What swimming can tell us about F1

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The world of swimming is up in arms about a controversial new piece of swimwear dubbed the Speedo LZR Racer. Its effectiveness in making swimmers faster can be judged by the fact that 33 swimming world records have been broken since February – 30 by users of the LZR gear.

The Times’s top sporting scribe Simon Barnes is not impressed:

Is swimming about the best cozzie rather than the best athlete? Do we want swimming to become like Formula 1, a battle not between individuals but between manufacturers?

Perhaps I’m biased (actually, yes, I definitely am) but I think he sells F1 short with that rather glib assessment.

No, you’re not going to win the world championship or even the odd race this year without an F2008, MP4/23 or F1.08 – F1’s equivalents of the Speedo LZR Racer.

But that doesn’t mean the drivers have no role to play. Look at the kinds of vast differences in performance we get between two drivers in the same machinery.

Had Renault’s lead driver in 2005 and 2006 been Giancarlo Fisichella, and Fernando Alonso driven for someone else, would they have been double champions that year? Without Kimi Raikkonen around would Felipe Massa have been champion for Ferrari last year? In both cases the stark reality of the championship scores suggests not.

Formula 1 is not just a technical exercise – it’s a sport at the same time. That’s one of the fundamental complications and contradictions that makes it so absorbing and fascinating to follow.

Unlike swimming, which would still be tedious even if they took the LZR Racers and all the other swimsuits off them…

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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19 comments on “What swimming can tell us about F1”

  1. I’d like to see mister Barnes swim faster than any of the champs. Or drive a F1 in a straight line for 5 seconds.

    I hate such blind comments.

  2. Keith, I think you’ve got water in your eyes…. Massa’s not champion!

    I agree though, one of the best things about F1 is the way it combines team and individual efforts. :-D

  3. It is all about what we hold as being an acceptable source of influence on a sporting event.

    In Swimming, we accept that aspects such as talent, training and effort will influence the outcome, and we do not accept that the suit they are wearing will influence it.

    In F1, we accept that aspect such as driver talent, fitness and commitment will inlfuence the outcome BUT we also accept that the car they are driving will influence it.

    This new suit changes the factors which influence the outcome in that particular sport, hence the spirited debate.

  4. Also, I don’t think anyone pretends that having the best car will make anyone a champion, any more so then the idea which any old plodder can be a swimming champion in this suit.
    But it can make the difference when two athletes are very evening matched. Rather then the athlete who has trained the hardest or tries the hardest winning, it may be the athlete who is wearing the right suit. Which does not make the outcome palatable in swimming.

    But this is how it all works in F1 where the car is enormously influential in your performance. How many readers believe that there are half a dozen drivers on the grid who could win a race if they drove for Ferrari or McLaren?

  5. If you look at cold numbers, Formula 1 is indeed a battle of manufacturers, not of individuals…

    But you’re right to point that, without the right individual behind the wheel, the factories will never win it…

    Even though you pointed out two good conjectures, I think a better example happened in reality:

    Don’t you remember the 1999 season? Once Schumacher was out of contention with a broken leg, even Frentzen with his Jordan had a shot at the title… So, that Ferrari on the right hands, for the whole year, would have never lost the drivers’ crown…

  6. hey!! thanks for adding my blog link to ur’s.
    i ll reciprocate

  7. >Unlike swimming, which would still be tedious even if they took the LZR Racers and all the other swimsuits off them…

    well I can understand swimming being boring to watch if you’re british, but if you’re Australian, it only gets boring after the 5th gold medal of the event :)

  8. Robert Mckay
    15th April 2008, 8:40

    At least in swimming they can all be wearing the same technologically-advanced, record-enhancing suit…

  9. Only 5? We’d consider that a poor showing when cycling.

  10. Haplo – don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of Barnes’s journalism and enjoyed his book "The Meaning of Sport" as well.

  11. I bet Ralph Schumacher is miffed he didnt use those last season.

  12. When I went to find a picture of the LZR Racer I was really hoping it would look like Borat’s but sadly it doesn’t

  13. Just to add some balance to the argument, I think Simon Barnes has a point because swimming is different to Formula 1. In the latter, the regulations change year on year and track conditions change every time a race is held, making an all-time track record (the equivalent of a swimming world record) not really that important. In contrast, in swimming, where conditions are much more even, the all time records are important goalposts, and gaining a significant advantage purely from a new piece of technology, diminishes the achievements of swimmers of the past.

  14. I swim in galas and can confirm that the culture of swimming simply does not accept the possibility of anything other than the swimmer himself/herself influencing the result of a race. Hence why a new swimming costume would cause such a row. At the level I compete at, a better costume would change very few results (the gap is often measured in seconds rather than the tenths at Olympic level), but it would be seen as an accessibility issue as well as a competitive one. Swimming is supposed to be for everyone who can swim and money isn’t meant to come into it at athlete level (it does, but the subject remains somewhat taboo).

    F1, on the other hand, is never going to be accessible to everyone who wants to compete in it, and besides the equipment differences are an inherent part of the competition. Culture changes often create more friction than simple rule changes – as a quick look at anywhere the FIA’s long-range plans for F1 are discussed will confirm.

  15. I had to take a look at the suit as, although it’s been decades, I used to swim competitively…and still do so for exercise.  If you look at the Speedo site, the development of the suit was aided by computational fluid dynamics…hm-m-m-m, why does that sound familiar–oh, yeah, F1 uses it to for their aero research (as they even note in their description).  The evolution of swimwear can, I suppose, be considered fairly comparable to the evolution of the F1 car.  As technology has allowed us to measure and compare aero- and fluid-dynamics we are seeing developments that  take advantage of smoother flow of air or water over either the car body or the human body.

    This is not the first time controversy has arisen over new developments in swimwear–not that many years ago one of the suit manufacturers patented a special fabric that had little shark fins on the surface…and the distribution of the fabric/suits was limited to only some of the teams just prior to one of the Olympics.  Interestingly enough the fabric found it’s way into competitive speed skating  and caused an uproar there, too.

    I think the best way to compare the situations is–if you put Mark Phelps in a 1960’s Speedo and compared his lap time with his lap times in an LZR racer, you can bet he does better in the LZR.  Similarly, if you put Kimi in a 1960’s Ferrari and compared his lap times in the 2008 Ferrari…again you can bet on the newer car.  But if you put Kimi in the pool or Mark Phelps in the car…you’re probably looking at a disaster regardless of what "vehicle" they’re using…although, I must admit I’m not sure looking at Kimi in a 1960’s Speedo could be termed a total disaster from my perspective, but that’s just me.

  16. Everybody should have the same suit I agree.

    But I hope Barnes don´t wanna forbid depilation and skin heads.The cloth is not perfomance gain as you were using hand and foot fins. It´s an energy lost cut. Like a hair cut. And that seem´s to be ecological…

  17. Katherine, Kimi in 1960’s speedos wouldn’t be a disaster for me, either :-)  Far from it!

  18. restricting people to the same machinary and or swimming costume is boring and stiffles ingenuity, commerce, passion for winning and development. its human nature to do and be better.

  19. Jraybay-HamiltonMclarenfan
    7th January 2011, 16:28

    Well I think you nailed it Keith since mr.Barnes seems to think that anyone can pilot the ferrari Mclaren or red bull. just because they have the most success doesnt mean that they are piece of cake to pilot. The pilot is still most important, some guys have it and some guys dont no matter what chassis and motor they are given.

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