You glance to your left, and see one of your rivals revving his car. You look to the right, and see the screaming audience waving banners in support of their favourite team. The stands are packed. You tighten your grip around the steering wheel, and start to mildly push the throttle to warm up the engine. Eyes closed, you clear your mind. You feel the roar of the audience get more intense as the lights are about to go off. At this point, everyone is jamming-down hard on the gas, clutching their brakes tightly.
You let go of the brakes and feel the kick of the howling, 800-horsepower V10 in your back. In an effort to lead the pack, you shift through the gears to reach 340 km/h, before slamming on the brakes and dropping to 80 km/h moving out of the first corner and into the chicane, all whilst trying to not throw up due to the massive G-forces acting on you. You watch out for people trying to overtake and hit the apex around the Ascari curve, going up to 270 km/h, before going hard on the brakes again, narrowly overtaking an opponent with every passing opportunity. You go up the hill onto the Parabolica corner, navigating through the series of curves, struggling to maintain the pace at over 330 km/h. You head out and accelerate onto the starting line.
You are Michael Schumacher, racing for Scuderia Ferrari and you just completed one lap of the Monza National Autodrome.
One down. Fifty-three more to go.
Welcome to the 1999 Italian Grand Prix.
If you’re confused at this point as to what you just read, this is a brief description of an “average” race in Formula 1. I say average in quotes because there’s nothing average about risking your life in the pursuit of speed.
The three days of an F1 weekend, right from the qualifying session to race day, the threshold for human performance goes up. A special breed of men, for whom fear simply doesn’t exist, at the helm of their power-hungry beasts, try to course their way into a win. It seems like an ideal combination of man and machine, clawing their way to victory. So daunting, that they stare death in the eye, while tearing down the track. The drivers live more in the few hours they drive the car than most people do in their lifetimes. One thing’s for certain, this isn’t for the weak-hearted.
The fascination towards speed in man has been around forever. When we invented the motorcar, the first thought to graze the minds of the speed-freaks then were to break the land speed record. This inexplicable desire to go faster can only be termed as mildly insane. Knowing full-well of the inherent risks involved with the sport and deciding to go forth with it, their hearts raging with passion, I find no term to describe it but beautiful.
Motor racing has come a long way since its inception; there used to be a time when safety wasn’t even an afterthought, when drivers had to play their cards right, as one false move could prove to be fatal. The death of every braveheart over the years has paved the way towards a much safer routine now, and the inherent risk involved has reduced by a huge margin. But in this field, there is no possible scenario where the environment is completely safe; there is always an element of risk.
When people, man or woman, young or old, dare to go fast on anything, they accept that this risk might be fatal. They are deemed crazy or the cliche of having a “death wish” is brought up. The statement in its entirety is ridiculous; nobody wants to die. It just so happens that every now and then, the odds are not in their favour. No one ever gets into the car thinking its their last time. Nobody forces them into this profession either. It is purely out of their thirst for glory, and more importantly, breakneck speeds.
Oh, and did I mention the reason for this being the greatest sport in the world? It is a culmination of all the greatest qualities as a human. Technology, that is so cutting edge that we’ve now evolved to precision instruments of aerodynamics and speed from a racer sitting in his car trying not to fall off at corners.
It demands the drivers to be very athletic, focused, on the edge and strong. Knowing what’s at stake, a fine control over your body with lightning fast reflexes is a necessity.
Millions of people from different nationalities find themselves huddled around a TV screen, barring all differences and supporting their favorites, uniting everyone. The thought of the sheer insane logistics required to carry around an event of this grandeur, all the people involved in carrying out the race, without a single flaw gives me a rush.
The research and development involved has far-reaching benefits outside the world of motorsports as well. The race car condition monitoring technology developed for the cars are used in urban rapid transit trains, or come to think of it automatic transmissions, button ignition, active suspensions, high intensity modern brake calipers, limited slip differential, anti-lock braking systems facilities seen on any car today traces its origin to racing. And the list can go on.
If I were asked to put a label on this article, it’d be a chore as I’m not really sure what this is, so let’s call it an ode for now. An ode to motor racing.
“A lot of people dismiss Formula 1 as an unnecessary risk. But what would life be like if we only did what was necessary?”- Niki Lauda, F1 World Champion (1975, 1977 ,1984)