Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The problem with split times

Once again, the pace of development in the world of communications has had a negative impact on the spectacle of motorsport. I'm referring to the usage of split-times in the World Rally Championship. Too often these days you hear about drivers "driving to the splits", effectively managing their time gaps so as to not go too fast or be overly risky.

I'll be the first to admit that rallying is very much about getting to the finish - I have many trophies from my days as a co-driver that prove that outright speed is not always necessary to achieve success! However, when a driver makes a decision about how hard to push on a given stage, it should not be influenced during the stage through communications from outside the car. The whole concept of driving to splits is inherently unfair, since it favours teams that are starting later (the top runners on days two and three when this practice is most often utilized) and teams with the budget for the kind of radio technology integration.

It used to be the case that as the end of the rally neared, anyone not in the lead would push like crazy to gain back time. This meant the leader had to do the same. These days that never happens, since the guy in second knows that the leader will be able to adjust his pace based on those split times. If you know your rival will push only as hard as necessary, there's no incentive to risk it all.

Even Formula 1 clamped down on excessive comms technology by banning pit-to-car telemetry. I see no legitimate reason for split-time communications to be legal (unless of course those in charge feel it's a safety issue by limiting how fast the cars will go - if that's the case then we live in sad, sad world).

The biggest losers in all of this are the fans, who can no longer witness heroic last-day fight-backs. Instead those final stages pass by like moves in a chess game: considered, informed and downright dull.

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