Video: Should Vettel Run MX-5 Cup In 2019?

By Winding Road Staff

June 27, 2018

We recently watched a bevy of races in F1, IndyCar, Pirelli World Challenge and Global MX-5 Cup. We were reminded that different classes and rules (and tracks) lead to different levels of competition that play to different skills. We had the thought that even very talented drivers are always learning and that maybe even someone as talented as Sebastian Vettel could learn something from running in a "lower" class. Of course, that almost certainly won't happen, but that thought experiment demonstrates a useful perspective, we think. 

Consider that the "show" is consistently better in "lower" classes. Theses classes have tighter races, with more passing (MX-5 Cup had over 300 passes in Race 2 at Road America), more uncertainty about the eventual winner, less dependence on qualifying and more chance that a driver can come from behind late in the race.

We also noticed that the lower classes, which offer much tighter racing, have more contact. That's pretty much a statistical certainty. If you have 20 cars racing nose-to-tail there are simply a lot more chances for contact than there are when cars are separated by 5 or 10 car lengths. Just to be clear, using the extreme cases from our sample, F1 and Global MX-5 Cup, there are approximately 15 times as many opportunities for contact in MX-5 Cup. This is the case, even though MX-5 Cup races are half the length of F1 races. Watch this MX-5 Cup race, one of the best races we've seen this year, to see what we mean about close competition and minor contact (pace lap starts at 1:06):

What we noticed as well is that in the classes where tight competition and close racing is normal, the contact, while more frequent, is generally less consequential. The "lower" classes are slower classes, which may lead to smaller speed differentials between cars, which in turn makes contact more likely to be a bump than a crash. Now, if you've watched the MX-5 Cup race from Road America, check out the first 10 seconds of the French GP:

Look, mistakes happen, and Vettel undoubtedly would like to have T1 at Paul Ricard as a do-over. And MX-5 Cup has certainly had some big first lap crashes. Really, anything going wrong near the front at the start of the race, regardless of class, tends to be chaotic and messy. Witness:

What we noticed in the French GP was Vettel's explanation. Basically, he argues that F1 cars aren't close that often and he didn't correctly anticipate the loss of grip under those circumstances.

So, F1 drivers are highly skilled and doing what they do with the pace of those cars is impressive. Everyone knows that. What we'd add is that classes like MX-5 Cup (and TCA and Spec MX-5 and Spec Miata) also show off an impressive skill set, especially running and strategizing in packs under very close conditions. Talking about contact there, which is mostly incidental, can distract from an appreciation of the race craft being developed in those series. With that more useful idea in mind, after considering the French GP,  we think Vettel might want to consider a year in MX-5 Cup in 2019. If he thinks he's good enough!

Or, Sebastian could run Spec MX-5 Challenge in 2019 and win a $100,000 scholarship toward MX-5 Cup. We're guessing he's got plenty of cash, but perhaps he's looking for a new long term challenge.