The new world of Grand Prix racing without driver aids such as traction control and engine braking received a universal thumbs up after the season-opening race in Melbourne.
Although the tricky Australian parkland circuit always pushes drivers into mistakes through practice and the race, it was clear that they had to work harder than ever to keep on the road this year, and spectacular slides were more commonplace than in the recent past. Those who strayed into the run-off areas also struggled more than they might have done before, because they did not have traction control to help get them out of trouble.
Some observers suggest that the new rules package favours those who were major natural talents in karting, because they have a better feel for low grip conditions. Indeed, there’s a common view in the paddock that some drivers who have hitherto looked very good have to some degree been exposed, and are struggling to fully come to terms with the lack of technical help they had become used to.
“It was more demanding on the drivers but also on the tyres and the car,” race winner Lewis Hamilton noted in Melbourne. “We have no engine braking, so it puts a lot more demand on the brakes, and the temperature of the brakes and the whole car is probably quite a lot higher than last year.
“I really do like the new regulations. Driving without traction control is different to driving with it, obviously, but I guess it brings out the best in the drivers. You have to push yourself.”
Starts are also far more random now that they are totally down to the driver, and only when they reach third gear does the car start to behave as it would have done when launch control was standard. It was evident in Melbourne that the first corner is potentially more hazardous now, because the field is more jumbled up in the blast away from the grid, while the lack of engine braking also makes contact more likely.
“It’s very difficult to make a good start,” said Fernando Alonso. “But it’s very easy to make a bad one.”