Start of the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix, image courtesy of Daimler Global Media.

F1’s New Rule Adds to Racing Excitement via Less Technology, More Humanity

I was rolling through my RSS feed when I saw this from Wired.com:

Beginning this weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix, drivers now need to estimate the perfect clutch bite point, without outside help, and set it manually.

 

The goal is to introduce some variability into the race start and increase the level of competition, to make things a little more old school and less predictable. Getting a good jump off the line can set the tone for an entire race—once the cars are going, opportunities to pass competitors can be rare. Drivers will be desperate to get it right. 

 

This is just the latest effort by the FIA to emphasize driver skill over computer power. Last season, it changed its rules to limit how much information about the car pit crews can give the drivers via radio.

 

If you’ve driven a manual transmission car, and wanted to beat someone off the line, you know how critical it is to get the clutch to bite correctly.  If you leave the clutch out too long, you feather the engine trying to find the point where the clutch firmly engages with the transmission–the bite point.  If you do it too fast, you could stall the engine–missing the bite point altogether.  Until this Sunday, F1 drivers relied upon computers to tell them the optimal bite point.

Overall, this is very good.  One thing that is fun about F1 is to see guys like Lewis Hamilton come charging back from a few places back to take the lead and go storming on to another podium finish.  But, in most cases over the past 3 seasons, he’s started from the pole position and was either first or second after the green flag.  If you’re a Lewis fan, or a fan of AMG Petronas Racing, the drama was in watching them fend off the myriad things that could go wrong during a race.  If you weren’t a fan, then maybe the scenario was closer to the sports adage that goes “my favorite team is (insert name here) and anyone who’s playing the (insert name of least favorite team here)”.

So it is all about the start.  Unless they’re going to ban Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg from the first two rows, a move like this will inject a little bit of the unknown back into the start.  Maybe these guys are as good as the machines that told them where the bite point was.  We will certainly find out.

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Sebastian James

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