Out of the Woods: The State of F1

Oh my goodness.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written an “Out of the Woods” sort of opinion article, and today I can definitely say that the fantastic Formula 1 race has moved me to add another piece.

I feel it would be a travesty, though, to let such a brilliant race slip by unnoticed in the annals of this collection; for what we saw today was the culmination of quite a bit of work aimed at changing the face of the sport. Today, we saw the fruits of that labor.

I’m not going to say that the state of F1 is perfect the way it is right now. No, no. It’s far from it. When Jenson and Lewis will be paid a combined $175 million for their efforts at McLaren, or when the teams at the back of the grid are undergoing a rabid trial by fire to make it to the green flag each race, F1 is still not fixed. Saying it like that makes it seem as though I’m accusing it of being broken, which I also don’t think is the truth. I’ve loved the sport since I first saw it, even when its harshest critics walked away in droves after the USGP in 2005 or when lack of on-track passing prompted many to label the races as boring. While I can see their points, I’ve never felt this way. But apparently in the past few years the head brass of the FIA have, and thus the tweaking began.

Every year they’ve tried to snatch downforce from these brilliant aerodynamicists (who are always able to claw it back). They’ve changed the tyres. They’ve changed the engines. They’ve changed the qualifying. On and on and on. But now that most of those changes seem old hat to fans now, the newest changes come to the forefront: The return of KERS, the new Pirelli tyres and the DRS.

Addressing them in order, I’ve been mixed about the Kinetic Energy Recovery System. While I can see how some would argue that it’s road-car-relevant, at this point it’s become an overtaking device both for the act and for preventing it. Yes some cars are investigating and even starting to employ similar systems, but in the world of cost cutting and budget issues, investing loads of cash into this was a bit much to me. But what does it do to the racing? As we’ve seen this season (now that nearly everyone has it), it hasn’t been half bad. True there’s still the chance of severe electrocution or noxious fumes like the ones that poured out of Kimi’s Ferrari a while back, but overall it’s made a difference. Red Bull claims it’s 0.3 seconds per lap for these six seconds of 80 extra horsepower. The weight of the system is what prevents that number from being more advantageous, but in a world where millions are poured into tenths, that 0.3 doesn’t look too shabby.

Pirelli have also been under the criticizing eye of the public since the start of the season, and for them it’s been a mixed bag. No one expected them to jump right into the pinnacle of motor sports and deliver cracking tyres that are on the level with Bridgestone, but through the help of vets like Nick Heidfeld and Pedro de la Rosa, the Italians have done a good job. The glaring issue that’s plagued them so far this season was exemplified off the racing line in Shanghai: These tyres wear heavily. You’ll be hard pressed in most races this year to run a two-stopper, and the thought of a one-stop race is basically out of the question. To me, though, I love this. Now it goes back to the skill of the driver. Can he command the most out of his car while protecting most of his rubber? In pressure situations, can he keep his cool and not scrub off their speed or flat spot them into oblivion? It definitely spices things up.