I don't follow many sports - in fact you may say I don't follow any - but the one I do follow, I do so religiously. To prove my statement you should have seen where I was at 6:40 in the morning today: getting ready to watch the first race of the new year calendar. That's right, it's a racing sport. And they use engines, so it's a motorsport, but not just any. The mother of all motorsports: Formula One.
I'm not entirely sure how acquainted any of you is to F1 so, assuming you aren't at all, here's a little intro.
Formula One is a team motorsport with the simple goal of getting to the finish line first. Pretty simple huh? Well it isn't.
The cars have to respect a certain amount of building rules - that is, a Formula - regarding size of the car, weight, engine size and displacement, etc. These design rules are strict enough so cars follow a similar format, but not so strict as to make all of the cars equal. There is still some ground for designers and engineers to fiddle around and try to find performance advantages, and that is what the team vs. team struggle is pretty much.
As it couldn't be any other way, the drivers are a key element to the racing. There are tens or hundreds of thousands racing drivers in the whole world; only 24 will be racing any given weekend in F1. You have to be that good (in theory).
Mainly what distinguishes F1 apart from other racing series is the brutality, the sheer performance of these cars. They are the engineering peak of what can be done inside a racing circuit. They are specialists of acceleration: positive forward acceleration, getting from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in under 2 seconds, reaching 300 km/h (186 mph) in less than 9. Deceleration, that is, braking, is so extreme that it generates 4 or 5 Gs of force in the drivers' bodies: their lungs hit their ribcage and they exhale involuntarily.
What breaks them apart the most from other cars, production or racing, is the amount of grip they get through the corners, thanks to very sticky racing tyres, but mostly thanks to aerodynamic forces. The cars are designed so they generate downforce - what is downforce you might ask? It's the opposite of lift.
An airplane generates lift to fly. Putting it simply, an F1 car has 'reversed' wings so it will be pushed against the ground, and it works. Past a certain speed it is in fact pushed against the ground so much that it generates more downforce than what it weighs, so if there was a tunnel long enough, an F1 could drive upside down without falling!
So this allows them to take corners much, much faster than other cars.
You know how you feel your head is pulled to the side when you're taking a bend in your road car? That's about 0.5 Gs. Really good sports cars can push this to a bit beyond 1G. Now you have an idea of what 5Gs would do to your head - that is the amount F1 cars are able to pull.
Today was the first race of the 2011 Season. I wanted to talk about it but it seems this post is getting longer than intended, so I'll leave that for tomorrow.
Because images explain more than a thousand words, here's a video of what an F1 car can do compared to everything else.
Do you follow F1? Did you know about it, or has this article explained something you didn't know?
Tell me how much I've bored you in the comments.