Sunday, May 3, 2009

In Vivo, On TiVo

Let's face it, you don't care about Formula One racing.

Americans are repelled by Formula One racing because Grands Prix are raced on road courses, not ovals. Drivers are making both left and right-hand turns, and this clearly vexes us.

Maybe you prefer to watch NASCAR (Nicotine Addled Society of Cro-Magnons And Rednecks), which is like watching people drive the New Jersey Turnpike: A mob of sociopaths tailgating and passing at hideous speeds; one distraction away from multiple vehicular manslaughter.

And you don't care that many F1 innovations are now standard issue on many cars: adjustable suspensions, traction control, paddle shifters mated to dual-clutch, seven speed gearboxes.

For the 2009 season, Formula One's governing body, the FIA, encouraged car constructors to employ hybrid technology in their racecars. The resulting hardware is a regenerative braking technology called KERS: the Kinetic Energy Recovery System. Energy that would otherwise be lost as heat during braking is captured and stored for later use as boost. There are currently two competing technologies: one that uses batteries and another that uses a flywheel to store the captured energy.

The impetus behind KERS is obviously not hybrid efficiency. It is about Formula One's dullness of late. In recent seasons, F1 cars were very evenly matched, making overtaking - the raison d'etre of motorsport - an impossibility. This year, however, drivers who use the KERS system will have a temporary straight-line advantage over those who don't use KERS, or who have depleted their KERS stores. And not all racing teams have implemented a KERS system.

But, you don't care about this awe inspiring new technology. And you probably still won't, a few years from now, after I rocket past you on the Taconic Parkway in my thimble-sized Hyundai, thumb mashing the steering wheel-mounted KERS button, reciting Whitman at top volume: "I am large, I contain multitudes!"

In case you care, the Spanish Grand Prix, from Barcelona, is this weekend. Televised practice begins Friday, May 8 at 4 am EDT. Saturday practice and qualifying begins 5 am EDT. And, the race is scheduled for Sunday, May 10, 8 am EDT.

It's not easy to care about Formula One.

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