Yesterday at the first race of the 2017 F1 season, Sebastian Vettel left Lewis Hamilton 10 seconds behind him to win the Australian Grand Prix.
Photo : The Australian
The season brought a whole load of regulation changes, and with it the excitement of a new era in grand prix racing. Generally, excitement and expectations are high at the start of any season, but there was a special sense of it this season.
The race did deliver excitement and something different in terms of race result, and that has obviously grabbed the headlines. But the racing left a lot to be desired.
The result was great, the racing wasn’t.
We asked for the cars to be faster and better looking. So, they went and did it.
The new regulation changes meant that the car bodywork is now wider, the tyres are wider, the aerodynamic grip is better, and the aero components are more complex.
The cars now look incredible and are a minimum 5 seconds faster than they were last year.
Now, the aero complexity on the cars mean they have flat floors and six element wings on them. This means that the turbulent air left behind by the cars are so dirty that a car that wants to overtake can’t even get close.
So now, we’re moaning about how there are no overtakes happening and the race is incredibly boring as a result.
And it is a fair point. Apart from the easy passes during the first couple of laps of the race, the only proper overtake I saw for the entire GP was when Ocon, Alonso, and Hulkenberg went side by side at the end of the race. Ocon in his Force India spent 30 laps stuck behind Alonso’s severely underpowered McLaren. The race leader acquired his lead only in the pitstop and the top 5 didn’t battle for position. At one point, there was about a 25-30 lap period where literally no overtakes happened. That’s mad. Doesn’t make for good viewing, does it?
See what I mean when I say you can never please an F1 fan?
These worries are justified because Lewis Hamilton himself said that he gave up on trying to catch Vettel after being overtaken in the pits because it was “pointless”.
Photo : Welwyn Hatfield Times
“They look great, but we need to see a race”, added the president of the FIA Jean Todt, “I think probably overtaking will not be as we hoped it would be.”
Perhaps we always want more. Perhaps we’re never satisfied. Or perhaps fixing something means breaking something else.
What’s the problem?
Let’s get one thing straight – F1 desperately needs audience retention and creation.
Photo : Formula 1
To address this, Liberty Media have made the cars better looking, faster, alongside the dramatic new colour schemes. This does help with audience retention, of course, because everyone likes cars that are fast and good looking.
But without the overtaking and the close racing, audience retention is difficult. You get used to the cars looking good and the speed doesn’t seem much different on TV. Fans in the stands can appreciate the speed but fans at home will turn off, because speed is normalised on TV.
So like always, the new owners have this problem – striking a balance between race results and quality of racing.
We’ve been here before as well. They gave us DRS to improve overtaking and some of us rejected it saying DRS is “easy overtaking”.
Then they gave us better looking cars and wider tires because we asked for it. And now, we’re complaining about how this has made racing boring.
From a technological standpoint, today F1 is amazing. The detail in the bodywork, general aesthetic, peed these cars carry through the corners, the power output of the engines – everything is top drawer. Fans appreciate this for now, but will leave 5-6 races into the season unless there are overtakes happening all through the field.
The problem is we’re too unrealistic and they’re too reactive to criticism.
What should we do about it?
Well, it is a tricky no-win situation. Fans will always complain and it is the delicate matter of finding a balance, as I mentioned earlier.
Photo : McLaren
Perhaps we’re reacting too early. Albert Park for the Australian Grand Prix has never really been that exciting of a race, anyway. We have to give it time – wait a few races till we actually decide if something drastic needs to be done.
I, for one, am in agreement with Ross Brawn’s views for the future of F1.
Formula 1 has always been too reactive. We need to plan 3-4 seasons ahead and have a vision for what Formula 1 should be as a sport in say 2020 , and not just react to fix small problems along the way.
I would also like to see if they go ahead and have the test races in season – a test race where you can test new rules and see how it goes.
Reverse grid races and getting rid of blue flags are just a few of the rule changes that could be tested. Bringing back different tyre manufactures could be a long term plan. I’ll talk about the implementation, uses, and feasibility of these regulation changes in future articles, because if I started banging on about all of that, we’d be here all day.
For now, I share the concern of the fans about a lack of overtaking and the race being very boring as a result. But I also think that striking a balance is hugely important as pleasing an F1 fan fully is nearly impossible.
I’d also like to give it time and see how it plays out for a bit instead of reacting hastily and introducing something mad as early as China.
Feature image courtesy : Geurin Sportivo
Let me know your thoughts on the matter in the comments below!
– Aditya Bhat.