Having just endured the first F1 race of the year, I am finding it a little difficult to express my disappointment.
First off let me mention the broadcast time. The race started at 5AM for me. In order to watch it live I would have needed to get out of bed at 04:30, give the clocks changed this weekend, that works out as 3:30AM. I am not usually at my best then. Until Bernie realizes that the world does not revolve around CET, I guess that this is about as good as it gets.
I started watching the race at around 6AM, skipping the build-up and only dropping from 32x to 1x during the warm-up lap.
Prior to the race there was much speculation that the first corner would be problematic, however apart from Mark Webber laying down a smoke screen that would have made Q-Branch proud, it was pretty much a none event.
Sadly that phrase springs to mind for the rest of the race too. The race quickly settled into a procession with no driver able to overtake without a significant car advantage.
But, lets rewind a little, some time ago the FIA (Ferrari International Assistance) announced that in 2010 there would be a ban on refueling as the majority of the ‘changes to position’ were brought about due to fuel stops and those with the best strategy computers generally rose to the surface. occasionally the logic broke, but in general the race became among the strategic teams.
The ban on in-race refueling has forced the cars to carry an entire race worth of fuel in their car from the start of the race to the flag. Add to this a narrower front tire and team-wide acceptance of the ‘double diffuser’ that emerged in 2009 and you have cars that start very heavy, then gradually get lighter and lighter as the race goes on, but also cars that have more rear-end grip (via the diffuser) and less front end mechanical grip (tires). You do not need an advanced degree in aerodynamics to figure out that the cars are going to be unbalanced and any instance of ‘dirty air’ will reduce the front end grip to, well, not much.
…..and the double diffuser produces a lot of dirty air.
So effectively it is going to be really difficult for a driver to get close to the car in front if they need any level of front end grip, like for instance when braking, or turning.
As no team has a power advantage, this will mean that the performance differential will need to be huge before you can catch and pass another car. We saw this today, Vettel was able to hold off a hungry, charging Rosberg, despite his ailing car being 2-3 seconds / lap slower.
While the FIA where messing about with the rules, they also reduced the number of tires that are available to the teams for a race weekend. This is a simple cost-cutting measure that, like the reduced number of engines available, can only detract from the ‘race’. Prior to the races the top 10 cars all opted to qualify (and thus start on) the super soft tires. These tires were only expected to last 10-15 laps of the 49 lap race, whereas the ‘mediums’, which were the ‘prime’ tire were thought to be good for an entire race distance. But of course, like 2009, everyone is obliged to run at least one lap on each tire.
As expected, the top 10 simply disappeared into the distance from the start, with only minor position changes, Hamilton put up a fight over a line with Massa and backed off too much letting Rosberg by and thus ending any race-win thoughts he may have held. Overtaking is, of course impossible without a mistake or a major car advantage and Rosberg drove beautifully, if not slowly and did not make a single error. Up front Vettel stomped into the lead and Alonso in his first race for Ferrari could not get close enough to attempt to look.
And that was really it, Vettel had a problem with his exhaust and the two Ferrari’s charged by, then Hamliton also snuck past and started to chase down the red arrows having leapfrogged Rosberg in the pits. There were a few minor skirmishes further down the order, but nothing exciting. The HRT’s were rubbish as predicted along with the Virgin cars, but the Lotus team actually looked pretty decent. Force India got a point, Schumacher finished in the points just behind Rosberg and that was it.
In other words it was insanely dull…..
Without fuel stops and with the dirty-air producing double-diffusers the sport has effectively banished position changes to the history books. many commentators are now muttering about enforcing multiple stops in the race and other similar tweeks. It may be too early to tell for certain, but judging by the opening round we are in for a very, very dull season.
1 F. Alonso Ferrari 1:39:20.396
2 F. Massa Ferrari + 16.099
3 L. Hamilton McLaren + 23.182
4 S. Vettel Red Bull + 38.799
5 N. Rosberg Mercedes Grand Prix + 40.213
6 M. Schumacher Mercedes Grand Prix + 44.163
7 J. Button McLaren + 45.280
8 M. Webber Red Bull + 46.360
9 V. Liuzzi Force India F1 + 53.008
10 R. Barrichello Williams + 1:02.489
11 R. Kubica Renault + 1:09.093
12 A. Sutil Force India F1 + 1:22.958
13 J. Alguersuari Scuderia Toro Rosso + 1:32.656
14 N. Hulkenberg Williams + 1 lap(s)
15 H. Kovalainen Lotus F1 + 2 lap(s)
16 J. Trulli Lotus F1 + 3 lap(s
Did not finish
17 S. Buemi Scuderia Toro Rosso + 3 lap(s)
18 P. de la Rosa Sauber + 21 lap(s)
19 B. Senna HRT F1 Team + 32 lap(s)
20 T. Glock Virgin Racing + 33 lap(s)
21 V. Petrov Renault + 36 lap(s)
22 K. Kobayashi Sauber + 38 lap(s)
23 L. Di Grassi Virgin Racing + 46 lap(s)
24 K. Chandhok HRT F1 Team + 47 lap(s)