College football is the greatest sport in the world.
Whatever your opinion or argument is against that statement is, it is incorrect.
No sport could ever begin to imagine comparing themselves to the history, the tradition, the pageantry, the hilarity, the dumbness, and the overall absurdity of college football.
Or at least I thought so until I was introduced to Formula 1.
Rewind to about a decade ago when I first saw Asif Kapadia’s fantastic “Senna” documentary (yes, it’s on Netflix) about Formula 1’s arguably greatest hero, Ayrton Senna, and his fatal, shocking, and heartbreaking accident in 1994. I was intrigued by a sport I had virtually zero familiarity with, but at the time I didn’t put the effort into pursuing a potential fandom in this newfound sport where I’d have to start from square one.
Fast forward to 2019 when Netflix released the documentary series, “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” which captured the entirety of Formula 1’s 2018 season and gave a viewers a rare glimpse into one of the most dramatic and strangest sports in the world. I loved every second of it. It felt strange, yet so familiar. And then it finally hit me.
“Holy s***. Formula 1 is College Football.”
And then, just as it happened with college football, I became addicted. I watched every qualification and every race of my inaugural season as an F1 fan in 2019, and the more I consumed the sport the more my epiphany was reaffirmed.
Let’s break down how these two sports are evil twins:
1. The Kings Stay the Kings
If you’re a college football fan reading this than you are probably and unfortunately all too familiar with this cliché. College football hasn’t seen a first-time national champion since 1996 when Florida won its first of three national titles in a 13-year stretch. In that same 24-year stretch three F1 teams have accounted for 18 F1 World Constructors’ Championships which is awarded to the most successful F1 team.
Just like college football, the past decade in F1 has been dominated by the elite. In fact, only two teams won championships in the 2010s, with Red Bull sweeping 2010 through 2013 and Mercedes taking every championship thereafter. The gap between the top teams (Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari) and the midfield (the other seven teams) has only continued to grow as the cost of running an F1 team continues to skyrocket.
So just like college football, those who have continue to prosper while those who are have nots continue to fall further away from the top.
2. Winning Championships Isn’t Everything
Most folks would think that if you played a sport where you never really have a chance of competing with the best and taking the top prize that you’d be resigned and have nothing to play for. But if you’re a college football or F1 fan you know that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, just like college football, sometimes the battle outside of the championship contenders is just as, if not more, exciting than the competition for the top crown.
In college football we have the bowl system. Some call it a season of participation trophies for the other 126 teams that didn’t get to compete for the championship, but as Bill Connelly has illustrated, bowl games are so much more than participation awards.
Only 44 different schools in the college football’s 150-year history have won a national championship. But that doesn’t stop the other 86 teams from suiting up every season and giving their blood, sweat, and tears knowing full well it’s virtually impossible for them to ever play for the sport’s top prize. To those 86 schools there’s still an awful lot to play for and dream of. Don’t believe me? Go watch the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl.
Outside of the top three teams in F1 sits seven other teams who have just as big of goals and dreams, even if those dreams aren’t winning World Championships. These teams refer to themselves as “the midfield,” while others refer to them as Formula 1.5 or Formula 1-and-a-half. Regardless of what you call them, to the midfield the goal is to be the best of the rest and to hopefully crack into that top three one day.
Often times when the top three teams have locked out the top six places in a race (two cars per team), the battle among the other 14 cars to finish in what’s left of the Top 10 and score points is far more exciting than whoever is trying to get on the podium. But every now and then a midfield driver crashes the podium and it’s pure magic. Take Pastor Maldonado’s Spanish Grand Prix win in 2012.
This was Maldonado’s only F1 podium and race win in his entire career. Looks like it matters to him.
3. Everybody Cheats
If you’re a college football fan in 2020 and you still don’t believe that your favorite school cheats, then I’m afraid that I have terrible news for you: your favorite school cheats.
It’s just the nature of the game. As the saying goes, “if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.”
Cheating in college athletics has been around ever since the first intercollegiate athletic competition in 1852 when Harvard and Yale met at Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire for a regatta. Harvard tried to gain an illegal competitive advantage by allowing a coxswain who was not a Harvard student compete with them. And thus, the rich history of college athletics and its favorite bad habit began.
But F1 has no room to judge as those in the sport share the same sins as college football.
Go ahead, name the four of most famous F1 drivers in history. You likely listed Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel, and Lewis Hamilton.
Guess what? All cheaters.
Senna famously and deliberately crashed into Alain Prost in the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix to prevent Prost from taking his 1990 World Championship. It worked.
