Allure of Formula 1 Racing

When news came in on the third week of February that famed F1 racers including Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, Lotus driver Romain Grosjean and Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg were wrapping up the first preseason test run at Circuito de Jerez in Spain I knew spring was just around the corner and the run up to the 2012 F1 season was well underway. This year’s Grand Prix will kick off in Melbourne, Australia on March 15th running until the 18th after which it will continue on the global circuit through Asia, North America, Europe and South America; one of my favourite locations of course being Montreal, Canada where I’ve had the opportunity to attend many races and will be returning again this June (F1 Gods permitting – and please no rain that’s only fun on TV!). But obviously the track location is only a small part of the draw; the cars, drivers and the fans create the spectacle that make the event (by the way Montreal does it well).  The drivers that I’m on the lookout for are McLaren teammates Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, Hamilton’s old teammate and nemesis, who on the last day of February’s first preseason testing set the fastest lap time.   However, test lap times can be deceiving according to BBC Chief F1 writer Andrew Benson who recently wrote in a sports article, “Testing times are a notoriously unreliable guide to real form.”  And it sounds like Alonso knows that too as he told reporters this February in Spain, “Where will we be in Melbourne? No idea.” I give Alonso kudos for keeping a clear head and not jumping to any conclusions.  It seems he, as all the other racers surely know, it’s not about the talk it’s what you do on the track that matters.  When it comes down to it high performance, in both the car and the driver, is essential.  Moreover how a driver treats himself, through exercise to build the necessary stamina and endurance and a strict diet to maintain hydration and energy, ( is literally the difference between life and death. To those questioning whether the sport is physically challenging.  Consider these facts: track temperatures can exceed 40 degrees Celsius causing a driver to sweat off three to five kilograms of his or her bodyweight; exhaust temperatures exceed 1,000 degrees Celsius; a driver can face up to five Gs as they break from 100 to zero  km/h in 15 meters (48 feet) with break temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees Celsius; hurling the car into turns at speeds in excess of 200 km/h; the average race is 60 laps and can last up to two hours all the while requiring intense mental focus.  All this takes a toll on the driver and car.  It is truly amazing. Racers, or pilots as they are called in La belle province, are daring people; it takes a special kind of person to risk it all in a 640 kilogram (1,411 pound) open cockpit car, strapped to a 750 horse power, 2.4 litre, V-8 engine revving to 18,000 RPM and traveling at speeds in excess of 300 kilometers per hour.  To put all that into perspective your average car has 120 to 180 HP, idles 700 to a 1,000 RPM while you get your coffee and doughnut, and while you manage your coffee and doughnut on the way to work your average cruising speed is 70 km/h at 2,500 RPM. But that is the allure of the F1, being on the edge.  All of your senses are tuned in as you watch, hear and literally smell the cars  as they accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in 2.5 seconds.  A special treat in Montreal during the practice sessions is to stand at the fence a mere 20 feet from the track just before the hair pin as the cars race by at 270 km/h!  But what makes it spectacularly amazing is the knowledge that a person is inside that machine relying on all they have trained for to not only win, but to stay alive.

While at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix I witnessed firsthand the destructive power of a 270 km/h crash as Polish F1 driver Robert Kubica experienced a mechanical failure just before the hairpin that resulted in a devastating crash.  From where I sat in the stands, a few feet away, I thought it was game over for Kubica.  He was motionless and his car was smashed to pieces.  Ultimately he walked away with a minor ankle sprain missing only one race, a testament to the engineering of an F1 car.  He came back to Montreal in 2008 and won.  However, he was not so lucky 13 months ago while participating in an off season rally race.  He experienced a crash that partially severed his forearm and fractured his leg.  Despite his accidents and having to confirm he’d not be ready for the 2012 season he still reportedly maintains he’ll be back.  I for one truly hope that happens. I will be tuned in March for the Australian Grand Prix.  Good luck to all the pilots and their crews in 2012! | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

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