Sunday, 27 March 2011

Still a Procession

A few years ago there was an advert for the BBC coverage of MotoGP. It took a dig at the complexity of the Formula 1 rules, showing a pit stop where the driver had to get out of the car and spin around three times before continuing. Well, this year's new F1 rules actually feel a bit like that. And they still don't seem to work.

F1 has had many attempts at improving the amount of overtaking over the years. A couple of years ago they brought in bigger front wings and smaller rear wings. This was supposed to reduce the aerodynamic disadvantage of following a car and to increase the chance of a pass. It didn't work. They brought in KERS, essentially an electric motor with batteries charged during breaking. It didn't work, primarily because they had to introduce a host of petty rules about where it could be used. Not every one could afford to use it and they didn't want to disadvantage them too much.

Now we have DRS, a movable rear wing that should make slipstreaming more of an advantage, and KERS is back. Both these features have a host of ridiculous restrictions that make basketball rules look trivial. And on the basis of today's Australian GP, these don't work either. In 58 laps around the Melbourne circuit there was only one pass that seemed to involve the new features. And there were plenty of failed attempts.

Once again, a grand prix was processional. That's not to take anything away from Vettel, who made winning look so easy. But you do have to wonder if F1 has lost its way.

It's not as if the other rules, supposed to reduce the cost and allow more teams to compete, are working either. There were just 22 entries for the first grand prix of the season, and two of those didn't even make it to the grid, being too slow in practice to be allowed to compete. Were they, I wonder, a victim of the rules about restricting testing time, which were introduced to reduce cost?

The regulations look like legislation from a New Labour government. They are trying to control the details of how the teams build a car, instead of controlling the broader parameters. For example, if F1 is too expensive, cap the team's budget instead of limiting test time or stipulating the technology. That way you don't stifle innovation. There is an obvious parallel with MotoGP, of course. There are few rules in MotoGP, yet the racing is always close, with places changing hands every lap and fuel consumption and tyre wear being a major factor of each race.

Maybe it's time for a major rethink in F1. The nanny state approach to rules doesn't seem to be working. Bring back the free for all.

No comments:

Post a Comment