is nearly equally as skilled.

We've seen this in a lot of different sports over the decades- as the field of play elevates, the variance from athlete to athlete shrinks.


That's why races in the Olympics are timed to the thousandth of a second. It's nuts.

Explain the gulf in performance between the car that Verstappen is driving and Albon.

Not sure this helps your point immensely.

The cars are very similar but obviously not the same in the sense that Verstappens car will be tweaked to his preferences, and Albons to his within the relevant regulations.

So engineering still comes into play.

On top of that Verstappen being the lead driver means that alot of engineering effort is geared towards giving him specifically the car he needs, with his teammate having to adapt within that framework.


It does help my point immensely.

> The cars are very similar but obviously not the same in the sense that Verstappens car will be tweaked to his preferences, and Albons to his within the relevant regulations.

There's the difference. Red Bull have built a car they believe is the fastest they can build. Verstappen is able to extract the most from that. If Albon doesn't "prefer it", then that's his failing, a failing that Verstappen demonstrably does not have.

> On top of that Verstappen being the lead driver means that alot of engineering effort is geared towards giving him specifically the car he needs, with his teammate having to adapt within that framework.

Why is he the lead driver? Because he's a generational talent.


I really wished there was a version of F1 with less mechanical and technical regulation to see what human ingenuity could achieve.

F1 made 1,500 horsepower thirty five years ago. If such an unrestricted series existed today, we'd probably be looking at 3,000+ horsepower, 300-400mph speeds, and either a) autopilot features (for faster-than-human reactions) or b) absolutely ridiculous levels of fatalities.

If it was up to me, I would create a race where the only limits were:

1) Combustion or electric engines only, no jets or rocket boosters 2) Should fit within a box of certain height-width-depth 3) No human drivers, only remote or AI 4) No type of weapons, or ramming, etc. Only pure speed.

I think that would have been an interesting race to watch.


The closest thing to that is probably hill climbing. Some of the unlimited cars at pikes peak are beyond insane... wings the size of a barn door

Human drivers provide a lot of human interest for the humans watching...

Just have it fly to the finish line.

Too dangerous. You got to spend the weight on roll cages to protect the driver and need rules to ensure that that happens.

See rule 3

The regulations exist both to put a cap on what the teams need to spend on R&D (if it's too much then smaller manufacturers and teams pull out and there's only two or three cars on the grid), and to make it safer for the drivers.

It bites both ways. If you restrict things heavily, the teams have to go after increasingly-expensive diminishing returns - meaning the biggest budgets usually win out.

At least if you have greater technical freedom, there’s the chance for someone from a less-funded team to concoct the next double-diffuser, as there’s probably less of a link between budget and sparks of innovation.


The solution seems simple to me: take the drivers out of the car. Let them operate the cars remotely, then they can get rid of all the safety regulations. It both removes the risk for the driver and makes the sport more exciting to see at the same time.

yuck.

The irony of course is that current very severe R&D limits on testing to reduce spending are significantly reducing competitiveness: if some team already has inferior car, they can’t improve it because they can’t test improvements!

You might end up with something like Red Bull X2010. But you'd also reach the limits of human ability to withstand G-forces without passing out, especially in high speed turns and under braking.

Maybe if we remove drivers altogether, things start to get interesting.

What I want is a race were all the cars don’t look identical.


Certainly some of that is down to regulation, but simple physics bears a lot of the responsibility. The competitive field will tend to converge on the most aerodynamic shape given the constraints of the day.

The drivers had more autonomy but it was still just the fastest car winning. The drivers now are so much more consistent and fit than their predecessors

And it's ERS not KERS these days.


Having worked in F1 can confirm. We even simulated the various aspects, engine, gearbox, vehicle (aerodynamics, breaks, tires, ...) and driver independently. So you can answer the question when you place this driver (the AI driver) into this model, what the difference would be. But normally this question is moot as you test the most important aspects, which are now the engine and aerodynamics.

But don't forget, some drivers are excellent engineers by themselves, which was ie critical for Ferrari to get proper feedback from testing to R&D. In older times they didn't have simulators as everyone else, they always tested in real conditions on their home track Maranello. Or look at Niki Lauda's famous feedback and analysis qualities. You don't get that just from engineering.

Another important aspect: budget. Money can buy better simulation and engineering, which you cannot really compete with. That's why it needs to be so heavily regulated.


