Out of the Woods: The State of F1

Gnawing at the back of my mind, though, is the fact that one Bernard Ecclestone said something very similar long ago. I rarely submit and say that the man was 100% correct, but whether you agree with his brash nature, his scathing and often cut-throat comments or not, Ecclestone knows what’s right more often than not. (Don’t even get me started on his ridiculous ideas of artificial rain.) He had said that it will be good to have tyres that aren’t very good because then you’ll get chaos. You’ll have scrambling and strategy adjustment. You’ll have three-, four- or five-stop races. Orders will be mixed and the racing will be more exciting. And dammit, I’m afraid he’s dead right on this one. That said, I’d be fine if Pirelli never change their compounds from here on out. So what if the drivers complain? Like I’ve said before, they’re supposed to be the best in the world. They’re paid to drive the cars. Heading into this season some said pushing a few extra buttons would be tough for them. Then it’s tough! Let them prove themselves, and let the best ones win. I think Pirelli are doing that in more ways than one.

The other day someone asked me what I thought of the Drag Reduction System, and the first thought that came to my head was “It’s gimmicky.” I still hold to that statement, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. Technologically it’s phenomenal: A system that can instantaneously remove 100 lbs of downforce from the cars that can only be used if you’re the trailing car and are within one second of another car on a certain part of the track? A system that, once deployed, snaps back to its normal configuration within 0.05 seconds of when you press the brake? Wow. Just the engineering to make that work makes my head spin. But the more important thing to think about, especially if you’re a critic of the DRS, is that fans are getting their wish.

How many times have you heard people gripe for the past ten years (heck, the past 20!) about how the cars have too much downforce. The aero is disrupted when you’re too close to the car in front of you, and the cars stick to the ground so much easier now. The days of the 1971 Monza-type races are gone. Blah blah blah. By slipping the DRS into the rules this year, Formula 1 has given the fans back the days of close following and slipstreaming while not giving so much that the spectacle decays into a Talladega-like draft-fest. Watching Hamilton hunt Vettel today was something of beauty, but part of the tension came from the fact that you knew he was close enough to use both the KERS and DRS when they hit that backstretch. From there it would be Hamilton’s slingshot versus Vettel’s KERS and an impossibly fast Adrian Newey masterpiece. The on-screen graphics showed the speed differentials when Webber was slicing and dicing his way through the field, and his speeds would be 10 or 15 kph higher than the other car’s. You knew he had the speed, and from there it’s down to the skill of the driver to use it accordingly. To me that’s fascinating and enthralling.

What the KERS and DRS do is, ultimately, spice up the show. Their gimmicky-ness aside, I almost hate to admit, but they’re doing their jobs. China was fantastic. Even some of the F1 drivers like Lotus tester Karun Chandhok said that this was the best dry race they’ve seen in a long time, not just for the fact that we actually saw the wunderkind Vettel get passed on track for the lead (in an incident that wasn’t at the start of the race or due to an accident/mechanical failure). Watching the race today we said that to catch Vettel Hamilton would have to drive the car, not just drive it. He would have to utilize his tools, mind his tyres and attack the once-untouchable German. And by God, he did. We said the same about Webber if he hoped to climb up from the depths of the grid, and even though he didn’t have KERS, Webber drove what was probably the drive of the entire race. Unbelievable.

It’s not that before this race I hadn’t noticed how the changes of recent years have affected the sport, it’s just that today it was most purely exemplified in a spectacle that basically defined why I love Formula 1. The racing was pure, there weren’t accidents galore like the ones that have come to define IndyCar this year. There weren’t competition, debris or full-course cautions today to bunch up the field to create a false fantastic finish like at Talladega. This was a race that was uninterrupted. This was a race that featured the most technologically-advanced cars on the planet racing within seconds of each other despite being made completely different from every other car. This was a race that had action, suspense, seething talent and a worldwide television audience in the hundreds of millions to watch. This is the sport I love. This is what Formula 1 should always be.