The Pagoda at
Indy makes an impressive backdrop
I'm totally getting away from myself, here, but what the
heck, the Formula One season hasn't started yet. I'm free to choose how and when I cook my meals. As of this current moment, my dish is the US Grand Prix. It's been awhile since I've taken out my pots and pans, so I must start slow. Indianapolis is the main course I have in mind. So allow me to stretch out and warm-up.
Despite the fact Indy was only the second Formula One race I've ever attended--the other was the truly, pathetic 1991 US Grand Prix in Phoenix, Arizona--I felt sure F1 had found a suitable home in the United States. Like a great many of other attendees visiting the Speedway for the first time, I was duly impressed. The enormous scale of this race facility brings about a deep sense of awe. Our first day was qualifying. Entering the gates, surrounded by a huge, multi-national crowd, my heart was pumping. I couldn't believe how anxious I was to climb the stadium stairs just to SEE the famed oval. I had to remind myself that I was there for the Grand Prix, not the 500.
It did not disappoint. The atmosphere surrounding the weekend was fantastic. The large pictures, in the concourse, of previous 500 champions made sure we were aware the fact this was, and is, the most famous race track in the world. But the fact remains, the surroundings are only a appetizer to the full meal. As it turned out, the appetizers were far better than the meal itself. Let's examine how.
First of all, the enormous reaction by the American fans, to the Formula One cars and their banshee engines was electrifying, but one wonders, how long will that last. Maybe that thrill never goes away, but certainly, people will demand more than the noise alone. This is a race, after all, not an exhibition. Why can't it play out like one?
Second, the track layout was a large let-down. With the name Indy, comes a tradition of speed, skill, and bravery. The list of drivers that have won at this track is a sampling of greatness: Clark, Hill, Foyt, Andretti, Unser, Fittipaldi, Mears. The list is endless. Despite the fact Michael Schumacher added his name to the list does nothing in the way of endorsing the current F1 circuit. It is fast, but unchallenging. It is pretty, yet quite homely. Truth be told, the circuit is nothing more than an off-ramp to the legendary freeway. It appears that Formula One is ignoring Indy, just to be at Indy.
Third, as an American F1 buff, it embarrasses me to see F1 and those in charge, acting so arrogant and foolish. Maybe that is how it goes at every GP, but it doesn't paint a pretty picture. Someone needs to tell Bernie Ecclestone that a simple press conference can be just that, a simple press conference. Reading the transcripts of Bernie's sit-down with the American media leads one to believe Bernie has much to hide. Sample question:
American journalist: "Bernie, is it true that today's Formula One drivers make more money than ever before?"
Bernie: "You can't prove that! This bloody interview is OVER!!"
The Jaguar cars
cross the famous yard of bricks
Before I go any further, I must admit, I was dead wrong about the Grand Prix at Indy. When the race was announced, I was sure that there would be no more than 50,000 people attend. When it was announced that the race was sold-out, I was shocked. I was even more stunned when I found out how many American fans attended the race. Clearly, Americans were giving F1 a chance. Hey, when I get something wrong, I don't go about it in a half-assed way, I get completely
F1 had a lot going against it in Indy. Among them: no American drivers, a boring race, and if fans wanted to see a driver, it would only be on a close-circuit television. On the upside, it had those rabid V-10s. It was curious to see what some of the American journalists had to say about the race. Robin Miller, of the Indianapolis Star, said "watching cars come through turn one the wrong way was akin to blasphemy". I know a great many Indy-purists feel this way, but I feel they're off mark. With all due respect to Miller, Indy and it's history and tradition, I don't feel F1 was spitting on the sidewalk, so to speak, by running at Indy clockwise. Perhaps the attitude in the paddock said otherwise, but running "backwards"? I don't seem to think that is quite the sin others do. In fact, running backwards in F1 often seems quite appropriate.
No, what really bothers me about Indy is the track layout. When the F1 cars came through Turn One of the Indy track, onto the front straight-away, they were flat-out. But there was no challenge. Many of the drivers spoke of how it was merely a run through the gears, despite the ninety-degree turn. Then, there's the boring infield section. The ridiculous, double-hairpin before heading back out onto the "Indy" portion of the track. For a track as glorious as Indy, this layout was a real snoozer. Now, we must know how those close to the Nurburgring felt, when the diapered-down version of legendary circuit reappeared in F1.
After the race, there was talk of incorporating sections of the back-straight and Turn Three into the circuit. This was a good start, and Tony George would be wise to entertain any suggestions on improving this cookie-cutter F1 circuit. I think for the most famous track of them all, a glorious circuit should be mandatory. Shouldn't Indy be just as demanding, and challenging as the sport's other landmarks, like Spa and Monza? As great as the atmosphere and historic surroundings Indy brings, it should pose as much challenge, for the drivers, as those other famous circuits. Spa has Eau Rouge, Monza, the Parabolica, and Indy has...Turn Thirteen? That certainly won't overtake Eau Rouge anytime soon.
No, what I think they need to do at Indy is rather simple. Turn the cars around, and run in the traditional Indy direction. Make Turn One, Turn One. If the cars ran in the traditional way, they would reach the final turn( the old Turn One) on the north end of the track, get a full head of steam down the straight, hit Turn One as fast as they dare, and nail the short chute with the throttle still buried. Then, I would use as much of Indy Turn Two as possible, before heading into-and over the now-deceased hairpins-the infield section. That's my solution.
