by J Kraus
I am somewhat amused by the vast rumblings of discontent over the Bahrain GP. Everyone is complaining about the lack of passing. My first thought was that many of the voices complaining most voraciously about seeing only a few passing manoeuvers will happily spend a hour and a half watching a football (soccer) match in which only one or two goals are scored.
Viewing a pass on the racetrack is really not all that exciting in and of itself (unless you have a wager on!) It is how the pass is executed that can make it exciting for the fans.
There are two major problems with today’s F1 cars from a spectator standpoint: too much tire and too much downforce. The result is a car with a very small window between in control and out of control. That is why, when a driver makes the tiniest error he as often as not ends up completely off the track.
In the narrower tire, no-downforce era, if a lead driver was being closely pursued by a competitor, he could push the envelope a little more knowing the worst that could happen was that he slide off line enough to let the other driver by and thus lose a position. Today, if a driver pushes that envelope a little too far, he is liable to slide right off the circuit, lose multiple positions and possibly be out of the race if his car suffers significant damage bouncing through the kitty litter.
In reality, when you see a F1 car racing around the track, it is constantly cornering in controlled slides around the circuit. However, with the combination of sticky tread compounds, large tires and massive downforce, the tire slip-angles even at the limit are so minuscule that to the viewer the car seems to simply steering around the track as if on rails. Not much excitement there.
In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, when tires were relatively narrow, tread compounds less advanced and downforce non-existent, fans could easily see that the drivers were actually driving their cars. When a pass was executed coming into or exiting a turn with both cars in visible drifts with high slip angles on the tires; that was excitement, that was motor racing. You didn’t need to hear from race communications that a driver was suffering from understeer or oversteer; you could see it with your own eyes.
There was no need for “drifting” competitions in the pre-downforce era; you could see plenty of drifting on the racetrack. Not just in F1, but in ETCC and BTCC racing as well.
Speaking of tires, I see no need for multiple-compound tires. The more interesting races are won on the track, not in pre-race strategic deliberations.
Unfortunately, as I am more excited by technology than personalities, Formula One becomes increasingly less interesting for me as the FIA increasingly standardize and legislate away engineering creativity. By legislative fiat, all current F1 engines are 2.4 litre 90-degree V8’s. By contrast, in 1966, the first year of the 3-litre Grand Prix formula, cars on the grid were powered by interesting mix of inline 4’s, V6’s, V8’s, V12’s and the BRM H16, each configuration producing a unique and distinctive exhaust note.