Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Formula 1 vs MotoGP

After this weekend's Japanese GP at Suzuka I find myself enjoying Formula 1 again. I had really stepped away from the series this year because of all the political wrangling going on with the teams, the FIA, Max Mosely and Bernie Eccelstone. Too much unrest for one series to endure, I thought. They took away tire changes, introduced strict engine rules and did things that I thought were contrary to the soul of Formula 1.

Prior to the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratezenberger at the Italian GP in 1994, Formula 1 had enjoyed a heyday and zeal within the series. Following that tragic weekend were a plethora of knee jerk changes to the regulations and the design of the cars, and the series bagan to fade slightly. It had a resurgence in the new millenium but still, something was missing. I am hoping that we can return to those days of yore with hard fought battles on the track and less dominance by a single team.

Formula 1 is a war of technical dominance. While driving prowess is important, it is difficult to tell who the best driver is as technical short-falls from team to team can hamper even the best performance. Of course, a truly great driver can drive around such things and make even the most troubled car a competitive option. It also makes the truly inspired drives and drivers stand-out when they push the limits and have the car dancing on the limits of adhesion. Unfortunately, the sporting regulations have become muddled and we are now facing so many deterants to spirited racing that Formula 1 is still only a shell of it's former glory.

This season, however, has shown marked improvement with the competitiveness of teams other than the Ferrari juggernaut. Renault, McLaren, Red Bull, Toyota and Sauber all had great years and showed that they can be competitive, if only in spikes. Honda suffered badly from the get-go, but they've battled back and had a reasonable year despite all the hardships.

A series that is currently enjoying a heyday is MotoGP, the top-flight motorcycle racing series in the world. Despite being dominated by Honda's RC211V and Valentino Rossi on both the Honda and now the Yamaha M1, the series continues to be quite exciting. Each race weekend is fraught with battles throughout the field and the regulations are still open enough such that technical skill is required of the teams, but rider skill is quite a bit more obvious and attributable when the team sees either success or failure.

Add to this the sheer elegance of seeing a rider pilot a 240 bhp race bike around the careening expanse of GP circuit, and you get a renewed sense of what it means to live on a knife-edge. The brilliance exhibited by riders is uncanny as they are able to slide a bike sideways upon corner entry at speed well in excess of 215 mph. Granted, the consequences for mistakes in GP racing can be harsh, just ask Gary McCoy or Shane Byrne, but the ability of riders to reach that limit despite these risks is so inspiring, it defies definition.

There are quite a variety of teams capable of winning each round of the championship and the recent improvement in performance from Ducati is a welcome sight to break-up the Honda / Yamaha train at the front of the grid. Kawasaki has also shown a few signs of life but seeing as how they are completely out-budgeted by the other manufacturers, it is no surprise to see them struggle.

What I fear now is an F1 type of change in the regulations of MotoGP, or the introduction of so much technical wizardry that the rider is removed from the equation. Formula 1 suffered a glut of technology in the mid-90s and it made a mockery of several championship winners including Damon Hill and Jacque Villenueve... I'd hate to see the same thing happen in MotoGP, as this could spell death for the gravity defying slide-ways corner entries, tire smoking wheelies and amazing mid-corner line changes we see exhibited by the current crop of bikes and riders.

Having raced both four- and two-wheeled vehicles for 15 years, I can appreciate the technical skill required of the teams and drivers/riders in both series, but this is still no contest. Given my choice, I'll opt for MotoGP over F1 in regard to excitement per dollar as a spectator.

MotoGP has a certain draw that does not merely touch the adventurous side of your soul, it reaches in and grips it, lap after lap, until you feel a trickle of sweat on your back and the sting of tense muscles as the checkered flag falls. For me, you can feel the elation as a team and rider rejoice their victory, or resolutely declare to avenge a loss. Take a look, you might be surprised.


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