Too much, too soon?
APRIL 13, 2011
Early days, I know, but just where is F1 heading in 2011?
Opinion is polarised. There are those who think the new technology and resulting strategy is something to behold and get their teeth into. Others say F1 has become far too complex and, whisper it, false.
On the Monday after the Australian Grand Prix, I had dinner with a Melbourne lawyer. He follows F1, but not in minute detail. Aware there had been changes, and having missed qualifying, he sat down to watch the race and bring himself up to speed with F1 in 2011.
"Look," he said, almost apologetically. "I'm sorry to say this but I just couldn't get my head round what was going on. All this stuff about DRS, KERS, tyre degradation, centres of pressure, undercuts and what have you. Can you explain it to me?"
I said that wasn't advisable if we wanted to finish before the restaurant closed. And, besides, I was still working it out for myself. My lame excuse was that this was only the first race and we should give F1 in its allegedly improved format the chance to settle down.
Two races in and the debate, if anything, has increased in intensity. Fan-based websites are slagging off newspapers for complaining that the Malaysian race was bewildering. Message boards are sharply divided between those who love the cut and thrust of racing as we see it and those who claim it is artificial nonsense and far removed from what F1 is supposed to be all about.
There are arguments on both sides. Having previously been a newspaper correspondent for more than 30 years, it does not surprise me that the simplistic values of some of my colleagues have been challenged by technology that is clearly beyond them and, by unfortunate association, the majority of their readers.
On the other hand, the hardcore enthusiasts who analyse and debate each and every statistic are perhaps too close to their computer screens to allow a realistic assessment of the bigger picture; namely, that F1 at the moment IS confusing to viewers and spectators for whom F1does not fill their every waking moment.
Let me attempt to find a spot in the middle ground. From what we've seen so far - and I accept this could change as F1 gets to grips with the DRS concept - the adjustable rear wing and KERS are actually superfluous when it comes to adding to the spectacle.
It seems to me that the tyre degradation values alone contribute to eventful racing. No more do we have everyone stopping at exactly the same stage of the race, so much so that once the order had been settled after the final stop, you knew, barring unexpected misfortune, the result was set for the rest of the afternoon.
But not now. You have two, three and four stop strategies with drivers all over the place in terms of tyre performance. Tyre management is vital - and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's the way F1 used to be from the days when Bernie was a boy. If you want tyres to remain the same from start to finish, then go watch Formula Ford.
Part of the problem is that the drivers who can't cope tend to complain. Newspapers pick this up, mainly because they feel it's easy to understand, and Pirelli have received unfair criticism. The fact is that Pirelli have done exactly what was asked of them. And done it well.
But KERS? I agree that F1 should be seen to contribute to green issues - but that should not be the raison d'etre of our sport. I'm told that all the teams, bar one, wanted to get rid of KERS. In any case, the performance advantage is largely negated because all of the leading cars (Red Bull reliability permitting) have it. (Quick aside; fantastic recovery and performance by Mark Webber in Malaysia. And, no, that is not a good reason to have KERS on the basis that if it breaks down, the driver has some work to do.)
As for DRS; sorry, this leaves me cold. The overtaking moves are largely artificial. The only advantage I can see would be in a situation such as last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when a stupid circuit design prevented a faster car (Alonso's Ferrari) from getting into a position to overtake Petrov's well-driven Renault. The DRS would answer that problem - but precious little else.
As I say, early days. The picture could change this weekend in China. Let's watch with interest rather than bewilderment.
Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.
His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.