An Ignorant American on Baku 2018

Note from the Ed: Grizzly Adams is a self confessed “ignorant American” who’s just discovered the world of Formula 1. Despite this, he already has a fast growing following on Drive Tribe. Be sure to join him there too.

When I started writing about F1 I really had no idea that so many of you would enjoy it. I do it because it’s fun!

“Ignorant American” thing, and the short answer is that I am both of those things. I had surgery in February followed by a lot of recovery time, so I did some homework on F1 before the season started but Melbourne really was the first race I ever watched. The longer answer, though, and I think what resonates with a global audience, is the multi-layered joke about Americans in general. We aren’t known for our open-mindedness or ability to self-reflect.

The fact that an actual American would admit ignorance about anything is funny in itself, but it’s also funny to me to then juxtapose that title with my best attempt at entertaining, articulate, and informed content.

While recovering from surgery I became a fan of F1. These are my adventures.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2018

Just some $100 million confetti!

Oh man, Baku was great. Where else do you get to see two of the most advanced vehicles in human history collide and turn to confetti in the shadow of an 800 year old castle?! If that had been an American football game (“football” is that one where we throw an egg-shaped object with our hands) our TV and radio sports programs would be dissecting it for months. Instead, one moron with a beard (me) will be representing the colonies in reporting on Baku. You’re welcome, world.

Two weeks ago during the Chinese GP I learned something about myself – I love watching chaos. Baku’s impossibly tight track and gusty winds looked downright evil during practice and qualifying, so of course my expectations for a chaotic and entertaining race were high. On Sunday I took that check to the bank and realized I had missed a decimal point and underestimated Baku by a factor of ten. That… is an awkward metaphor. I’m trying to say that Baku, which is the first city circuit I’ve seen (yeah, yeah Melbourne, whatever) really delivered and was an absolute stunner to watch. With so much overtaking, car-on-car violence, heartbreak for some and unexpected success for others, it will be hard for another race to beat Baku in sheer entertainment. Or will it? I don’t know, I thought Bahrain would be hard to top and I’ve still only seen 4 races in my life. Here are my ignorant impressions anyway.

Baku, Azerbaijan

First things first – I looked it up, we have never bombed Azerbaijan, although the European Allies almost did in 1941, but at the last minute did not because they needed to be nice to the Soviets (it’s complicated, look up Operation Pike). Good thing they didn’t bomb Azerbaijan, because with its architecture and history the Baku circuit is handsome to look at, brilliantly designed, and deadly to drive. The constant use of the runoffs during practice, due in large part to the wind messing with the aero, was a giveaway that the race was going to get hairy.

Speaking of aero, stay with me here. I have some friends who spend a lot of time at the gym so they can wear sleeveless shirts in public. They look strong but they’re terribly uncoordinated, and not actually that strong either because they take pre-workout supplements to lift and are basically useless outside the gym environment without chemical help. F1 aero is the gym body of the aerodynamic world – if it only works in a straight line on a windless day without another car in front of you, how “advanced” is it, really? “Specialized” is more like it, and it’s great to see a track like Baku throw some tailwind in the mix and expose all the faults in the system. Take that, engineering! More on that later.

A track like Baku is also an equalizer – there will be safety cars, guaranteed, so every driver will have a chance to move up at some point. There are a lot of great corners at Baku, like the skinny 8-9-10 under the turret of the castle that’s cool to watch from any angle. My favorite for some reason is turn 15. You have to hit it fast and make a hard, downhill left while the runoff is up and to the right. Something about the onboard shots of that corner gave me a visceral sensation of pure fear. I think it reminds me of a turn in a pass in the mountains I once drove as a teenager. We were coming down from the top of the pass and it was snowing and wet.

A loaded logging truck behind us lost its brakes and came screaming down the highway with hazard lights flashing and horn blaring. It caught us up at a left-hand bend, and while we skated left the truck slammed into the gravel runoff that they have for the heavy vehicles, spraying rocks and such. It was basically turn 15 at Baku before I knew what that meant. The long straight into turn 1 is also… argh, now I’m shivering and thinking about that pass in the snow. I’m going to make some hot chocolate, would you care for some? Marshmallows in it? Mint Schnapps?

Great for Fans, Really Hard on Teams.

So Baku is a great track and made for a great race… for the fans. So much mayhem happened at the beginning of the race that I had to spend time later researching which car crashed into which car, at what point, breaking what parts, and even now I’m still not completely sure of all that happened. (Thankfully F1 TV Pro is coming for Spain, which means I’ll get to go back and watch every collision from every onboard camera and really see what’s going on.)But the race was absolutely brutal for the teams, the cars, and the drivers.

My somewhat naïve opinion is that Red Bull might be the best organization in F1 right now – their pit stops have been perfect, their mechanics have come through in emergencies, and they haven’t run over any of their crewmembers. But yikes, Max is getting to be a liability and it’s affecting Ricciardo too. That lack of coordination and teamwork made Red Bull look like Torro Rosso this week, and they are so much better than that. I’d still rather have Max than Stoff though – I know he came in 9th but that’s only because everyone else had crashed.

Where does Vandoorne get off to every race? It looked like it would be Renault’s day for about a minute, but poor Nico found a wall and Carlos had a hard time with the softs. Grosjean was a real heartbreaker, bumping the “hero to zero” button during a safety car and running a truly great drive right into the wall. I think Bottas had the most devastating day, losing a tire in 1st with the race all but won and ending with a DNF. What a beautiful rolling disaster this race was, and how much work do the teams have to do to get everything pieced back together and sorted for the next one.

The Lucky Ones

Whether purposeful or not, Kimi ended up with a pretty good strategy – race alone in the gap between the leaders and the rest of the pack for as long as possible, let everyone else wreck their cars, and come in second. Raikkonen is a serious statue of a serious mountain with a serious expression on its serious stone face but it was good to see him do well. Also, Mintu is a cool name for a wife. Hamilton was fortunate to be where he was when he was, but he was indeed there and able to capitalize on a series of unpredictable events for the win.

It wasn’t ideal, but that’s what champions do – win in unlikely situations – and Lewis needs to lighten up about it. Perez also capitalized on the misfortune of others and landed a podium, which is awesome and made my daughter happy. She is preschool age but she already knows she likes pink and Mexico where her abuelos, tios, and primos live, so Sergio is her undisputed favorite. Go Perez!

Tough day for Vettel, but he rolled the dice and could finish with no regrets. It was great to see the top 10 shaken up a little, and congratulations especially to Sainz, but also to Leclerc, Stroll, and Hartley for all surviving and getting some points. Both McLarens scored, but I doubt anyone at Woking has any illusions about why. Alo did fine as usual, but without accidents Vandoorne was looking at like a 14th place. As a total newcomer I’m probably wrong, but I don’t think Stoff is cutting it this year. If I need it, someone correct my opinion for me, please.

F1 Classism

I also noticed something strange after the race, and I’d like to hear what the rest of you have to say about it. The current divide between the F1 bourgeoisie and the F1 proletariat was exemplified perfectly by the different ways Hamilton and Perez exited their cars after the race. Hamilton climbed out with sadness, because even though he took 1st it wasn’t the kind of win he wanted. Perez, on the other hand, leapt from his car like it was on fire and sprinted to his teammates for a rowdy celebration over a 3rd place finish. I know Mercedes isn’t happy about what happened to Bottas, and is especially concerned because there’s little doubt anymore that Ferrari simply has a better car at the moment.

But to take 1st in a race like Baku, you still have to be there and ready to pounce when everything goes pear-shaped, and Lewis was there and did so. If you’re going to be disappointed by winning that way, you’re going to be disappointed a lot – that’s just how this season seems to be going. With all the chaos and debris flying around in every race, no team is entitled to anything, and no team should turn up their nose at a podium finish.

If an earthquake causes a tidal wave at Monaco that sweeps 19 cars into the sea on the last lap and drowns Ocon, leaving last-placed Perez on 4 punchers to limp to a solitary finish, he would still be spraying every survivor with champagne from the top of the podium because the undercard teams still know that a win is a win. Do the top teams take their topness so much for granted that they can’t even enjoy imperfect wins? Or am I reading this wrong?

I get that every sport has its fundamentals, that F1 is meticulous about processes and measures everything in thousandths, that a lot of things have to go right at corporate headquarters, in the garage, and during practice for a team to be a top competitor. But a lot of things also have to go right in the race itself for a car to win, and when it all comes together in the last lap and you have a chance to come out on top, the time for thousandths is over and you put your foot down and go for it.

This is a sport, there are no guaranteed outcomes, but to me so far F1 seems somewhat like an engineering competition that gets interrupted every week or two by a 57-lap explosion. I think drivers like Vettel and Ricciardo – and even Max – get the real sporting aspect of everything, which is why the camera will always be on them when the critical moments come. As a new fan of the sport I’m pretty intrigued by this side of things, the chaos, the guts it takes to drive a car like that into turns like those.

Yet all the tedium that seems so important leading up to the actual race hasn’t seemed to matter all that much in my four races of experience. Someone please help me understand the importance of the nerdy, exacting, Adderall-for-the-chemistry-final-exam side, because for me F1 is the most fun to watch when you just watch it like a kid.

In the end, Baku was awesome because awesome cars driven by amazing drivers tore through an ancient city’s streets at incredible speeds, crashing and punching tires and hitting walls. I know it’s simplistic but right now that’s why I enjoy F1. It was absolutely brilliant.

10 responses to “An Ignorant American on Baku 2018

  1. One thing that may be odd to new viewers is how F1 tv producers seem to think that fans would rather watch a garage-based celebrity’s reaction to an on track event rather than directly watching the event that caused the reaction in the 1st place (step forward the Verstappen family for example). Previously known as “Erjavision”.

    • Or the dozen members of the Massa clan all giving simultaneous thumps up when the camera was on them in the Ferrari garage…………..

  2. Very amusing read. On the subject of drivers who are mid-field or tailenders unexpectedly getting a podium – it always reminds of Tiago Monteiro getting 3rd at the 2005 US GP when only 6 cars started and trying to claim it was a valid result………….

  3. Wow, I find that an exceptionally well written bit of docu-prose and I really enjoyed that. It’s cool getting your perspective, and for me at least you pretty much nailed it giving me a vivid look through your particular eyes and background. Loved it.

    Btw., I have to say I really like the way you do your own motorsports in the US – at least for me as a complete and utter Euro, grown up on a diet of F1, you guys seem to know how to make it fun to watch, while keeping the competition still pretty stiff.

  4. Pingback: Spanish Grand Prix | Alonso "It's getting stressful", McLaren Radical nose·

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