Matters of Moment, June 2011

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172

Gimmicks are a ‘Band-Aid’

We should be careful what we ask for. After years of bemoaning the lack of overtaking in Formula 1, we now have so much it’s hard to keep up! From the anti-climax of Abu Dhabi last year to the non-stop drama of the Chinese GP: it’s like a different sport.

The race in Shanghai was by far the most entertaining ever seen at this modern `Tilkedrome’, and as I write the morning after, it’s difficult to remember the last time a GP winner passed four rivals in the final 20 laps of a dry race to secure victory. Lewis Hamilton‘s performance was sensational and his pass on McLaren team-mate Jenson Button was a genuinely great move. The race was not won by the fastest car, but by a team that called the right strategy and by a driver on the top of his game. In that sense, all very satisfactory.

And yet… enthusiasts can’t ignore that it all felt contrived, artificial. Variables are what we crave in racing, but greater freedom within technical regulations, tyre wars — they’re not realistic in these straitened times. Instead, we have control tyres designed intentionally to wear out, rules that encourage drivers to qualify at the back of the grid and moveable aero devices to help drafting, but only in a designated ‘overtaking zone’. It’s as fake as NASCAR.

But am I being po-faced, a Grand Prix snob? This race was really exciting. Why question it? Well, it seems many of you are doing the same. On our website the general response to the Chinese GP was ‘great entertainment, but it’s clearly contrived’.

I’ve previously stated in this space that I won’t complain if the ‘gimmicks’ provide great racing. Well, fine: we’re in for a thrilling season, after all. But the great action won’t change Motor Sport’s belief that the 2011 regulations are a Band-Aid over a deep wound. F1 cars are inherently designed to race in clean air — not to make it easier for drivers to race each other. If we must have restrictive regulations — and I accept we probably have to if costs are not to spiral — why not tackle the aerodynamic conundrum properly, once and for all?

Now, I’m not saying it’s easy. As Pat Symonds wrote in our April issue, the overtaking question is complex, and aero is not the sole problem. But he concluded by suggesting “a coordinated long-term strategy aimed at embracing all aspects of the topic in a coherent manner for the good of all”. Makes sense. That way, we might enjoy genuine wheel-towheel racing without the synthetic need for gimmicks and inferior tyres. Is anyone listening?

As you can read in Nigel Roebuck’s Reflections this month, Ayrton Senna has a lot to answer for. But for all the questionable ethics of his approach to racing, the power of the man and his legacy still captivates 17 years after his death, as a new cinematic documentary set for UK release this summer will remind us. Next month’s issue will feature more on this remarkable film (we’ve been lucky enough to gain a sneak preview and all I’ll say is it’s not to be missed). For now, I’d like to draw your attention to an exciting Motor Sport reader evening that we’ve organised to celebrate the release of the film. On June 6 at the Everyman Theatre in Belsize Park, Camden, you can join us to watch Senna in the company of the writer and producer, Mannish Pandey, and a very special guest — Senna’s close friend from his McLaren days, Jo Ramirez. Once the credits have rolled, our own Nigel Roebuck and Rob Widdows will join Mannish and Jo for a forum session on the great man. The stories will flow and you’ll have the chance to ask the panel questions. Visit our website — www.motorsportmagazine.com — to find out how to buy tickets. I do hope you’ll join us. It promises to be a great evening.

Damien Smith, Editor