Op-Ed: Malaysia hides F1’s festering wound

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The Malaysian Grand Prix was an excited race if for no other reason than to see the Ferrari’s and McLaren’s charge through the field from the back of the grid. The passing was exceptional and mid-field racing was exciting. The race, like Australia, staved off another repeat of Bahrain where processional, boring racing exposed itself like a flasher in Times Square. I was reflecting on Nigel Roebuck’s recent column on the sport’s competitiveness or lack thereof after the race however and I think he is dead right.

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The lack of refueling was met with celebration up and down the pit lane last year when it was announced as a major change to the 2010 regulations. Only in F1 could we use aircraft-style refueling rigs with temperature controlled, pressurized fuel to fill up a car. The cumbersome and expensive systems were banned to thwart safety concerns and reduce the cost of F1. Fair enough.

When Bahrain came around as the season opener, instead of Australia, it heralded a season that could potentially play host to the most talented grid since the 1980’s. The excitement and anticipation was palpable amongst fans and the race utterly underwhelmed us. Such is the situation with F1 where cars are designed quit literally to the stage of not being able to race each other.

The FIA made several attempts at “fixing” the series by reducing costs which seemed to be paramount in 2009 given the world economic situation. While attempting to reduce costs, speed and a lack of passing in F1, they promptly allowed dual-diffusers and KERS units that were neutered just enough to render them “push-not-to-be-passed” buttons. All of the work the Overtaking Working Group had done in 2008 to remedy what the F1 insiders call “the show” ( how I loathe that term) was promptly undone by the notion of a upside down grid with Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams clearly stepping beyond the spirit of the diffuser regulation.

This egregious interpretation of the diffuser regulations lead to a year that saw former FIA president Max Mosley lick his lips in vengeful satisfaction as Ferrari and McLaren suffered to keep pace with what had become eternal back-markers. I have officially announced that while 2009 is what it is and I couldn’t be happier for Brawn GP and Jenson Button; it was an asterisk year for me.

Now we are faced with a new year that, in my opinion, need rain or attrition to keep it interesting and competitively fun. Australia and Malaysia masked the real issue with F1 by adding rain in Oz and an error in tactical thinking for Ferrari and McLaren. True, the race may have still been fun to watch had Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren been up front but in the end, I suspect F1 is still hiding a festering wound via rain and attrition during the last two races.

Ultimately I keep watching because boring F1 is better than no F1 and I suspect it is better, to me, than many other racing series out there. I love F1!. No question but as Motorsport Magazine‘s Nigel Roebuck points out, how difficult can it be for the FIA, FOM and teams to see what has made the last two races exciting is a lack of grip due to rain and with a lack of grip you have more errors and better racing. So let’s review…a lack of grip creates good racing?

Seems that while the CFD wonks are working away at creating one or two more points in aero, fans are pressing up one or two channels on their television. I am bereft of the logic that would continue to press for aero innovations to keep sponsors happy with tyhe teams via winning performances when the very fans these sponsors are attempting to reach are becoming disenchanted iwth the product they are selling and the product F1 is selling

I suggest that the FOM, FIA, FOTA and the sponsors all come together to realize just what is achievable and what should be done. I have no rights as a fan that I can apply to F1 but I do have an “off” button on my remote control. So do all of those casual fans that FOTA was so desperately becoming seeker-sensitive toward. If a hardened F! sycophant like me can get miffed by the series, imagine what your average college sports fan who stumbles across an F1 race must think?

So what do you think will solve the issue? F1B’s very own Paul Charsley says make a spec rear wing with a determined amount of downforce e.g. 500 lbs. What the teams do with the front of the car to claw back downforce is up to them but limiting the downforce at the rear reduces grip and creates errors and better racing. The car, as Nigel points out, should have more BHP than the chassis can handle. Do you agree? Of am I just overreacting to the Bahrain issue and actually good racing is here to stay wet or dry? I hope so.

All is not well and the emperor of F1 has time to make jokes like grid girls selecting starting positions. Shhhh…the adults are talking.

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