Interesting analysis, but the main point remains: You can not compare drivers across different eras. Is Lewis the GOAT? Yes. Is Michael the GOAT? Yes.

The whole idea of a GOAT is just stupid. Lewis is very good, if he didn't move to Mercedes he'd be another 1 time WDC.

The best drivers make it to the top, but that's it. Alonso only won 2 and he was just as good as Lewis and Schumacher (arguably better considering what he could do in cars of almost any quality, lewis had a bad car once his entire career)


I feel stupid arguing this, but if you watched F1 during Schumacher era it was obvious that Schumacher is really the best driver. While still at Benetton, he demonstrated his abilities, then with the top car he showed enormous consistency. Other drivers haven’t achieved it in the similar cars.

When Schumacher moved to Ferrari, Ferrari was not at all the best car, far from it. But the relentless work he did there improved the car far faster than the other team could. HE made the car better. It was an era with no (or few?) limitations to testing and Schumacher was known for testing a lot more than other drivers.

I would argue that Senna is the GOAT and it’s not even close.

But yeh these GOAT conversations better with beers and stakes and people yelling at each other in person!


I hope you meant steaks...

but agreed, this is true in any sport, there's no real way to compare across eras and in the end it's just opinion.


argh, yeah steaks :-P

Hmmh, I took away the exact opposite point. They developed a model to do exactly this and Fangio from the 1950s came out on top. He raced for four different teams and the driver's contribution (versus the car's and the team's) was 58% compared to 19% today.

There is no way for Lewis to assume that much responsibility even if he wanted to though, to continue this example. I'd go as far as to argue with constant rule changes it's not even the same sport anymore, especially the gap between Fangio and Lewis etc.

I agree, cross-generation driver comparisons are really hard.


I guess what we are looking at is how good is someone relative to their peers, was Fangio a better driver compared to his peers than Lewis is now, likely, was he a better driver, we’ll never know as the two never competed.

From what I read back in the day, Michael Schumacher was 1 second faster than anybody else. Another team would have to spend $1 billion on a new engine to win against him with their drivers.

Too bad he wasn't as good a skier:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Schumacher


My guess is that as technology progresses, engineers are going to become the "main drivers of success" for many other industries as well: the airline industry, the automobile industry (self-driving cars) and so on.

Do you think engineers haven't been involved in building aircraft and automobiles until now? They've been the "main drivers of success" since the beginning of those industries.

If you mean software engineers, I think your point is only partially valid. There is room for improvement in other areas as well, such as controls, aerodynamics, energy, materials to name a few.


I meant, they're going to become MORE the drivers of success. Not saying they haven't been drivers at all, I meant their role is going to become more and more important.

What is your opinion of the 737 Max scandal? It doesn't seem like engineer's input is valued very much at the industry leading company (by market cap).

For the time being, at least, the Airbus A320 autopilot doesn’t support landing on a river.

I'd expect nothing less on HA than to shift the "essential talent" locus to the wonks. It is patently absurd.

If we go down this path we’ll watch autopilots racing soon. Not fun

Though if there are no drivers, they don't have to worry about safety. Removing that constraint would be interesting. Might want to branch it though, as it'd become something different.

Yes, I agree about the safety, but without the human element it’s just so.. Not sure if people would still be interested, it wouldnt classify as a sport

I don't know, commentated matches between eg Stockfish and Alpha Zero can be fascinating. An analysis of SOTA self-driving technologies racing at a post-F1 level sounds pretty interesting.

As a child in the ancient days of the early 2000s, I would often setup botmatches consisting of 16 'players' in Quake 3 and spectate the resultant carnage. I wouldn't venture to say it was educational or intellectual in any sense, but it was still pretty fascinating - even as a ten year old - to observe what was essentially a bunch of fake people run around on my little P3. IIRC there were user made characters that had custom bot files with distinct 'personalities', so you could throw together different combinations of bots in different maps and come away with some very different encounters.

I think a remote controlled car race would be fun to watch

Formula E + remote pilots


This is already happening https://roborace.com/

Some drivers make the most of their cars. Like Ayrton Senna.

I mean this in the most respectful way: Can someone please explain the allure of watching F1 race on TV? I honestly sat down with a few friends and we watched Kimi Raikonnen but it was not a lot of action in terms of overtaking and drama - it was mostly inching forward and making time. I fully understand and appreciate the amount of skills that go into driving an F1 car, but what is in for the spectator?

