Up until 2008, there was a lot of concern about the lack of close racing and overtaking in Formula One. Since then there have been a raft of regulation changes including the banning of aerodynamic add-ons, smaller rear wings and larger front wings, the arrival of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) and DRS (Drag Reduction Systems), and Pirelli’s faster wearing tyres. As a result, there has been a dramatic rise in overtaking and several different Grand Prix winners. In 2012 alone, 13 different drivers and 8 different teams led a race for at least one lap. But is this increase in competition too good to be true?
A Step Too Far?
After going through a period of watching processional races particularly in the era of Michael Schumacher’s domination between 2000 and 2004, I welcomed the increased excitement and unpredictability of races that the recent regulations have brought. But, I can’t help feel that the dramatic increase in the number of different winners, overtakes and pit stops has been artificially created. Regarding the use of DRS, the regulations state that the system can only be used by the driver behind the car in front, making overtaking almost inevitable. What’s more since slick tyres were re-introduced in 2009, drivers have had to use both the soft tyres and the slower hard tyres. With different teams pursuing different tyre strategies in each race, the difference in speed between F1 cars on track are greater, creating more overtaking opportunities.
End of Wheel-to-Wheel Racing?
Since Pirelli took over as F1 tyre supplier in 2011, the FIA, the sport’s governing body, instructed them to develop faster wearing tyre compounds. As a result, I now often hear race engineers tell their drivers to look after the tyres rather than push. The number of pits stops has also increased in each race causing F1 to be more about strategy and tactics rather watching drivers push their speed and skill, and their cars to the limit. This was illustrated clearly in this year’s Monaco Grand Prix, a place where it is notoriously difficult to overtake, allowing the Mercedes cars of Rosberg and Hamilton to manage the race at a much slower pace. Rosberg raced to victory in spite of registering the 6th fastest race lap (1m 18.327 sec) nearly two seconds slower than Sebastian Vettel’s fastest race lap (1m 16.577 sec)
Striking a Balance
While I would like to avoid the processional F1 races of the past, a balance must be struck between introducing regulations to create excitement and preserving ‘real racing’. KERS and DRS could be kept as they’re useful tools to aid overtaking. Nevertheless, tyres must be more durable because although strategy and tactics play a part in the sport, people watch F1 to see wheel-to-wheel racing among the world’s best drivers. With 5 world champions on the grid there is no better time than now to achieve this balance.