Op-Ed: F1 shows promise in Oz, but still cause for worry

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I suppose I could be titling this, “Third impressions of Oz.” Todd’s had his, Grace has had hers.

Mine is about throwing a little cold water on us.

No doubt, the Australian GP was a fantastic race. It might have been the most exciting and entertaining of the past three seasons. Monaco and Monza in 2008 stand out for me, as does the season-ender in Brazil that year.

As Grace notes, a lot of that excitement comes down to “the weather.” And it’s due to the weather that I’m throwing a bit of cold water on any “F1 is back, baby!” enthusiasm.

But only a bit. Because I do think we saw hints that there will be quality racing in 2010 — quality racing being, I think, the best description of what F1 fans want. There doesn’t have to be 100 passes per race or cars launching into walls. But there have to be enough moments of racing, when you’re wondering if Car A is going to get past Car B, perhaps to be surprised when it’s Car C that makes the move.

Quality racing.

We saw lots of it in Australia. Without including everyone I could name, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa, and Robert Kubica all showed off quality racing. And for those who like watching someone drive the car just as it needs to be, you had Jenson Button. [C’mon, Grace… you’re going to have to give him his due soon.]

But we saw it in the partly wet. And that has to put a big asterisk next to the word “quality.”

Still, with that asterisk noted, I think we also saw clearly that the drivers realized Formula 1 isn’t an endurance race, but a sprint. Unlike in Bahrain, the drivers were tearing at their tires and running up behind each other as they sought ways to get past.

I’m hopeful that close racing was not just because of the rain and shows that these cars can operate mere inches or feet in front and behind each other.

I’m hopeful all our worries about the aerodynamics of the cars was a bit over-the-top, although I heard the drivers loud and clear after Bahrain saying it was impossible to get close.

So, perhaps we’re somewhere in between? These cars, on dry neutral ground won’t be as limp as at Bahrain but also not as robust as this weekend?

I do want to see the cars, again, on a dry track in order to determine if the drivers and teams, with greater knowledge of the limits, can push each other more and give fans an exciting, quality race without the benefit of “the weather.”

I’m hopeful there’s quality racing ahead. But I certainly won’t mind a few more wet races.

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