The people who participate in Formula One are too smart by half and that’s why every time somebody comes up with a bright idea to "improve the racing," they figure out a way to circumvent it.
Going into Sunday’s Grand Prix of Bahrain (won by Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari, with Felipe Massa second in a Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton third in a McLaren), the conventional thinking was that the racing couldn’t help but be more exciting because there would be no refuelling this season. The drivers would have to stop for tires, however, and since they had to use two different compounds during the race as per the rules, and because the tires would wear out because of the weight of all the fuel they had to carry, they would have to stop twice – or so the thinking went.
All this would mean that if drivers wanted to advance they would have to execute racing passes out on the circuit rather than during pit stops, which has been the case for years.
So what happened Sunday? All the front-runners stopped just once for tires, not twice. They started on one compound and when they went to the pits, they took on the other.
So much for trying to engineer excitement.
But F1 people still think that this is the only way to go and even want to complicate it further. Martin Whitmarsh, who runs McLaren, said after the race – which, unfortunately, was a bit of a snoozer (full results here) – that F1 should immediately dictate two mandatory stops and he also wants Bridgestone to fool around with the tires so drivers flat-out can’t use them beyond about 20 laps.
I have a better idea.
Stop making any more rules. There’s too many rules as it is and it’s ruining the sport (if it hasn’t been ruined by rules already).
Leave everybody alone to make their own decisions and to run their own races.
Here’s what to do:
Let Bridgestone arrive with three compounds for dry tracks. Soft, medium and hard. Then, let the teams and drivers decide which tire, or tires, they want.
Should they go with the hard compound and not stop, go with the medium compound and maybe have to stop once (but maybe not, if the driver can manage his tires better than the next guy) or go with the soft compound and have to stop twice (but, presumably, be faster on the short runs than the guy with the hard tire who has to get all the way to the finish without stopping)?
That way, it would be completely up to the drivers and their teams and out of the hands of the kind of people who think the way to create interest is to tell the racers: "Thou shalt stop twice, or else."
Let the racers race. And have minds of their own. The show will be much, much better for it.
The Grand Prix of Bahrain, according to my notebook jottings:
– I don’t know what the deal is officially, but it looks like Speed TV will be allowed to broadcast F1 material this year except for live qualifying and the live race itself, which is the property in Canada of TSN and for which they pay a lot of money.
But that means we don’t get a pre-race program (which is fine, because wheels.ca is now providing one; I’m recording a Preview Podcast interview with Canadian F1 expert Gerald Donaldson that will be on the site by Friday noon of Grand Prix weekends. Take a listen to the first one here).
In any event, the TSN race broadcast comes on the air five minutes before the race starts and I want to be the first to say that the BBC can sure fit an awful lot of information into that short period of time. Maybe we’re not getting the colour of a grid walk, but we sure are getting the facts and figures from Jonathan Legard, who I now officially quite like.
– I still don’t know why the FIA let the HRT cars start (see my earlier blog on this insanity) but they weren’t around long. Karun Chandhok crashed two laps in and Bruno Senna lasted 18 laps before a hydraulic problem took him out.
– The other new teams – Lotus and Virgin – tooled around and mostly stayed out of the way. They were okay, but far from being competitive. Everybody kept talking about how these cars were using the race as a "glorified test session," but there was one significant difference: they got paid an awful lot of money for being out there.
Some "test" session.
– I still haven’t passed Grade 11 physics and I sure don’t know anything about aerodynamics but I think these F1 cars are ugly. The Force India car, in particular, when you see it directly from the front, looks like a set of building blocks.
– Nico Hulkenberg and Jamie Alguersuari both spun off the track early in the race but managed to keep going because their anti-stall devices kicked in. I thought F1 drivers were skilled enough that they could keep the motors going in such situations. Apparently not.
– BBC colour commentator Martin Brundle had an excellent observation about how Michael Schumacher – who finished sixth in his first GP in three years – looked in his Mercedes: "Schumie looks to be about a tenth of a second behind the car rather than being a tenth of a second in front of it."
– Sebastien Vettel, who eventually finished fourth, sounded so upset when his Red Bull-Renault developed problems on Lap 34. "Can you fix it (the loss of power because of an exhaust problem)?" he pleaded with his crew. "Negative, mechanical," was the reply, which was too bad because he was the driver to beat Sunday.
By the way, I received a very nice email from a gentleman in Oakville after he listened to my podcast with Gerry D. on Friday and he explained there is no Vee sound in the German language and that Vettel is properly pronounced more like an F, as in Fettel.
– Felipe Massa, of course, was the story of the race (as was the just-back-from-serious-injury Will Power in the IndyCar race, which was a barnburner – please see blog below).
Massa came oh-so close to losing an eye at the minimum and his life at the max when hit in the head with that spring last summer in Hungary. In the Grand Prix at Bahrain, in his first race back, he finished a solid second.
Somebody had asked me earlier this year if I thought Massa was going to come back as hard and as quick as ever and I said I didn’t think so, explaining that he would still be fast and probably as focused but a serious injury can shave a fraction off here and a fraction off there, simply because after spending serious sheet time in the crash house (I had to do that . . . ) it’s sometimes very difficult to make your right foot go all the way down.
It looks, however, like Massa is back with a vengeance (he outqualified Alonso and started second, only to drop to third at the first corner) and for that we should all be thankful.
– The Grand Prix of Australia is in two weeks. Start practicing staying up late.