How A1 has shown F1’s Failures

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Team New Zealand flies by at Brands Hatch. Photo by Tim Wheatley.

Team New Zealand flies by at Brands Hatch. Photo by Tim Wheatley.

We all accept that when someone is a Formula One World Champion, they deserve to be. Whether they have rammed someone off the road in a last race move or dominated from the moment the season started, they’re still the best driver, right?

Now A1 has started I have begun to think hard about F1 and I don’t like what I’m seeing anymore. I have been a fan of Formula One since the day I was born, my family would all wake in the early morning to watch races from East Asia, we would scream at Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill and every other hero we picked out of the grid, so what has changed?

Honestly, nothing has changed, perhaps that is the problem. The fans want to see wheel to wheel racing and see the best driver come out with a World Championship, but in a series like F1, can we be sure the best driver wins, can we say that the best driver wasn’t stuck in an uncompetitive car?

This year the results in F1 have shown exactly what bothers me. How is it that a man who has won so much in recent years suddenly finds himself pushing hard just to finish in the points? If Michael Schumacher fails to win the Championship, surely he is not the best driver.

Is Fernando Alonso a better driver than all those he beat to the championship? Or, as I have disturbingly realised recently, did he just have the best car in terms of both speed and reliability?

A1 has made me realise something, something that doesn’t take away my respect for F1, but most certainly alters how I view the Championship and it’s driver skill levels.

I now wonder that if any driver from this years Formula One season were to drive a McLaren or Renault, whether race wins or championship challenges would be possible. I wonder now whether Raikkonen or Alonso are infact as good as they look, I wonder if F1 is nothing but a display of technology.

If I were to list the ten most important elements in a successful challenge for an F1 title, I would probably be able to fill out most of these with parts of the car.

Of course luck would probably figure, but would the driver? Does the driver of an F1 car make that much difference? Had Michael Schumacher not existed, would Rubens Barrichello now be a six times World Champion through his time in the best car?

Luck is a word. It is a word used to describe when events betray reality. In F1 terms, bad luck is a mistake during a pitstop out of the team or drivers control, it is weather changes and equipment failures. I believe that luck plays a larger part in becoming a Formula One Champion than driver skill.

I believe that Kimi Raikkonen may be a better driver than anyone else in Formula One at this time, but like many drivers I have felt this for, Kimi could quite easily never be a World Champion. So having offended every Finnish reader, let me explain.

In 2005 Kimi Raikkonen was probably the best driver in probably the best car and as I have said, I believe F1 is largely about the car alone, so the only reason I see Kimi didn’t win, was the reliability of his car.

I don’t see these failures as bad luck, I see them as problems with the equipment McLaren provided him with, which again takes the result away from one driver being better and even takes the result away from a question of luck.

So having explained how I feel about F1 right now, perhaps an explanation of A1 is in order. Well, how much of a difference is the driver going to be in a series where all teams have the same equipment, cars, tyres and testing time?

The difference between winning and losing in A1 seems much more focussed around the ability of the driver to drive and the team to prepare the car for that driver both in terms of car setup and equipment fitting.

If a failure in F1 can be caused by equipment provided to the driver by the engine supplier, failures in A1 can often be put down to luck because each driver uses the same chassis, engine and tyres. If a failure is caused by the team fitting the equipment wrongly, at least it’s the same for everyone.

Maybe if we looked at electronics also my problems with F1 become even bigger in scale. More unfair differences between F1 cars come from their launch software and traction control systems. This can be the difference between a good and bad start, or taking a corner flat or with a lift off the throttle.

Before the A1 season got underway, Jos Verstappen was acting like he had already won the series. Now he has realised that in a series where every driver has the same equipment, this former F1 podium finisher is not finding it easy to qualify well or finish in a good position. He has since put his difficult start down to the A1 chassis and how difficult it is to drive without aids.

When Jos last raced in Formula One, he raced with the same electronics they have now. He had traction control, he had gear shift aids and he was more of a passenger than a driver.

Formula One is an excellent showcase of modern technology and aerodynamic excellence, but in my view it fails to show us the best driver in a clear way and it cannot unless the cars were somehow equalised, it would never happen, but what if it did?

I am a fan of NASCAR. It has equalised cars. With them it should be possible for almost anyone to win, but it’s very rare that they do. The same few win again and again, because they are the best.

As A1 Grand Prix has shown, open wheel racing of an equalised nature can produce a great show for the fans, it can produce side by side racing, it can produce passing in competitive racing, it can give a showcase of driver talent and pit crew skills but best of all, it does it on tracks fans have wanted to see quick open wheel cars running on for years.

A1 is not a rival to F1 because of their differences. In my view the two series compliment each other and while I grew up watching F1, I have evolved and A1 has evolved with me. I want to know who the best driver really is, I can no longer see that in F1.

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Tim is British and lives in the United States with his wife and kids.

He works for software developers Image Space Inc. and Studio 397 on their racing simulations, and is a fan of Gaming, Motorsports, and photography.