Fernando Alonso won the first Grand Prix of the season at Bahrain today, leading a Ferrari one two ahead of Felipe Massa with Lewis Hamilton third for McLaren. Pole sitter Sebastian Vettel led for most of the race, but ended up fourth after an exhaust problem on his Red Bull.
And as the front runners are always likely to choose the soft tyre for qualifying and then make an early stop to the hard, there is a risk that all the races will follow the same pattern as today and become very dull.
The reaction of many fans today has been disappointment that this season which promised so much with the most competitive field for a generation, was largely processional due to the limitations of the new rules banning refueling.
This is something that Formula 1 was well aware of when it made the rule changes. The risks of processional races were discussed at length over the winter and the idea of a compulsory second pit stop was considered at length before being voted against.
Tonight many team principals are talking about it again and FOTA is looking at it, but the problem will be that it requires 100% approval to be voted in for this season. It also makes the sport look a little silly, if it makes changes so soon because it miscalculated its own rule changes.
Would it get 100% agreement? Possibly, but there is always the risk that one of the smaller teams might hold out, wanting some concessions from the others in another area. And some of the teams on the fringes of the top ten might vote against because they might feel that having the option of starting on the harder tyre might give them a competitive advantage.
Take Adrian Sutil, for example. If he had not tagged Robert Kubica at the start of the race today, he would have finished 5th for Force India. From 10th place on the grid that might not have been so easy with two compulsory pits stops.
With the system as it is there is always a chance for teams who qualify around P9-P13 to get ahead of the established front runners, so they might not want to change the system.
My proposal would be more simple than that and would not require unanimous agreement. It is for Bridgestone to bring tyres which are closer together in performance, rather than two steps apart as at present. This was done last season and it improved things, but now they have gone back to bringing super soft and medium to the first race. Because the soft is so much faster, around 6/10ths and degrades more quickly, it will always be the qualifying tyre, which then leads to an early first pit stop for the medium, which is the better race tyre.
With tyres that are closer together, the performance difference is less and so are the wear rates and it is more attractive to try a different tactic. I’ve asked quite a few engineers tonight and they agree that it would be a step in the right direction without disadvantaging anyone.
“It would be bad if we don’t react, ” said Mercedes CEO Nick Fry. “We need to look at what we can do on the technical side and the sporting side. The most important people to consider are the fans and the customers who pay to come .”