In 2006 Schumacher trailed Fernando Alonso by 15 points heading into the Monaco Grand Prix. Monaco is an extremely difficult track to pass on due to its narrow features, so qualifying on pole in the Principality is more important than anywhere else. To prevent Alonso from beating his own qualifying time, Schumacher stopped his car on the track to cause a backup and prevent Alonso from getting a clean lap in. It worked, until it didn’t. Schumacher had to start from the pit lane in last place and ultimately finished in 5th as Alonso took the win and ultimately the 2006 World Championship.
Hamilton had his “Lie-gate” down at Australia 2009 and Vettel, although not technically cheating but still super shady, had his “Multi-21” incident in Malaysia 2013.
But worst offenders and cheaters by far are the teams themselves. It would be next to impossible to list all the confirmed and unconfirmed ways teams have cheated. Hell, Ferrari just got away with definitely cheating just a few months ago, even though the F1 governing body (FIA) couldn’t prove it.
All of this is to say that those in college athletics and F1 love to cheat, and really, it’s hard to blame them.
Think about it. If you’re a driver and you’ve landed in one of the twenty most coveted racing seats in the entire world, wouldn’t you do anything to keep it? And if you’re one of the ten CEOs of an F1 team, who pours hundreds of millions of dollars into your car and team each year, wouldn’t you do anything to retain your job and keep your shareholders happy? And if you’re the top paid state-employee wouldn’t you do anything to stay that way? And if you’re a multi-billion-dollar clothing company like Nike or Adidas, wouldn’t you make sure you’re getting a return on your endorsements?
If you answered “no” to any of the above, then why are you still reading any of this?
4. The Governing Bodies are Corrupt
If you’re a college football fan reading this, you don’t need me to tell you that the NCAA is rotten.
And if you’re an F1 fan reading this you don’t need me to tell you that the FIA isn’t exactly squeaky clean either.
5. Coaching Carousel = Silly Season
What could be bigger and dumber than college football’s biggest off-season thrill that we like to call the Coaching Carousel?
Honestly not much. But if you want to make the argument F1’s Silly Season then I’m certainly open to it.
Just look at the madness that F1 has been through these last few months. In the middle of the sports world’s shut down, F1 moved up its 2020 Silly Season and got weird in a hurry. One of the biggest stories and rumors was when Mercedes’ team principal (think head coach) Toto Wolff was rumored to have resigned from the top team in the sport and that he was going to team up with Canadian billionaire and F1’s Racing Point owner Lawrence Stroll to buy Mercedes’ racing team from its parent company, Daimler.
Let’s take a moment to admire the insanity of what was a massive rumor at the time. For college football fans, this would be like Nick Saban quitting his job so that he can team up with a mega-booster from UAB and buy Alabama so that he can be the school president.
But that wasn’t even the biggest story of this past Silly Season.
That title would belong to Ferrari strangely and awkwardly firing four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and promoting 22-year-old rising star Charles Leclerc, who has only been in the sport for two years, to the team’s #1 driver.
I’m out of good analogies at this point, but I hope there were enough details in that sentence for most of you to understand how enormous that story was.
And there you have it. I have successfully proven that college football and Formula 1 are the exact same sport. No if, ands, or buts.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the start of the college football season, there’s no better time to check out F1 as the first race of the 2020 season is this weekend! Qualification will be held tomorrow, July 4th, at 9am on ESPN and the Austrian Grand Prix (g’day, mates) will be at the same time and place on Sunday.
It’s a very viewer friendly sport as there are only 10 teams, 20 drivers, the races can’t last more than two hours or they end, and they race on tracks across the globe instead of turning left in circles.
“But who do I root for?”
Here’s a cheat sheet for college football fans picking their favorite Formula 1 team:
Ferrari = Texas: One of the biggest and most recognizable organizations in all of auto racing but for some reason can’t get out of their own way and return to their winning ways
Mercedes = Clemson: strong history before, but have really resurged this decade and taken over
Red Bull = Miami: new, cool kids on the block who won a lot of championships early on, but have since fallen slightly behind the leaders despite consistently high levels of talented drivers
McLaren = Oklahoma: great tradition, strong team, but cannot break through the Top 3 ceiling quite yet
Williams = Nebraska: dominant in the 90s, nowhere to be seen these days
Renault = USC: won champs in the 2000s, but have been a mess lately
Racing Point = Boise State: Consistent overperformer with less resources than most, gaudy color scheme
Alpha Tauri = Temple: never really done much themselves, but have been a great steppingstone
Alfa Romeo = Pitt: Fairly historic and have tasted greatness a few times, but now sit firmly below average and play second fiddle to their in-state/in-country team
Haas = Kansas: Extremely popular team principal even though team is awful
See y’all at the