Sunday, June 19, 2005

USGP Weekend/F1 Primer

This weekend is the Us Grand Prix here in Indy, and F1 racing is my OTHER great love in sports. Today will be the first time in 4 years that I haven't attended the race. I went to the practice and qualifying sessions yesterday and the day before. So pardon the non-baseball interlude. Here's a brief baseball fan's guide to F1.

F1 has a lot of parallels with MLB. Both are among the more capitalistic organizations in sports. There are definitely the haves and the have-nots. Here's an easy guide for what team is what.


They're the richest teams in their sport, and the glamour team. They've also been dominant over the last decade, but they're both struggling a bit this season. The each have the highest paid athlete in the sport (Michael Schumacher and A-Rod) and an iconic uniform (pinstripes and the NY and Ferrari red with the prancing horse logo). If you like to root for the evil empire, you'll probably love to root for the guys from Maranello. Still, nothing epitomizes the glamour and excess of F1 quite like this team. One place where the comp breaks down is in the decision-making process. Ferrari is organized, disciplined, stable, and extremely competent. There is no George Steinbrenner looming over everybody like the Sword of Damocles.

McLaren-Mercedes and Williams-BMW=Giants and Dodgers

They are the traditional powers of F1, and also bitter rivals. They are also mega-rich and driven to succeed with big fanbases. Here in Indy, you're likely to see a lot of McLaren gear since Indy is annually dominated by Columbians, who root for their favorite son, Juan Pablo Montoya.

Also note their rival German engine suppliers. This has surely upped the stakes of their rivalry over the last few years, but it won't be this way for much longer. BMW and Williams have been bickering at each other and will surely go their separate ways at the end of the season. The hot rumor is that BMW will buy the Sauber-Petronas team and make the engines AND cars. No word yet on who Williams would recruit to build their engines.


Renault has risen to prominence over the last few years on the strength of their smarts. They've developed a car that has incredible stability and efficiency. And while they're still likely to spend piles and piles of cash, the emphasis is never on their budget but rather their ideas and their ability to develop great designs.


Toyota just showed up a few years ago and have spent more than anybody besides Ferrari over that period of time. It's starting to pay dividends too. They had been milling around at the back of the pack until this year, and now they're in the fight for poles and race wins. Jarno Trulli won the pole yesterday. Like Arte Moreno, they have deep pockets and a deep desire to win.

BAR Honda=Phillies

They show flashes here and there of being a really, really fast team, but it always seems to fall short. Even last year when they finished 2nd in the constructors championship, they seem to have been overshadowed by Renault and the ever-present Ferrari.

One BAR note, I remember a race weekend several years ago where they were blowing engines like they had an unending supply. And it isn't just that they were trashing motors, it's the way in which they were blowing them up, in explosive, smoky glory. It was like they were fogging for insects. I think they ended up going through half a dozen engines in 3 days with 2 cars. Unbelievable. When you're at 19,000 RPM, you don't get a check engine light and a funny smell.

Sauber-Petronas=Blue Jays

They're the best of the perennial backmarkers. They run Ferrari engines and have a rich owner in Peter Sauber, however they don't spend the kind of money they need to spend in order to catch up to the big boys.


They were pretty good a long time ago. At this point they've resigned themselves to being just another team that very few people pay attention to. If you want some entertaining follies, watch the Jordan drivers try to keep their cars on the road while the car desperately tries to spin like a top.

Minardi=Devil Rays

Hopeless. Unlike the Rays, they're content with where they are. They know they're not going to compete with their fellow Italians. They'd settle for just not coming in last. Recent meltdowns by Jordan have started making that a reality.

Other notes from the Grand Prix:

-I don't want to hear anybody gripe about how drivers aren't athletes because all they do is drive a car, and anybody could do that. That's a steaming pile of it. Driving a competitive F1 car has about as much to do with your daily drive to the megamart as playing put-put with your 5 year old has to do with playing a round with Tiger Woods. It's a demanding, harrowing activity and the closest experience you'll ever find to flying with the Blue Angels. They see G-forces that push close to the limits of the human body. 3-5 lateral G's in high speed corners, 4+ G's under breaking, and then a G or two in acceleration. They burn about the same number of calories as your average pro tennis player in a 3 hour match. Almost all of them train year-round, relying heavily on building very lean muscle and maintaining great cardio fitness. For instance, the IRL's Tony Kanaan runs triathlons in his spare time.

-Columbians are fun. They turn the race into a big soccer match. Sometimes I wonder if there's anybody left in Columbia or if they asked Peru to watch their stuff while they're gone.

-There can't be more than 2 or 3 sports facilities in the country that have more planes fly over them than IMS. Shea Stadium is probably one. Seriously, every time I go to the track, there's a plane that flies just south of the track about every 5 minutes. Sometimes they're close enough that you can tell what carrier they are. I spotted 2 FedEx's and a Southwest. The airport is about 15 miles away on the west side. However, due to FAA regulations, you won't see planes around there on raceday. 9/11 rears its ugly head.

-The facility is huge. If you go there, wear comfortable walking shoes because you'll probably walk at least 5 miles per day.

-Also if you go, try to use the least traveled route to the track. Go up or down interstate 65 to the 29th/30th street exit and go west towards the track. You'll end up at the north gate where you can park for free on Friday and Saturday, or for a nominal fee on raceday. I forget how much it is (maybe 10 bucks?), but it sure is cheaper than the $20 you'll pay to park in some guy's yard and the traffic, while busy, is still easier to deal with than on Crawfordsville Road and 16th street.

-Lastly, if you go, bring your own snacks and drinks. In general, come prepared. Me and the wife usually bring a cooler filled with 2 cans of soda for each of us, a container of fruit, some carrot sticks, and 2 bottles of water. And we bring a backpack with a can of chips, a camera, a pair of binoculars, and earplugs. You save a ton of money by not buying overpriced drinks 4 or 5 times a day, though if you're a beer drinker (which I am not), you could justify a few oversized cans of Fosters. And the earplugs are important. Protect your ears and have fun.

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