I will start off by saying this, I am situated in the minority of American sports fans that prefer European sports to American.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good football game, some fun hockey or even an occasional basketball game.
But, American TV coverage (read: commercialization) gets the better of me. It is a running joke between me and my roommate over the number of commercials we see on Monday and Tuesday nights watching WWE. And real sports aren’t much better.
Baseball has a slow pace, even slower each half inning when there is a commercial break. The NBA and NFL seem to go to break every five minutes. Despite being the smallest offender, the NHL still has its moments of annoyance.
When it comes to sports most often associated with being across the pond, those worries go away. Soccer is 45 minutes of action, albeit slow at times, a brief break and another 45.
It is so much easier to get invested in the event that way. That is what made last Saturday night and into the early morning of Sunday great for me personally, and it wasn’t just a soccer match.
A Pacific Coast kickoff meant that Minnesota United started their match at 9:30 p.m. here in Fargo. After two hours of that game, it was a brief one-hour wait for the best sporting event that you aren’t watching, Formula One.
Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsport, combining high power, high downforce and some of the best drivers in the world on a single track. It is equal parts speed and strategy over the course of a race.
As it happened, the series was in Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix, so a start time of 12:30 a.m. in Fargo, and it was worth staying up for.
But before we get into why it is a must-see event, a quick word of warning. Under the current regulations, the aerodynamics of the current set of cars can create some boring races. The “dirty air” created by a lead car can cause overheating of the car behind and increased tire wear. This can lead to races without much action.
But, it can also lead to some great action, as last weekend showed.
The opening stanza of the race was status quo after the start. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel led from Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen behind.
Race strategy played its hand around a third of the way through the race. Verstappen pitted for fresh tires, all of which were changed in under three seconds. Thankfully for Red Bull, the stop was nearly perfect and allowed Verstappen’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo to double-stack the pits. The team changed eight tires in about a 30-second span.
Mercedes’ Bottas was brought in to pit two laps later. Thanks to a blistering stop and even better out lap, Bottas took over the lead when Vettel pitted one lap later.
So, seemed to be the race, until the two Toro Roso teammates collided at the hairpin, leading to the safety car coming out.
As the safety car came out, Red Bull double-stacked again. The quick thinking put the Red Bull duo on fresher, softer tires with more grip.
After the safety car came in, the pair went on a charge. Ricciardo was the latest of the brakers at the hairpin to pass Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
Verstappen tried an ambitious pass on the outside of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, but ran wide, allowing his teammate through. Ricciardo pulled a move out of his hat on Hamilton, completing a breathtaking pass at the hairpin again.
Verstappen cleared Hamilton and Ricciardo moved to second with another move at the hairpin to pass Vettel.
The action came to a boil a few laps later as Verstappen tried an ill-advised move on Vettel at the hairpin. The pair collided and spun in the middle of the track. Vettel picked up damage to his floor, causing a loss of downforce. Verstappen was hit with a 10-second penalty for dangerous driving.
But Ricciardo was not done. He chased down Bottas in the lead and stuffed himself down the inside of a car-width gap to claim the lead and take the win.
It was 30 minutes of pure engineered insanity, and thanks to a smart business decision by ESPN, without commercials.
The season will only get better from here. The championship battle was originally set between the four-time champions Vettel and Hamilton. Hamilton’s slow start to the season will mean he will want to make a charge as the series shifts back to Europe, among other challengers named above.
Up next is the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku. A recent addition to the calendar, Baku has become a must-see event.
A combination of tight turns in the historic part of the city to long sea-side straights, the track itself is a marvel.
The action lives up to the track. Last year saw a lot of action. Vettel drove into the sidepod of Hamilton under the safety car. The Force India teammates came to blows, as did Raikkonen and Bottas. Ricciardo took yet another improbable win, including a crazy three-for-one pass on a restart.
So, for some excitement for your sports viewing pleasure, I recommend a look at Formula One. It can definitely get the heart rate up.