>I mean this in the most respectful way: Can someone please explain the allure of watching F1 race on TV?

I watch it because I drive/drove race cars. I love auto-racing. I love the noise, the personalities, and most importantly the cars.

I can't answer your question, really. If there isn't any draw to watch it, you probably just don't enjoy it. No shame in that.

I don't really understand why people watch football/basketball/soccer; but I understand why I don't get it -- I have no interest in the sports.

My father watches the Tour de France every year. He was an extremely in-depth established cyclist for years and years.

When I watch the Tour with him, I fall asleep. He falls asleep if I put him through auto-racing.

I think it's the same kind of thing.

If it's any consolation : your problem is a widespread one. The FIA is trying to make it more spectator-interesting next year by establishing a big wall of rule changes.


I was going to say the Tour de France is the prime example of sports most people who are not road cyclists find intolerable to watch. Maybe its just hard to grasp how powerful the aerodynamic forces are without having ridden in a high speed pace line, but lots of people watch car racing without driving 200 mph either.

Even then, the interest tends to be in key moments and stages. A final sprint, a hard climb, a segment with side wind or cobblestones. Back in the 90s, during Indurain's dominance, just about everyone in Spain tuned in to watch, but other than special moments, most people dozed off the afternoon nap.

Thanks for the take. I really enjoy Chess. I feel like I can do some calculations and see if I can guess what theyll play next. I like Rapid chess which is 15 mins per player which strikes a good balance between Blitz and classical time controls.

Even within motorsport, not everyone likes F1. For example, I find it rather boring compared to drag races and sprint cars. No doubt others will be the complete opposite.

Pretty much every popular somewhat global sport has levels of nuance, detail, backstory that will take some investment in time and interest for you to become familiar with. If the sport doesn’t immediately draw you in, don’t feel you have to keep watching in hopes that it eventually does. This is my current thesis for global sports, especially those with an audience as large as F1’s. “There’s something they get out of it that I can’t see .. and would never see because I don’t have the time to invest in it”.

Fantastic explanation. Sums up my feelings.

I don't know why I watch the every single race. I got into it because I liked the engine noise. I happened to see young Kimi Raikkonen getting into the McLaren car. That was a nice story to follow. I started to pickup other stories. Newey moving to Red Bull, rule changes, Alonso moving to Ferrari, Vettel moving to Ferrari and here I am.


International Test Cricket is another one, a single match can be 5 days, but within that are lots of battles - especially on days 1 to 3.

I understand this sentiment as someone that never understood the allure of watching racing in general. However, I have recently been watching F1 with my father-in-law who is a huge F1 fan due to his own car and racing experience.

At first, it is just cars trying to be faster than the other which can be quite boring for 305km. But, when my father-in-law starts talking about the different strategies and choices being made, it puts a lot more color to what is happening. For instance, which tires to use (they have different types), when to do pit stops, how hard to push during different segments of the race, when to overtake, etc. Also, throw in some driver/team drama in the mix and you have some interesting meta game going on.

Similarly in basketball, it is just a bunch of people running up and down the court trying to get the ball in the hoop more than the other team. Kind of boring. However, the strategies, plays and player personalities/drama that get you to the end result make it more interesting. When to full court press, when should a foul be made, when to rotate players, etc.

It gets much more interesting once the rules/strategies are clear. In F1, I think it takes a little longer to get to that point because sometimes the action can be spread out over a longer period. It is interesting to see what choices are being made in different situations.


The current rules have made the sport a bit boring. A result of the current regulations is that the better you build your aerodynamics, the more turbulence you create behind your car, which means the harder it is for another car to follow closely behind you, which means less over taking.

It also doesn’t help that one team currently has the best car by a very significant margin. They also have the best driver, and the two teams that were closest to them have fallen further behind this season (one significantly further behind).

The midfield battles are actually still quite exciting though. Those cars are a lot closer together in terms of performance, and if anything happens to one of the top 3 drivers, you can see somebody fighting for a potentially career first podium. Which is why the TV coverage will barely cover the front of the pack in most races, because the front 3 cars typically spend the whole race driving at the end of each other dirty air without fighting each other at all.

This post is very highly subjective though. This year you have LeClerc making the Ferrari (which is widely regarded as a very bad car at the moment) actually look good, and his team mate (4 time world champion Sebastian Vettel) is making it look terrible. It’s been the same story at Red Bull with Verstappen and all of his recent team mates. You’ve also got the best and worst team running the same engine.

