On the evidence of the Bahrain Grand Prix, this season may turn out to be a huge letdown. After four very good years and, despite the pre-season hype, I really hoped this could be a classic in the mould of 1982 and ’86.
While the rule changes were made under the charge of Max Mosley, and it’s maybe to early to judge Jean Todt, has Formula 1 and the FIA missed the point? All fans know what makes for an exciting race. Take the 2008 Belgian GP with Hamilton and Räikkönen going wheel to wheel for the final few laps.
I’m no engineer, but obvious improvements should be wider circuits, manual gearboxes, harder tyres and steel brakes. Maybe a return to a few ‘proper’ circuits as well…
I’ll admit that I did feel a little depressed when I left Bahrain – we had all gone there with such high expectations, but the race was indeed a stone drag, quite devoid of racing.
However, there were good reasons why probably it was always going to turn out that way. This was the first race run under the new ‘no refuelling’ rule, and, for all their simulation work, the teams did not really know what to expect – particularly in terms of tyre wear (especially the softer of the two Bridgestone compounds on offer). The attitude of everyone was therefore conservative and cautious – and this at a track already notorious as a ‘no overtaking’ zone. On reflection, then, perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised that the race turned out to be a damp squib.
Since Bahrain, however, I’m sure you’ll agree that things have picked up somewhat. I’ll agree that we have been lucky that rain featured in two of the three races, but I think Melbourne was an exceptional race, Shanghai a very good one, and Sepang not bad, either, given that the track was dry throughout.
It’s a fact, however, that we can’t rely on the elements to provide entertaining Grands Prix. The European season is about to get underway, and, while there may be odd wet races, the likelihood is that the great majority will be dry. As I’ve said ’til I’m weary of saying it, the powers-that-be have got to make really fundamental changes to the rules concerning aerodynamics – until one car is able very closely to follow another through a corner, overtaking will remain an endangered species in F1. No one is suggesting that passing should be easy – this is Grand Prix racing, after all – but certainly it should not be as difficult as it has been for the last 15 or 20 years.
Your points about wider circuits, manual gearboxes and steel brakes are all valid, but… where, in these depressed economic circumstances, does the money come from to widen circuits (save perhaps those in places where there is plenty of government cash, but pretty well zero local interest)? Mention manual gearboxes, and team owners shudder at the thought of all those missed shifts, and consequent costly engine blow-ups. Steel brakes, though, would be an excellent change.
As for your last point about a return to a few ‘proper circuits’, I’m afraid I can only say, ‘Dream on…’ We’ve still got Spa and Monza and Silverstone and Suzuka, while Monaco remains a great test of driving ability, but as Bernie casts his eye ever more eastwards, the likelihood is that new ‘autodromes’ will have an ever-bigger part to play in the World Championship…