Marbles: Does a “Pinnacle of Motorsport” exist?

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Editor’s Note- This week’s Marbles (reader opinion) is from our long-time favorite Tom Firth. you may have heard Tom as featured on the Forum Podcast with Andrew called Fast Lap. Tom is a dear friend of the site and a keen motor sport fan and we are elated to have his thoughts on the ‘pinnacle of motor sport’.

One phrase is often mentioned in motorsport. It’s the words “The Pinnacle of Motorsport” in specific reference to Formula One. Although in the past few months we have experienced the Acropolis Rally: The Indianapolis 500, The Monaco Grand Prix, The Daytona 500 and the Le Mans 24 hours. All of these events are steeped in history and all form the crown jewels of motorsport’s many disciplines.

Does this really make one series the pinnacle above all others?

In terms of European media exposure, F1 is the most exposed among the media. The series attracts constant coverage from both the motorsport and the mainstream media on a near daily basis. Meanwhile in the USA, NASCAR holds a similar position in terms of media exposure.

Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg for example are household names in Europe and F1’s primary markets.

However Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti and Tom Kristensen for example have had phenomenal success in their own disciplines although the man on the street has hardly heard of them. Does that mean these drivers are any less entitled to be described as been at the pinnacle of the sport?

Personally I believe not, however I watch hours of motorsport constantly so perhaps I am not the right person to ask.

Formula One is certainly the pinnacle in terms of financial strength. Car construction and other associated costs, which are higher than every other series. Teams spend a budget of approximately $470 million in order to enter and win the Formula One World Championship. These are vastly superior costs compared to other series. The top F1 drivers are also paid the highest for competing for the top teams in F1, which makes logical sense for a sport seen as the proclaimed pinnacle of motorsport.

Although does spending immense amounts of money in order to win make a discipline of an overall sport stronger by bringing in the pinnacle of talent or does the cost of participation offset this as seen in recent times?

In theory one would believe that by spending so much on a sport, Formula one would therefore lead the way in terms of innovation. In theory the pinnacle of the sport should bring more innovation that other series. F1 does deliver this in its own discipline of Open Wheel however it doesn’t throughout the whole of motorsport.

It should be noted that most of the open wheel ladder is built on spec chassis series also.

With F1 still being constructor based it has continued to allow more innovative solutions with a far more restrictive rule book than seen in the earlier years of the world championship.

Meanwhile the World Endurance Championship has thrived recently on innovative ways of both powering the cars and has been at the forefront of new innovative technologies.

This year in the WEC, Factory run cars in P1 ran with completely different chassis styling and hybrid systems. Audi ran with diesel power and a Williams Hybrid Power Flywheel. Rival Toyota ran with petrol power and a super capacitor based Systems

So in terms of powertrain development, emerging technologies and chassis innovation, the WEC appears to be pushing itself into more innovative freedom. However in terms of aero development and complexity in composite design, Formula one could, in some regards, be still referred too as the pinnacle of motorsport innovation.

Finally, is F1 still the pinnacle of motorsport in terms of raw speed and power?

In this current era of F1, the simple answer would be no, though not the definitive one. The days of the V12 and V10 powered formula one cars having 220mph top speeds are over. The cars have become slower in recent years as with every series. This has occurred through a combination of reasons such as more environmental pressure and other factors.

In terms of raw speed Indycars are still the fastest on its super speedway oval layout although formula one is still faster on road courses generating incredible cornering speeds. Creating a definitive analysis between all the disciplines of motorsport is impossible due to series excelling in different scenarios that others would be less capable within.

In conclusion I can’t draw a conclusion that makes one series a pinnacle over the others myself. It can’t be clearly defined today which discipline is the pinnacle of motorsport besides using the FIA’s hierarchy in order to determine which series has the most importance. By this method, F1 is the clear leader.

The only true way, in my opinion, to define which series is the pinnacle of the sport is for series regulars whilst still competing in their formula one career to race in alternative series. However with the fragmentation of motorsport in the current era, that is currently impossible.

What do you think, Is F1 the pinnacle of the whole of motorsport today or just of it’s own discipline? Was it ever a real pinnacle or just clever marketing?
Is there another way to define a pinnacle besides a true race of champions?

Your thought’s please and thank you for reading.

Tom Firth

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