As a side note, Kimi is currently driving one of the worst cars on the grid, so you probably wouldn’t expect much excitement from him.


This may be a meta answer, but I think it's not really about the race most of the time.

It's either about childhood memories of seeing it, remembering your friends that are far away, or having deep technical knowledge about the cars or something like that.

I used to think I didn't really like sports until I started going to bars to see Starcraft II matches. I still have good memories about it and my friends back then.

And sure, some sports have more action than others, but at the end of the day, people have feelings and sports can deeply affect people. That's not a very logical answer, but I hope others can vouch that it sorta makes sense.


This really resonates with me. I never understood why my mom would spend whole sundays with football on, but have probably watched 20 hours of worlds for league of legends in the last two weeks. I play with my friends and have for 10 years, it's part of who I am. It seems silly, I imagine, but it seems like it must be the same thing for me as it always was for her.

Have a look at F1 - Drive to survive on Netflix. I never considered myself to be “into” F1, and this series really opened my eyes to the sport and everything that goes into a race.

It provides a view that normal TV doesn’t give you, but will have you watch the regular TV broadcast of races with very different eyes.


Same here! Among many other things, it was amazing to see the amount of fighting in the midfield. It's really not just about who takes first place.

Same with NFL. I understand the sport is interesting, exciting, and has complex strategies. However, why do people care about which team wins? The players are traded freely among teams, and all teams are owned by the same business. So for example the San Francisco 49ers have very little to do with San Francisco, except for the name. If the San Francisco 49ers win, it has very little to do with San Francisco.

The Economist had an excellent article about the NFL's structure, and how it operates like a cartel, pressuring cities with varies financial threats and incentives.

https://www.economist.com/business/2006/04/27/in-a-league-of...


The ape part of the human brain cares intensely about joining a tribe, any tribe that it can identify with and be part of, and then blindly being loyal to it, while cheering the downfall of all other tribes.

If you let yourself go into the fiction of sports teams, and don't think about it too much, you can have very strong (and hopefully positive) emotional experiences.


Born to love a mediocre soccer team. They were always playing in the second or third tier when I was growing up, but just as I turned 18 they took the step up to the top tier. There were some years going up and down before they kind of stabilized in the top tiers seven won two cup finals (best days of my life), but it’s been downhill since then. I would say 10% positive emotions, 30% neutral and 60% negative emotions all in all. But what can you do? It’s not like you can change teams.

This is why football is so popular in Europe, every club has at least some players from the area in the most popular clubs. Every other club nearly only has players from the area. If you are from a town/city you very well might know a player's family, giving you the "connection" to cheer for that team.

> The players are traded freely among teams Yes, this happens more often than in the past, but there are still many players and staff that stay with an organization for an extended period of time (e.g. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick).

> all teams are owned by the same business What do you mean? Each team has a different owner.

> So for example the San Francisco 49ers have very little to do with San Francisco, except for the name' In many geographical regions, you grow up watching the team that is closest in proximity. e.g. I grew up in rural western New York State and I grew up watching the Buffalo Bills because they were the closest franchise despite being 100 miles away.

The name is just a semantic. Would you be happier if the 49ers were called the "Northern California 49ers"?


There is an American baseball team that started their life as Florida Marlins. The thinking was that they would establish this tribe mentality for all of Florida. After years of not great results in that regard they changed their name to the Miami Marlins for the same reason - to better establish a tribe. They haven’t moved locations, they are just re-targeting their brand

And yet the fans would still burn the city down if they won, regardless of the actual relation.

It used to be more exciting.

Overtaking is particularly exciting but there is less of it now, because being behind another car means turbulence and modern cars are too aerodynamically sensitive. Also, nowadays a few big teams dominate and there is no hope for the underdog.

Even now, though, playing a racing game will make it clear how difficult it is to drive these cars and that makes the boring parts of the race more compelling to watch.


I watch the first few laps intently: there’s lots of overtaking, tactics and contact. I then tune out and leave it on in the background until the last few laps.

Sort of like how I watch Cricket actually


Watching cricket is an art in itself.

I once spent 5 days watching a test match at the basin reserve in Wellington, fueled with plenty of beer.

From day 4 it was obvious the match was heading for a draw and so it did.


TIL Cricket lasts 5 days wtf.

