If there has been one resounding message from the opening race of the F1 world championship in Bahrain it is that the hype may not have matched the action on track.
The regulation changes, new teams, star drivers and no less than four teams vying for the title made for terrific off-season reading and dreaming. Fans around the world were pumped up by talk of the returning 7-time champion Michael Schumacher and the possibility of Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes GP fighting for the top spot.
Recent years in F1 had been dull and while many suggested that the series would survive the retirement of Schumacher in 2006, it seemed the series was facing a vacuum of sorts in the excitement department. All the more reason that the 2010 season was certainly one of the most anticipated int he sports history.
The opening race in Bahrain failed to live up to that hype and has had many calling for immediate regulation changes to spice up the on-track action. Having gained a reinvigorated fan base, F1 would do well to capitalize on this momentum but Bahrain failed to do so.
Speaking to the Times, F1 commercial rights boss Bernie Ecclestone suggest patience and calm before making any sweeping changes:
â€œThere is no panic, no crisis for F1,â€ he said. â€œI think there is nothing we can do immediately and we should not just knee-jerk into changes.
â€œI had a meeting with the teams and tried to explain to them what our business is about â€” racing and entertaining the public, not about playing with computers and going fast over one lap. The problem is that you cannot really have teams in any shape or form having a part in the sporting or technical regulations. You cannot have the inmates writing the regulations.â€
Ultimately Ecclestone believes that F1 teams have gone too far toward the engineering and technical aspect of the sport that has effectively created the current conundrum of reduced passing and less action on race day.
The regulatory body, the FIA, has continually attempted to place new and sometimes cunning, rules to manage the sport and manipulate the competition toward a more exciting format. These regulations have not always met with raging success and more times than not, failed to achieve the very thing they were created for.
Managing the propeller-heads of F1 is not an easy task and teams are not here to represent what is best for F1 but what is best for the team. That is not an indictment as many in the sport want F1 to succeed but not at the risk of reducing their teams ability to compete or succeed by exploiting their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses.
Can changes be made for 2010 to improve F1? Most likely but Ecclestone is keen to wait until returning to Europe in May before initiating any sweeping change. Red Bull boss Christian Horner called for mandatory two-stop regulations for 2010 as he felt this racing would be impacted negatively if the teams did not stop more than once. Sundays race seemed to prove Horner right.
Ecclestone would like to outsource the solution to F1’s problems and perhaps removing the teams bias is the prime mover for doing so but the Formula One Teams Association may have something to add to that notion. Interesting too that the FIA, FOM and FOTA cannot work together for what is best for the sport. Threee organizations with markedly different interests to be sure and perhaps an outside view would be best.
Removing the propeller hats from the pocket-protector crowd will not be an easy task but perhaps I submit that the fans will speak much louder than anyone. If the fans are not happy with the racing, then little else matters.
Ultimately the teams have designed cars that cannot race each other. They have gone a bridge too far and while no one wants a spec series, perhaps regulations are needed to re-engineer cars that can actually race each other. That is the desire and that car may look drastically different than today’s car and there is little doubt it would include less aerodynamic mystique arts and more mechanical know-how. Is that a bad idea?
Ecclestone is not alone in his caution. In what may be rapidly becoming the new era Nikki Lauda of rent-a-quote or quote machine, former driver Jacques Villeneuve said:
â€œThe rules are fine,â€ the Canadian said. â€œOne race doesnâ€™t mean anything. The worst thing would be for sudden changes before everybody is sure what they want.â€