Imagine you’re sitting in a black rocket. Its 5.7m long but only 95cm high. It weighs 740kg or about the same as the Mercedes Smart Car (as in smart compared to a dumb donkey). You know the coloured little plastic box that’s 2.5m long, 1.5m high (shorter than Lewis Hamilton) built for people who think 1cm of plastic around them makes them safe from anything other than a sneeze.
Here’s the difference.
On a good day the Smart puts out 40kw, can go 0 to 100km in 19.8 seconds and with heavy wind assist is said to be able to reach 135km/h downhill. This remains a manufacturer’s claim because even professional daredevil stunt drivers refuse to drive one over 65km/h. Your black F1 rocket has a 745kw engine behind your plastic seat. Provided you weigh no more than 75kg, your carbon fibre machine can hit 336km/h (faster than the takeoff speed of a 747 or an A380) and accelerate from 0 to 100km/h in 2.6 seconds.
On the steering wheel are 25 controls, with up to 10 settings within many of those controls. On the wheel is a screen where the driver can scroll through 100 pages of information or watch himself live on Foxtel Go while making 50 gear shifts, changing his settings seven or eight times and talking to his crew. That’s all on one lap. And a normal race is 78 laps. Unlike the good old days, F1 drivers are super athletes. F1 has raised the minimum weight for every car, meaning the drivers can have a few extra kilos now. A year or so ago 63kg was about right. This season Lou Hamilton is up to 75kg. Easy if you are low in height, but not so easy if you are Esteban Ocon at 186cm. Lando Norris is 170cm. Each car carries ballast to get it to the right weight. Problem is in some races the driver lose up to 3kg (easier than weight watchers), so the driver needs to make some adjustments to the car’s set-up while cruising at 300km/h.
On top of that, the cars are vicious, brutal and unbelievably hard to drive.
While drivers can show most triathletes up, their biggest fitness problem is their necks. Your head normally weighs 4.5kg. Put on your helmet and other stuff and that becomes 8kg. So, on a corner your body is hit with a G Force of six. That means your body being slammed with a force of six times your weight. Because your head is now super heavy, your neck has to hold 40kg or about the same weight as one of your kids. One Merc official was quoted as saying that the braking force for Lou at the end of the straight “was pulling the tears out of his tear ducts and he could see them splashing on to his visor under braking”. Since he started in F1, Hamo’s neck size has expanded by 30 per cent.
While Hamo’s pay slip shows he gets about $50m a year (no overtime or super), Seb Vettel slips $36m into his sky rocket each Xmas, and Dano $28m, many of the drivers are paying to race, bringing money from Dad and Mum, a friendly local dictator or company. To have a chance of getting your child from karts to near the F1 track will cost you about $20m. Talent is important, but money is more important.
British Racing Drivers’ Club vice-president Derek Warwick told the Guardian earlier this year that the increasing costs of racing meant Britain may never produce a driver from an underprivileged background such as Lewis Hamilton again. Warwick fears many exceptional drivers will simply not progress unless they have a wealthy family. Hamo grew up on a council housing estate in Stevenage. The son of a black father, Anthony, and a white mother, Carmen, who separated when he was two, he did it tough. “I have spoken so little about my personal experiences because I was taught to keep it in, don’t show weakness, kill them with love and beat them on the track. But when it was away from the track, I was bullied, beaten and the only way I could fight this was to learn to defend myself, so I went to karate. The negative psychological effects cannot be measured.”
Anthony worked up to four jobs at a time to keep him on his kart career.
In 1999, McLaren Formula One team boss Ron Dennis signed the 13-year-old to a driver development program. In 2007 he had his first F1 drive. I believe he is now the world’s greatest driver ever. While F1 has got boring, COVID has supercharged the sport like it has many others. Last Sunday’s Turkish GP showed why. For some reason, local officials decided it needed a new surface. Combine that with rain and you’ll get why Hamo said: “It’s shit with a capital S.”
Dano said the conditions were so bad and unusual the results meant nothing. Except for Hamilton. He started sixth on the slippery grid. Within a lap some of the best drivers started spinning and that didn’t stop. Eighteen laps in he was still in sixth and patiently waited for the five in front to stuff it up. One by one they did. On basically bald tyres, the boy from Stevenage ended up 22 seconds in front.
Not only was it his 10th win of the season, his 94th win of his F1 career, but he equalled Michael Schumacher’s seventh driver’s title. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been skiing, but if you go to the slope, you’ll see all these kids fearlessly zooming by. It’s only when we get older that fear creeps in. But for me, it just never has. And when it comes to racing, it’s always about who is willing to go further, who is willing to take that extra step. I’m willing to take any amount of pain to win. I’m hungry to win.”