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Episode 38

Is ‘Better’ Racing Actually Worse?

The best motor racing series are those that bring the largest crowds, but are they really the best races for you to watch? Is the best racing actually seen in the ‘worse’ categories?

This week I think I’m going to touch on a subject that many people may not think about when it comes to motorsport, and that is speed. Obviously, everyone thinks about speed in motorsport considering the metric of how good a driver is boils down to how fast are they, but I’m thinking about speed from the perspective of a spectator. More specifically, this week I’m going to be presenting my opinion that more speed equates to worse racing.

Here’s my point. We, as spectators, like close racing. Close racing provides entertainment which, after all, is why we watch the sport. My gripe is, then, that most people watch Formula One in the hope of a good race. In the hope.

I’ll continue on the Formula racing series point for a moment, as it provides a good basis for my argument. Formula 1, Formula 2 and Formula 3 have all shared a race schedule this year, therefore they provide an easy comparison. Formula 1 has had 9 races, with a grand total of 4 winners and 9 drivers on the podium. In terms of the actual racing, Austria was entertaining, as were the last 4 laps of the British Grand Prix, the 70th Anniversary GP and the Italian GP. Mugello was certainly an entertaining race, however the on-track action was almost non-existent (crashes aside). That makes 3 and a bit races of entertainment out of a possible nine. Not a great return, really.

Formula 2 has also completed nine rounds of its championship, although that equates to 18 races due to the double-race format of the championship. Those 18 races have produced 10 winners, although if we look exclusively at the Feature Races (the ones most similar in format to F1) that total becomes 6 in 9. Immediately, we see a 50% spike in the unpredictability of the main race result over Formula 1. Expanding to podiums, we have had 12 podium finishers in the nine feature races, an increase of 25%. Finally, when it comes to the subjective ‘quality’ of racing, I must admit I haven’t seen all the races yet I have thoroughly enjoyed all those I have watched.

Formula 3, like F2, has had a 9 round, 18 race season. Focusing once again on Feature races, and we have an astonishing 8 winners in 9 rounds (yet just 9 winners in 18 races in total!), making it the most open championship of the three. The number of unique podium finishers in those 9 rounds does drop in comparison to F2 with just 10 (15 in 18 races), however this could point to a more distinct skill gap between the best drivers and the rest of the grid. When it comes to the metric of whether races were ‘good’ or not, though, F3 blows its faster siblings out of the water. Almost every race gave the viewer something to get excited over, especially during the title-deciding round at Mugello this past week, where there was a tie for the championship lead going into the final race of the year, but both championship contenders were starting down the grid. Add in a third contender who started fifth, but needed to close a 9-point gap to the top two, and the scenario was mouth-watering. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the result.

Moving back to my point, and the stats speak for themselves. The slower the cars, the more exciting and unpredictable the results were. This trend can also be seen outside of the Formulae, as LMP2 fields are much more competitive and unpredictable as LMP1, for example. Even taking things down to club level, the Caterham Academy races I saw at Thruxton a couple of weeks ago were all more thrilling than the Caterham Seven UK Championship race.

The thrill of speed is clear: it makes the pilots seem superhuman, the engineering is remarkable and to say that something is the fastest gives a clear edge in the ego stakes. However, if you want to watch good, close, exciting racing, then don’t go searching for the fastest racing.

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