F1 stopped being fun to watch 20 years ago, after all the stupid rules. Overtaking, DRS, tires that make you slower, qualifying changing every year.

Here's my guess:

- It's televised Sunday mornings (at least here in America), and it's way more interesting than anything else on at that time.

- It's a soap opera/drama, but socially acceptable for men to watch. You've got all the classic story tropes there (intra-/inter-team rivalries, underdog/favorite, hotshot newcomer/grizzled veteran, rich vs poor, etc.)

- People are inherently intrigued by man + machine collaborations, kids too. I didn't appreciate this until I hung around my friends' kids, and saw their amazement at any moving vehicle. Then I remembered, yes, I was once one of those kids.

With that said, I think F1 as a motorsport is pretty boring.

- If you're in it for the racing, I'd rather watch Indycar, which has the same or better racing with open-wheeled cars at 1/10th the price.

- If you're in it to see car technology translate to your road car, probably should watch a GT series instead.

- If you're in it for the technological innovation, none of those things get shared to viewers. As a data person, I would love to see how the sausage gets made, like how they translate learnings from the simulator to the real track, or the the trial & error in tweaking their aero or engine configs, CFD, etc. But for obvious sporting reasons, they can't. Like you can notice that Mclaren's nose is different, you just don't know why. Knowing why is the more interesting part IMO.


Some number of years ago they figured out that in an entire season there was a single-digit number of overtakes for the lead.

Many of that changes to the F1 rules in the last 10-15 have been an attempt to create more overtaking and "drama", but unfortunately as you said it hasn't really worked out that way.

More often than not races are won with good strategy and pit stops, not overtaking or interesting battles on the track.

Dad and I used to watch it a lot back around the late 90s/early 00s. These days I watch zero.


Presumably you saw Gasly win a race, yes? If you haven't go and watch it, if that doesn't excite you don't bother

I think Twain explains it best: http://mrbazilewich.weebly.com/uploads/6/2/0/4/6204690/twain...

You see things differently when you know how they work.


It's easier to understand if you've attended a live race. The visual, aural and olfactory impressions of the cars are breathtaking. That, and the fact that the drivers are largely trying to cover ground as fast as they can without sliding off the track is what fascinates me. I have done some club-level open wheel racing realize that the drivers are constantly on the edge of crashing. If they could go faster, they would.

The cars largely determine the success of the endeavor. It's often that following qualifying, the grid is composed of team cars side-by-side for at least the first few rows. There are exceptional drivers who break the pattern and all but carry the car around on their back like Verstappen and Leclerc.

The car technology is genuinely fascinating to me, but I'm a gearhead anyway.


I am not sure if this was something recent, if it was I can understand why someone new might find no point in it. F1 right now is going through one of the most dominating periods by a single team. While in initial days of Mercedes dominance after V6 switch, I could admire their engineering, now it just feels boring as they are so good that no team is able to compete on engineering.

But it is not like you can't appreciate other drivers. See the magnitude of difference in result that Verstappen is able to add. I think he is probably the best driver right now in F1.


Sports are a lot more enjoyable the more you empathize with the athletes, and the more you experience what's happening viscerally. I've never watched F1 before, and I could feel the excitement, concentration, and anxiety when I watched a video on YouTube.

You can increase your ability to empathize with the athletes by playing the sport. I couldn't have cared less about the NBA until I started playing pick up.

I still don't watch sports though. There are usually better things to do.


You're supposed to get super drunk and eat snacks and shout at the TV and talk about life and stuff with your friends. Gambling can also help to alleviate boredom.

Er, because of Martin Brundle? I watch a lot of F1 on TV and went to several live races, and for me F1 is more of a TV sports. The commentary makes a big difference, and also you get to see all the actions on TV (if the director is competent enough).

For me between 2000-2005 F1 was fun to watch though after 2005 there were too many regulations and all the cars were too similar. If you want to see some overtaking and drama those were some great races.

F1 is more a soap opera for petrol enthusiasts. There's much better racing out there but F1 has the drama, or at least the reporting and coverage of every who said what about whom etc.

It's obviously totally valid not to like it. I once went in person for a qualification and being on one spot on the track was not particularly great, I'm glad I experienced (for the real experience) but I prefer watching on tv where a director chooses where to go to show the best of the race every given moment.