Could it work? I think it could definitely work, and I think something of that sort would do Indy justice. It seems foolish to totally ignore the "oval" aspect of this course. As it is now, the front-straight is merely a lead-in, to a typically slow F1 corner. If the direction were reversed, the front-straight would make the first turn a serious bender, and a supreme driving challenge. Would they take it flat-out? I will be first in line, for those tickets. Indianapolis...Turn One...yeah, I like the sound of that. But would it work?
Why wouldn't it? Tradition? Traditionally, Formula One races run clockwise, but not always. Brazil and Imola run in the American direction. What's stopping F1 from running anti-clockwise at Indy? It would seem appropriate for Indy.
Safety? Almost certainly, some sort of barrier could be placed in front of the concrete walls, if needed. Formula One cars are supposed to be at the forefront of technology and safety. Why, then, can't modern F1 cars negotiate Indy's turns at full speed? Because they're not built for a track like Indy? Why not? These ARE the most advanced racing cars in the world, are they not? That's performance AND safety. Max Mosley says so. So again, why not? There isn't some sort of fear of running lower speeds than the Indy cars, is there?
Don't, for a second, believe 2000 Indy winner, Michael Schumacher, when he said, "With that wall there, I would rather not go any faster. You know, we Europeans are bit more chicken than Americans." I would imagine Michael would have gotten an argument from Graham Hill, Jimmy Clark, or Niki Lauda with that comment. No, I think that's Michael's show of respect, genuine or not, to Indy and it's drivers. You can bet your ass if the GP were run in the opposite direction than it is now, Michael Schumacher would probably be quickest around Turn One, and the rest of the circuit. Jacques Villeneuve admitted he wished they could run the full oval. What does it mean? It means Schumacher might not prefer to go faster through Eau Rouge, but he does, because he's a race car driver. Just like he will go through Indy's Turn One faster than he would "prefer".
Of course, this is all a wish. Just like big, fat slicks, more passing, titanium sparks, and the old, wide cars. And we know where those things lie. No, there's little room in F1 for constructive criticism, for that would pose as weakness. So, chances are, we will get stuck with another robot race course that inspires boredom from the drivers, and drowsiness from the fans. It all seems, either, a potential goldmine, or a complete waste of time. With the atmosphere Indy emits, it's a shame the course itself is such a bore. But it doesn't have to be that way. I say, add a little tradition, a dash of bravery, and a sprinkling of competition. Serve at 75 degrees and sunny skies.
I just read Planet-F1's web site. On it was an article about BAR's Oliver Panis. He was quoted as saying it would be "morally wrong" to reveal any vital information from his time as the McLaren-Mercedes test driver. He said that his "respect" for McLaren would prevent him from giving away too much information. That sounds noble, doesn't it?
Panis, however, needs to ask himself, whether or not nobility will help him win races. Panis makes his "secret" information seem pretty important. Is it important enough to give BAR, and consequently, Panis, a leg up on McLaren? Are we to believe that Panis would not use ANY information from his time at McLaren for the betterment of BAR and himself?
My technological expertise, and inner-knowledge of modern F1 teams techniques sits high up in the cheap seats. I have no clue if the information Panis knows would benefit BAR in any way. But if it could, wouldn't Panis be a damn fool for not taking advantage it? Is he STILL under contract at McLaren?
It makes one wonder of Oliver Panis's F1 goals. Are they to become a champion? Or are they to please Ron Dennis? Surely, Panis is blowing smoke up our backside. Surely. Put yourself in Ron Dennis's shoes. Your McLaren team hasn't been doing so great. Say Oliver Panis just won a World Championship in a dominant Williams. Say you signed Panis to a contract. Think it's possible that you might ask Panis a question or two about Williams?
Now put yourself in Craig Pollock's striving shoes. You're the boss for the underachieving BAR team. You just signed McLaren's chief test driver. The car that Panis tested on, the McLaren-Mercedes, has been the car to have the past few seasons. Think you might have a few questions for Panis? And you have millions of reasons to expect Panis to reveal all he knows.
If we know one thing, it is this: the modern Grand Prix driver is a greedy, selfish bastard. He knows no bounds when it comes to getting his his hands on the latest, fastest, most advanced equipment around. If that means cutting the knees out from under a teammate, so be it. Whatever it takes. That's not hyperbole. That's fact. Even from the cheap seats, it's crystal-clear.
If Panis wanted to be truly noble, he would have stayed on at McLaren as a test driver. There, he could give Dennis and McLaren all the respect they could ask for. But Panis wanted to race. At McLaren, he didn't have that opportunity. Hence, the move to BAR.
Maybe we take Panis at his word. Perhaps he wants to exercise his race legs till an opportunity at McLaren shows up. If that's the case, Panis will not endear himself at BAR. But recent comments from BAR team boss, Pollock, indicate the opposite. Indeed, Pollock has indicated that Panis already has the team fully behind him. In other words, whatever Panis learned from McLaren, however significant, has already been utilized. Panis didn't sign at BAR for Ron Dennis. He signed there for his own selfish reasons. To win.
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