“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
“That was a boring race.” It was a sentiment echoed by the vast majority of TJ13 readers. I was not however lamenting the failure of F1 to maintain my interest during the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning. Making my way slowly down the numerous steps of the grandstand, I had overheard two spectators in front of me discussing the race we had just witnessed. I was stunned. After spending the better part of two hours viewing the most stunning racing machinery imaginable pass by only a few meters in front of us, they had the gall to pronounce it boring!
Now, if I had blearily dragged myself out of bed in the chill darkness before daybreak, able to keep my eyes open only with the aid of a scalding caffeinated beverage, I may have had good reason to think differently. Instead it had been a splendid Melbourne autumn day, a city well known for its ability to progress through four seasons in rapid succession. There had been sprinkling rain the evening before while we wandered the bright streets of Melbourne. Race day dawned cold and cloudy and despite Weatherzone forecasting only a minimal chance of precipitation, we pessimistically packed our raincoats. We didn’t trust Melbourne’s propensity to change its climate at a moment’s notice. But the day had lived up to its predicted perfection. Over the morning the clouds had cleared and we were left with beautiful sunshine and a cool breeze. Beyond the ebony tarmac and lush grass, sunlight danced on the glittering water of Albert Park Lake while crisp white sails of watercraft sped across it. There was no more desirable place in the world to be.
Added to that was the vision of splendour that was the cars…decked out like tropical parrots they shimmered as they zipped past. We first caught sight of them far in the distance as they rounded turn eight and headed directly towards us, slowly becoming clearer out of the haze, their engines getting ever louder as they approached. They would then flip gently (or at times not so gently!) through turns nine and ten and accelerate hard, deafening us as they then flew out of sight. It was beautiful and mesmerizing…even just during practice!
Watching a race at a track is a completely different experience to that encountered on a TV screen. In some ways you “know” more when watching it on TV. The commentators keeping us up to date constantly with every proceeding around the track, while cameras bring multiple views, up close and slow motion, of every incident of interest. The lap times are given to a thousandth of a second and the race order of the participants is scrolled constantly along the bottom of the screen. Strategy options with tyres and pit stops are discussed at length by verbose and erudite experts.
At a race mere statistics pale into insignificance. We had a screen…small…distant…and inconveniently crosshatched by the metal safety fence so that very little was clearly visible. It could not be compared to sitting at home only a few meters away from a crisp, high definition widescreen TV. It was more akin to watching a U-Tube Formula One race from the 1980’s…blurry and indistinct with commentary in an unintelligible and unidentifiable foreign language. We did have the privilege of track side commentators but this was overshadowed by the roar of the engines as they hurtled past. Spectators really will have something to complain about when the engines are so quiet you can actually hear the commentary – we are definitely not there yet!
This was my second race attendance. Last year I had thought it would be impossible to watch a race without commentary, not knowing what was happening at the far ends of the track which were out of sight, though the cars were still audible as they alternately slowed and accelerated. This year I knew that trying to know everything that was happening everywhere only took away the enjoyment of watching the spectacle that was in front of me. I only occasionally looked at the screen, content instead to watch and listen to the action that was concrete and palpable….seen and felt…the engine reverberating in my chest, the colours flashing past, the sensation of speed undefinable and mysterious.
And there was plenty to watch, despite the fact that not much “racing” happened. Initially the cars were close together, nose to tail, but as the laps went by the gaps started to stretch. The two Mercedes appeared to be attached by a two second piece of string, both strolling around the track with nothing to fight for. I strongly suspect the race had been decided the day before by who had achieved pole or possibly who had the ascendance when they both reached the first corner.
At the other end of the field there was the battle for last place, ex-teammates Jenson Button and Sergio Perez fighting it out between them. Jenson must have known it was going to be a losing battle, but he refused to give up the fight, forcing Sergio’s car into a spin when he attempted to push his way past the sluggish Mclaren-Honda. I observed the absence of Perez even before it was televised, noticing that he was no longer sitting on Button’s tail. A minute later the blurry TV screen showed the spin when Perez hoped that Button would take pity on him and let him past…tough luck as Vettel would say.
A race forces you to think, not just sit and watch. You have to keep track of pitting and passing, using your memory to recall the race order. The gaps in seconds between drivers are no longer significant…you can see the actual gap in front of you, increasing or decreasing as the race progresses. Kimi pitted early and we then got to see him with clear air in front of him, pull out, lap by lap, a massive gap to those behind. Massa was undercut by Vettel during the pit stops and for the majority of the race he had settled for fourth place, waiting to see if tyres or fuel would allow him to fight for third. With about 15 laps to go he suddenly picked up the pace, and it was obvious from the way he drove. Instead of just touching the inside corner of both curbs he suddenly started braking harder, hitting the curbing harder and deeper and then accelerating faster. He kept this up for half a dozen laps before deciding that he had no hope of catching Vettel and backed off again until the end of the race.
Even a monotonous race is fascinating when watched in real life. There is too much going on and to have to think about to be bored. The race is not the mere sum of how many seconds there are between drivers, how many pit stops they have done, how much fuel they have used and who has passed who. It is watching the cars, lap and after lap, as they go through the same few corners. After a few laps little changes become noticeable that are invisible on television. It completely changes the way I watch races on TV, knowing now what the cars look like and sound like in real life, loud, fast and beautiful, instead of being emasculated as they are on the small screen.
I think today we have been spoiled. Real life can pale into insignificance compared with what we can see on a screen. Television shows us everything but because of that we are bored, because no longer do the little things matter. Maybe one day I will have attended enough Formula One races to be bored…but hopefully that day will be a long time coming!