Some reasons are more personal than others but here's my take (although I haven't been watching in the past 3 years):

1. Nostalgia, I used to watch F1 every race as a kid with my dad (we never had sports pay tv, and F1 was broadcasted free as opposed to soccer [I'm european]); we used to watch Moto GP too for that same reason and this are the only 2 motorsport I actually would still watch, I don't really have interest in any other, so this might be the most important factor.

2. races used to be more exciting, objectively: a combo of less technical/financial differences between teams, less safety rules, old school tracks (that seem to be better suited for overtakes for some reason) made it so that more drivers were able to compete for each specific position. Financial standing of a certain team is nowadays the number 1 predictor of success. Give today's mercedes to most drivers that can be called F1 drivers with a straight face and after getting to know the car they are going to do well, even compete with Hamilton. Same thing was probably true with Schumacher once he got to Ferrari (that was my nostalgia time, so it hurts to say): yes he was exceptional but 80% was the car (and arguably his ability to communicate what he/it needed to the engineers), 10% his instinct on setup/aerodynamic, 10% him being truly unique (at the time) on wet conditions.

3. pit stops, used to be more exciting (and dangerous with fuel refill) I suppose but I think it still brings a sparkle to the race, strategy and actual timing of the stops are a big moment that can make or break a driver race

4. one race is not a good measure for determining the overall excitement for the season: first of all there are better races and worse races; then overall there is some excitement from how much risk taking and calculation are involved in a race depending of current championship standings. Also, if you are so inclined there is drama in between races (usually not into that personally)

5. last, you said you followed Raikonnen: if you literally just watched 1 driver (not sure if it's possible, but I think so) by setting the camera only on his car, I'm sure you were doomed to boredom, the "race as a whole" is at least a bit fun on every race, but the race of a single driver? probably booooring: 2 hours and unless the driver somehow is fighting all the times (good car but classified last somehow?) there's going to be a lot of nothing going on.

Also races with mixed weather are very unpredictable and add a huge variable, making for usually awesome races in my opinion. Unfortunately they don't happen very often.


This entire argument is simply because Hamilton is black. He sets records and all of a sudden he can't shine by himself. Of course the team is important and very good but also so is Hamilton as is evident by his teammate who has the same car unless you truly believe Mercedes is giving his teammate a handicapped car.

Reading the first line:

> Our statistical model finds that neither Lewis Hamilton nor Michael Schumacher is Formula 1’s greatest driver

So its lame to play the racist card here.


Give me a break, let me guess, you are not black. Since Lewis got on top I have seen this argument come up, this rubbish didn't come up in the past. This same behavior happens all the time when a black person performs very well, folks find ways to take it away.

I am Caribbean but unlike you, I don't fall for the victim hood narrative. Racism is not the reason for every issues in our community.

Sure! ... and you think it's a coincidence that this article came out now? Not last year? Not 2 years ago? Hell, not 2 months ago. What do you think is the driving force behind the article?

Let's talk about the 'same car' thing.

The cars are from the same engineering firm.

They are setup by different teams of people, worked on by different teams of people, and maintained by different teams of people. There is overlap, of course, but the cars' basically have their own groups individually for specific tuning/troubleshooting/telemetrics.

If you think Valteri is getting the best and fastest crew to work on his car, the question turns into "Why would Mercedes use their best and brightest on their second in points?"

The point is : there isn't a handicapped car per se, but one of the two teams that gravitate around the drivers' is better at it's job -- thus, one of the cars has an edge.

It's a simple concept, but it has to be true. Mercedes can't simply clone their driver-centric teams over and stamp them to both sides -- so they have to prioritize their better driver having the faster team with more skill and better communication.

Sucks for Valteri, but as we've seen race after race -- he gets by just fine.


It’s like genetics in other sports. You need the best car to win, that’s a given.

But if you can’t drive at the car’s max, you won’t win.

Just like a poorly trained athlete with perfect genetics won’t win. But comparing great athletes, the one with best genetics wins.


There has been an undertone in almost all controversies in F1 for decades that technology (and by proxy, money, computational power, etc.) is gradually replacing driving skill. It's hardly an argument that just came into being because Lewis Hamilton, who has been clearly one of the best in the world for 12 years already, is now in a 6-year winning streak with the dominant team. In fact if you look at patterns of team dominance, I'd argue this is already been the case for 30 years.

Yeah, it's crazy, Hamilton is obviously amazing. He's clobbered his teammates his entire career. He was so good his in his rookie season that Alonso, himself one of the greats, quit Mclaren rather than be the number two driver!



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