RORY'S RAMBLINGS - An Occasional Column from the Antipodes

Rory's Ramblings

No. 21, 2 July, 1996
by Rory Gordon

What is the fascination we humans have about time? Why is it really so important in our lives? Why are there clocks everywhere? Why do we feel this urge to time everything?

And why is it that some seconds and milli-seconds are more important than others? Watch a modern basketball game. In the last part of the game, the clock will count down the tenths and hundredths of the dying seconds. Why are those parts of those seconds any more important than any of the other parts of the seconds in the rest of the game? And before you send off a comment on this, I do realise the arguments. What I am saying is, why not time the entire game down to the same fractions?

And what is so important about the timing in a GP? Why on earth do we need to know that Michael Schumacher won the 1995 European Grand Prix at Nurburgring in a time of 1 hour 39 minutes 59.044 seconds? And that Jean Alesi was 1.684 seconds behind Schumacher. All we really need to know is that Schumacher won the 1995 European GP by being the first driver to complete the requisite number of laps and Alesi was second driver to complete that feat.

And, for heaven's sake, why do we need to know what was the fastest lap in the race that each driver did? Who really cares?! (Actually, I do. I'm an F1 stats freak.)

Obviously, the teams want to know this sort of information. Any little tweak they can get out of any part of the car could be vital in helping the driver get that little bit nearer the front - and that's what counts for them. But, for us ordinary, common people, what is so important about those splits of splits of seconds?

Timing is much more important in our lives than we sometimes like to admit. I don't wear a watch, because of two main reasons. First, I've found that the particular time of day is unimportant. If I'm hungry, my body will tell me so - not that it has to try very hard. If I'm tired, again my body will tell me so. For external timing, I can use other time-pieces like the sun. For example, if I want to go to a shop and buy something, a very simple rule-of-thumb is that if it is daylight, the shops are open; otherwise they are closed.

Second, if there some need that requires me to be in a certain place at a certain time, there are always clocks and watches around. As I sit here, punching away at the keyboard, there is a little clock ticking away in the corner of the screen. Off to my right is a digital clock, with its red figures glaring at me. The microwave has a clock on it, so does the video machine, and so on. Walk down the street in any reasonable town, and there'll be a clock.

So, despite my aversion to wearing a watch and thereby knowing to the last second what the local time is - assuming that my watch is accurate, which they rarely are), I still have plenty of sources.

(You might well ask at this point, how I ever manage to get to meetings on time? Well, there's the clock on the computer, the clock on the video, the clock on the town hall, etc. And, I ensure that I'm not late for meetings by being early.)

Our basic lives are ruled by clocks and not many of them rely on a 60-second minute, or 24-hour day, or a 7-day week. Your body rhythms are very good at controlling you.

And timing down to the last milli-second is very important to your body. When it all starts to go even a little bit wrong, your life starts to go very wrong. Think about trying to put some snack into your mouth while you turn your head - try it even. For most people, this isn't too much of a hassle, actually, it's quite easy.

But think of the timing involved. As your hand sets off on its journey, your brain has to re-compute all the angles and aim-offs all the time, and at your normal movement speed, that's quite a lot of calculations and instructions to your arm - milli-second instructions - and there's no rush for you to get that food to your mouth. (The ability of the human body to achieve some quite astounding feats, like getting food into the mouth without also putting the hand into the mouth, amazes me. So much so, that I can sense another Ramble in there somewhere.)

Just think of the embarrassment, though, if your timing was just a little off cue and you ended up with the food spread near, but not in, your mouth. Oops?

In many activities, it is possible for a participant to go and have a few years off. I have heard of someone called Michael Jordan who, I believe, used to play basketball in the USA. I have heard that he gave up basketball, went and played something else for a while, and then went back to basketball ... and his team has done very well since his return.

In F1 that isn't really possible. It's not so much that a driver wouldn't be capable of driving laps of 1 minute 23.456 seconds again, but more that they wouldn't have the same reaction time that they did those oh-so-few years ago. And that's where those milli-seconds become even more precious - as you grow older, your reaction time drops.

In F1 racing, events tend to happen very quickly. So quickly that those involved don't have time to think but must just react. And if their reactions are just a little on the slow side, then someone might get killed or badly hurt.

Is that why F1 drivers seem so young?

But that's just me.

Rory Gordon
Send comments to: