There appears to be a growing trend among the Tweeting and blogging communities to mark any race which doesn’t have wheel-to-wheel action on every lap as “boring”. I’m beginning to find this a little frustrating.
In times past, a good race was often one where Participant A was in the lead and Participant B was giving chase, perhaps Participant C was in close enough quarters to threaten should the other two falter for some reason. A and B would trade fastest laps and B would eventually make a move, which may work and A gives chase as best he can, or it doesn’t and B ends up in the gravel or wall commiserating a poor move but knowing he’s laid a marker with the fast guy, and getting kudos from the fans for giving it a go. Perhaps A is faster in the twisty stuff and B has more power on the straights. Throw a bit of tyre or fuel strategy into the mix and a few more similar battles in the field, and that’s a pretty good race – it just happens to unfold over 90 or 120 minutes and there are occasional lulls between bouts of action.
It seems to me that for some this isn’t enough. For some, it seems they want to have a battles raging for every lap of the race, okay maybe not the same battles throughout but enough to sustain constant attention. I’ve noticed this in particular about fans of oval racing, specifically IndyCar and NASCAR.
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I admit there are many boring races, too many in fact. Some are abominations. Anyone who’s seen F1 at Valencia or Magny-Cours, or IndyCar at Sears Point or Nashville (you can’t have a single-file oval!) can attest to that. Or to be frank, most NASCAR races in my humble opinion! If there is a way to cut down on them sign me up right now, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that not every single race can be a thriller – that’s why we get so excited when those good races do happen – and let’s also not lose sight of the fact that there are some good races going on which aren’t edge-of-the-seat thrilling but interesting in other ways. Let’s not be so quick to criticise.
What I’m getting at is that people seem to be losing their appreciation of the art of racecraft. It isn’t all about the balls-to-the-wall side-by-side stuff. A well-executed move can sometimes take a few laps to set up, you see the driver working to close the gap, trying a few different lines while the leader tries a few lines in defence – note defence not blocking, there is a difference – and making a pass. They might even then drop back again to conserve their tyres before a final push in the closing laps. The best place to find this sort of racing in the current era is MotoGP. I’m hopeful the new F1 rules will bring back the same sort of thing there.
The IRL made it’s name by featuring ultra-close finishes after lap after lap of side-by-side action on ovals. Which is fine and all very entertaining, except it was much derided by others in the early days because the cars have so much downforce all the driver seemingly had to do was mash the throttle and turn left, unlike previous open-wheel oval races where the overtaking manouvres had more of an element of planning and racecraft about them, of choosing when to make your passing move rather than inching forward over five laps and hoping the other driver backs out. Sometimes it feels as though you might as well run a lottery to decide the winner. I like my race winners to have earned their place.
Sometimes – shock! horror! – a driver or car was faster than others and they’d build a lead of several seconds on the field. And that was fine, because they’d done a good job and had earned the win. Get a race like that now and there’s uproar.
I think a generation of fans is growing up expecting every race, or 9/10ths of the schedule, to feature countless battles through the field and multiple changes of lead. I’m sorry but that’s just not realistic. We all love it when it happens but it has to do so organically. The series can do their best to set up the cars and tracks to make it happen but at the end of the day this is the real world, this isn’t Hollywood, no matter what NASCAR does to manipulate the format to generate faux-excitement.
As I said before, I know, a lot of races are tedious and sometimes it can be hard to tell a boring race from one where the drivers are trading lap times, especially without the necessary information to hand. That type of race isn’t for everyone, I get that. But let’s just manage our expectations and not call out a race for being boring before it has even finished.