Fantastic response to the season review video posted yesterday, which reminded us all of what a great sport this is and what drama we had in 2010.
But not everyone thought 2010 was a ‘vintage’ year for F1. Long time reader and poster Paul Lucas, who posts here under the name FlukieLucas, sent in an interesting analysis of why he thought that the rule changes for 2010 made F1 into “Proforma” racing – with the absence of refuelling strategy.
He argues that it was only the “peripherals” such as weather, safety cars, penalties etc, which made the races entertaining. This was true even of races like Abu Dhabi where the first lap safety car set in train the Rosberg/Petrov strategy which led to Alonso losing the championship.
I think safety cars, while undoubtedly artificial, are not “peripheral”. They are now part of the fabric of F1 – how else can you keep the race going after a crash like the one on the first lap in Abu Dhabi? But overall I think he has a point and as a discussion starter I felt it worth sharing with everyone. It’s been edited down slightly.
Tomorrow I’ll explain why 2011 will be a completely different story.
FlukieLucas writes: Let met tell you exactly why I found F1 2010 a *passion killer*
F1′S PROFORMA MAKEOVER
People used to tell me when they saw an F1 race the only thing they observed was cars in a procession. I understood their complaint. I told them that, although there appears to be little unfolding, they were racing according to a strategy and that the gaps between cars each lap mattered because you didn’t know about the fuel strategy of the cars in front and behind. There were other variables like weather, driver error, mechanical/pitstop issues. But beyond those peripherals, it was as a base spectacle a game of high speed chess.
It’s been disappointing then, that the rule changes churned out in 2010 have nearly defeated the entertainment value such that when you now observe cars processionally circulating there is actually little beyond that. F1 has manifested it’s own caricature.
Uniform strategy increases predictability
*Removing refuelling during race pitstops was a rule change for 2010. The measure intended to save the teams 300,000 EUROs per year in logistical costs.
Because refueling is now prohibited during the race, the only thing that the team needs to see to in-race is a change of tyres. The current rules require the use of two tyre compounds during a race, so the teams are mandated to pit their cars at least once. And once is almost always all there is. Because one set of harder compound tyres suffices for the entire race distance, as soon as the soft tyres which the cars start on are past their useful life the only sensible thing for all the teams to do is to pit the cars and switch them on to the “hards”.
And it inevitably occurs on roughly the same lap because once on the fresher tyres (bearing in mind all cars carry roughly the same fuel load throughout the race) they naturally lap quicker. So we have the inevitable pattern throughout all the races this year of one stop for tyres, occurring on roughly the same lap, and for the same amount of time 3-4 seconds. This contrasts steeply to the days of fuel strategy where not only are there varying strategies, different cars who are racing one another pitting on different laps, but a multitude of unknowns instead of a uniform window to pit for tyres like today.
The effect of this has been to universally standardise pitstop strategy. There’s no room for movement unless you want to play things different and lose out, as Button did in Japan and as Webber suffered in Canada. There was no mystery to the destiny of those “rebel” strategies.
With uniform strategy, I question the grounds for drivers giving it their all:
• With a heavier car there is greater advantage with regard to tyre care in contrast to pushing lap after lap – producing “qualifying laps” as some would term them. If you’re the car behind you tend to slide in the turbulent “disturbing” air of the car in front, so there’s no incentive to attack. In fact, as I see it, there’s every incentive to take things easy. You will note if you watch the Singapore race Sebastian Vettel coming over the radio saying “I am not pushing”. To illustrate my point about the effect of “uniform strategy” I would point out that in that particular race, Vettel who qualified 2nd sat behind polesitter Alonso for the entire 2 hour race duration, pitted on the same lap, and finished second. Without forcing Alonso into a mistake there was no means of racing him for the lead besides an outrageous overtaking attempt.
• Because race strategy is now, I would argue, ” uniform”, there is a sense that there is no longer that gradual unfolding or unveiling of the race’s ultimate result. There’s instead a proforma feel to it. The certainty is that you will finish where you qualify, so long as neither you nor the team make a blunder of some sort relative to the other cars and drivers.
The peripherals alone don’t make for interesting races
In fact, I would argue the peripherals have been the only true variable in all races this year. What I mean by peripherals are the incidental things that occur in a race:
1. Safety cars.
5. Mechanical issues.
Because these things are incidental, I argue they cannot be the basis relied upon for an interesting race. It seems to me that the races lacking the peripherals, have all been uninteresting this season (eg Bahrain). Whereas these incidental matters can add to the interest of a race which already has a basis for interest on the weight of the “natural” racing, they are alone a poor foundation for the sport to produce flourishing entertainment for both casual and longtime fans alike.
In-laps, out-laps, and hot-laps are a lost art of racing this year
One of the single most appreciative opportunistic aspects of fuel-stop racing for me was when a driver and his team could “leap frog” the car in front via their in-lap or out-lap (the lap at which they were pitting or their first lap out of the pits). If a passing opportunity on the track didn’t present itself during a given stint in the race, the driver could look to utilise the moment in which the car in front they were racing wasn’t immediately ahead of them on the track but in the pits or on their own out-lap.
So, if your first fuel stint in the race is 23 laps as opposed to the guy ahead whose is 22, you might utilise that single lap with “clear air” to put in your best lap of the race, pushing your car to it’s very limits. If successful, the pace advantage from the extra lap, coupled with the fact that the guy formerly ahead is heavy on fuel, will be enough to “leap frog” him when you exit from the pitlane a lap later. This became known as a driver skill to be able to find the time when they needed to turn it on.
But is this limited to a driver having more laps of fuel than the car ahead? Not at all.
In contrast, the benefit of the fresher tyres and the first-lap performance posits an advantage that can also be utilised against the driver ahead who (although light on fuel) has older worn tyres. Michael Schumacher performed a pass on Kimi Raikkonen for 2nd place at the 2006 British Grand Prix by doing as much. Similarly, Schumacher was also able to maintain a gap to Mika Hakkinen at the 2001 Spanish Grand Prix by doing the exact same thing after the first round of pitstops.
Yet with uniform strategy, uniform fuel-loads (roughly), the opportunity for “hotlaps” is almost annihilated under today’s regulations. The only instance I can recall of a in-lap making a difference to a race result in 2010 was Alonso’s at Monza to leap-frog Jenson Button, though it must be said this was as much down to a faster tyre stop as it was Alonso’s in-lap. It’s frustrating as a viewer, to observe that the driver is simply unable to make a difference under these regulations.
I would argue that, for credibility, top level of motorracing demands two things: 1) the driver finding the limits of his car and finding the grip as it changes throughout the race, 2) the opportunity for drivers and teams to pass where on-track passing opportunities are limited. I would argue that the sport has changed in 2010 to fundamentally erode and these two essential tenets.
Let us know your point of view.