Formula-ic? Well…maybe


R&T’s John Krewson wrote an opinion piece about Formula 1 in the most recent edition of the magazine and before you get snippy with me, I do have a sub so this isn’t a case of just gleaning the interweb for a story to pick a fight with.

While I agree with John about the over-arching premise of his article and the frustration that F1 has purposefully created, there are a couple of clarifications I think might help readers—doubtfully John—in the process.

John states that F1 currently has high-tech and low-tech tricks are used to level the playing field. That’s true. Although I think he may have gotten the ranking a little wrong.

First, John offers DRS as a high-tech trick and the Pirelli tires as the low-tech trick. Those are actually reversed. DRS is a known entity and when deployed, can be measured on the overall performance gain in certain sections. Teams have this sorted and they do know where the tenths will be gained while deploying DRS. IT is as simple as pressing a button.

Opening a wing and reducing drag is aerodynamics 101 and thus, low-tech by F1 standards. The high-tech portion of the equation is the Pirelli tires. It takes a==some serious thinking to build a tire that degrades at a higher rate of speed than normal and to factor in track abrasion levels, weather, heat and the gravitational impact of side-loads and cornering. The tires are an amazing piece of kit toward F1’s current constructs developed to level the playing field.

Then you have to take into account the teams and how they react with these tires and treads. Too much heat, not enough heat, degradation levels that differ from day to day and track to track. The rate of degradation is one thing but the heat cycles and where the tires work best is a magic art and not as simple as pushing a button to open your wing for 10-12 kn/h more.

While taking the stuffing out of F1, John has every legitimate right to abhor the current constructs that are intended to bring equanimity to the grid. As he rightfully points out, only 3-4 teams are competitive right now so if you removed the regulations and constructs, perhaps only 3-4 teams could afford to compete in the arms race but that’s no different than we have now.

It’s a thoughtful piece by John and I appreciate his willingness to call F1 to the carpet as it needs a good sending up but his final example of F1 un-encumbered and the thrill it provides is a little bit of Kimi Raikkonen fan boy-ism at best. In Germany, Kimi was reeling in Sebastian Vettel because his tires were fresher—by 8 laps and he was using the Option tire—than Vettel’s and Seb was managing the pace to the end.

“Räikkönen, with more fastest laps on record than any active driver, seems to find speed whenever he needs it. The last 10 laps in Germany were classic F1, as Kimi whittled away at Vettel’s lead and fans did race arithmetic in their heads. Would he catch him? Would there be time and room to pass?

In the end, it didn’t happen. But the chase was both exciting and rare, and chiefly, pretty much despite the current rule set. The planets aligned and it was just two men, their magnificent cars, and the clock. As it should be.”

The very thing John seemed to love about the end of the German Grand Prix was actually brought to him by Pirelli and the new compound construction using Kevlar in an answer to the British GP tire implosion that John laments as a reason to do away with the HD tires.

In short, Formula 1 is suffering under the weight of an oppressive economy as much as any other industry but it happens to be making money based on venerable contracts that haven’t expired yet and TV revenue that still flows. In order to give the fans what they want—yes, they were asked and they said they want lots of passing apparently—Formula 1 has created constructs to enable the show to offer viewers “Spice” and entertainment.

You see, that’s the tragedy that John should be talking about. Formula 1 shouldn’t have listened to the fans and they should have stuck with what made them great. A constructor’s series with the best cars and drivers they can afford racing on the best circuits in the world. Not the most cash-flush pay driver to buy a ride in the world’s most expensive, construct-laden spec car on the most generic and mundane circuits on the planet. You see, F1 is having financial issues…they just hide them better and rub the fan’s nose in it by suggesting its their fault for asking for more passing.

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