The major rule changes introduced into Formula 1 this year have had an instant effect, and mainly it has been to the good of the sport. For one thing, the quality of the racing has significantly improved, in my opinion; for another, the Ferrari-McLaren status quo has been well and truly shaken up. I wish no ill to either of F1’s ‘super teams’, but it has been refreshing to see such as Brawn, Toyota, Williams and Red Bull at the sharp end of the grid.
McLaren and Ferrari, meantime, have been having an awful time of it. As I write, shortly before the Bahrain Grand Prix, McLaren have but eight points on the board, and Ferrari – astonishingly – zero. Inevitably, it has been said that the fight for last year’s World Championship between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa obliged their respective teams to continue development of the 2008 cars right through to the last race, and this necessarily to some degree compromised the radically different ’09 cars. One of the reasons why the Brawn (née Honda) has shown to such advantage is that Ross gave it his full attention throughout last year.
There is also the question of its diffuser, of course – and those on the Williams and the Toyota. Controversy about diffusers has raged in the recent past, to the extent that the solidarity of FOTA looks to be under severe threat. One hopes that the newly formed teams association will not fall at the first fence.
As for KERS – voluntary this season, obligatory next – it is interesting that so few teams have yet gone racing with it. At the first race McLaren, Ferrari, Renault and BMW (on Heidfeld’s car) had it, but by the time of Shanghai only McLaren and Heidfeld were running it.
Opinions seem to be very much split. The benefits of a temporary boost of 80 horsepower have been sometimes very apparent in a straight line, but the systems are heavy (30 kilos), and not surprisingly have a decidedly negative effect on handling and braking. Different drivers have different opinions: at Shanghai, where Ferrari decided temporarily to dispense with KERS (having experienced reliability problems with it), Massa said he was keen to have it back as soon as possible, while Räikkönen was far less enthusiastic.
Presumably, as the season wears on, more and more teams will start to run KERS in preparation for 2010, when they won’t have any choice. There are still those team principals who, in spite of having spent a fortune (in this supposedly cost-cutting era) on developing the systems, hope that in the end the FIA will be persuaded quietly to forget about KERS. Given Max Mosley’s obsession with it, however, that would seem to be most unlikely.