IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT

Ditch the rules and gadgets but have better equipment

It's still a two-horse race with Mercedes team-mates Nico Rosberg (left) and Lewis Hamilton slugging it out during the Austrian Grand Prix. F1's cyclical nature is inevitable when high technology is involved.
It's still a two-horse race with Mercedes team-mates Nico Rosberg (left) and Lewis Hamilton slugging it out during the Austrian Grand Prix. F1's cyclical nature is inevitable when high technology is involved.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WOULD a legion of global fans - the Twitterati and disciples of social media - have attacked Formula One so aggressively and deemed it boring after the rules changes for 2014, if luminaries such as Bernie Ecclestone, the ringmaster himself, hadn't proclaimed it to be so last March?

Or disgruntled team bosses Dietrich Mateschitz and Luca di Montezemolo had not whined so publicly just because they could not win?

Had the latter forgotten how awful it was when Michael Schumacher's team-mates were never allowed to challenge him?

Forget gimmicks like a return to refuelling. That would achieve nothing. Instead, let's have those noisier and faster 1,000bhp cars we hear so much about.

Those who understand and love the sport know that it's a cyclical business. That's inevitable when high technology is involved, and it's generally agreed that such technology is a cornerstone of what makes F1 special.

Remember the late 70s, for example, when Colin Chapman first harnessed ground effect; the 80s when McLaren's TAG Porsche-engined missiles were so dominant in 1984, or their Honda-powered contenders which mopped up in 1988 and came so close to winning every race; Williams in their technological heyday in the 90s; Red Bull with their blown-diffuser technology in the early 2010s when rivals scratched their heads in frustration trying to emulate Adrian Newey's brilliance?

There wasn't such an outcry then. The problem is, it's human nature to pick at and unravel things once somebody has suggested they aren't as beautiful as you once supposed. And we live in the Internet era of short attention spans and the demand for instant gratification.

Some recent converts to F1 are losing patience because it isn't cut-and-thrust racing with overtaking all the time. But as Lewis Hamilton said this weekend: "Was it ever really like that?"

You have to go back a long way to find a race in which the two leaders genuinely passed one another several times a lap - to the 1969 British GP when Jackie Stewart and Jochen Rindt duelled at lap record speed. Or to Dijon and the 1979 French GP, and the all-time greatest fight between Rene Arnoux and the indefatigable Gilles Villeneuve.

It's fashionable to deride DRS as an artificial means of facilitating overtaking. But in reality, it gives back what used to be called the slipstream, which helped passing back in the 60s.

Would it really be preferable to have those awful processions in which the turbulence from a leading car ruined the airflow over the front wing of a following car and led to a stalemate which stymied even Ayrton Senna?

Forget gimmicks like a return to refuelling. That would achieve nothing. Instead, let's have those noisier and faster 1,000bhp cars we hear so much about.

Let's see a ban on the overly complicated and fiendishly expensive front wings and a return to ground effect undercar tunnels; they place much less reliance on the front wing and, as we saw in Indy cars in the 90s, facilitate overtaking.

Let's have a return to durable tyres on which a driver can push hard every lap rather than risking excessive degradation. They might perk things up.

But one of the quickest fixes concerns something that Ecclestone said last weekend: "We need to have a very, very good look at all our sporting regulations. Don't go over the white line, don't do this, don't do that.

"If you change your engine, you go back 20 places. It's not what the public understand. They don't understand, and when they do understand they don't care, basically."

Perception is everything in F1, and easing up on the proscriptive rules could do much to change the current negative image.

"There's people always complaining about something. The winners never complain. The losers complain," Ecclestone said.

But instead of berating Mercedes for being better than their rivals, those rivals should be kicking themselves until they can match them. And to help that, engine development should be free until 2017.

Then we'd have the sort of racing that gives you the chills when the laws of diminishing returns come into play and the playing field evens out again.

stsports@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2015, with the headline 'Ditch the rules and gadgets but have better equipment'. Print Edition | Subscribe