Posted on April 01, 2014
You are Jenson Button and you are driving your McLaren MP4 12C at a track day in Silverstone. As you slam on the brakes to turn into a tight corner, a hyper advanced computer commands all hands on deck to perform their duties like Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise. Raise the air-brake, moderate brake pressure on the inside wheels, rev match upon downshifting, load the second clutch for the next gear change, and on and on.
Should you be riding shotgun, watching Jenson, you’d never know the slew of activity going on behind the scenes. All a person would notice is the mind-numbing grip and plummeting lap times. How does that make you feel? The thought that surely comes to mind is “wow this car is fast!” Notice how you don’t immediately credit the maestro for his performance. Is the McLaren, along with the horde of other advanced supercars of today, truly a sports car? How can there be a sport without a player? Supercars have progressively advanced more and more, which in turn requires less and less driver input. They are taking the “sport” out of “sportscars.”
Let’s take a look at the word “sport.” You go hunting to take down a large buck for your mantle. Why do you do this? You hunt for sport of course. Otherwise, your wife could take a trip down to a local taxidermist and buy a pretty mount that includes its own lag screws! Your McLaren is just like your wife and the taxidermist. You aren’t out there hunting for a lap time and lateral G’s. Your car just went out there and got them for you. It wasn’t the driver who feathered the brakes to optimize exit speed, nor did he heel-toe for a seamless downshift. It was a British wizard in a lab coat back in Woking who did that for you. How sportsmanlike do you feel now?
I’m not some grandfather stuck in the good old days. I love tech as much as the next nerd. When it comes to sports, however, I value skill above all else. It is skill that gives you goose bumps. The way Ayrton Senna danced his car on the edge of its capabilities one handed as he heel-toe’d his way through the cobbled roads of Monte Carlo was truly heroic. I’m not quite sure I can get that feeling anymore with the degree of tech that backs up the drivers today. Ask any one of them and they will tell you Senna was the greatest driver ever; not Schumacher, who holds nearly every record in the book. With that reasoning, we can say with absolute certainty that nobody will ever be as good as Ayrton.
Auto makers are going faster and faster with every year, but how excited can you be anymore? We are just notching belts at this point. Top speed and times around the green hell are just numbers on a screen at this point. The progress isn’t as shocking today, it’s expected. The science is quickly outpacing the drivers. Racing drivers were once rocket men like Chuck Yeager who tested their mettle to cross into the unknown. This fear and majesty is long gone as cars can dial in lap times with the flip of a manetino switch. If you can just phone in the win, is it really a sports car?