What’s wrong with F1 in 2012?

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We discussed it on Podcast #265 and even mentioned Mark Webber and Fernando Alono’s adversion to the current state of Formula One racing. With six different winners in as many races, the unpredictable nature of the 2012 season has some fans salivating while others aren’t too sure this is what they wished or signed up for.

As a stodgy, old purist I tend to like my Formula 1 racing competitive with the best drivers and teams battling it out for the win. Much like this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix. Sure, there is and will always be a mid-field in F1. There are the “have’s” and the “have yachts” in F1 and I understand the notion that Williams F1, Sauber, Toro Rosso, Force India and Lotus F1 all have their place on the grid. But winning a race against Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari? As Webber eluded to, Williams F1’s Pastor Maldonado’s best placing prior to Spain was around 8th and now he’s winning races with a team that has no where near the resources or capacity to challenge the big teams…but is that bad?

Webber, nor anyone at F1B, is taking anything away from Maldonado’s victory, it was a terrific win for the Venezuelan. Is it a reality of the current performance of the Williams F1 car versus Red Bull, McLaren or Ferrari? Probably not but one could argue that the tactics are the most important issue and the team who gets the tire’s optimum window of performance right with the race distance and pit stop strategy should win regardless of how much money they spend on their program. It’s not unlike the 2009 year when Brawn GP won the title in a car that just out-thought the competition in their dual-diffuser design right?

Maybe, but not so fast. Is choosing the right tire and running lap times to wait patiently before pushing the tires when they hit their optimum window of performance on your particular car really what F1 is all about?  Not partly about, but all about? Many purists say no. They feel the series has gone beyond competitive racing in favor of manipulated racing at the hands of a persnickety, changed tire on a changed chassis from 2011 regulations coupled with DRS. The result, in their minds, is a heavily affected racing series where tactics and tire management have replaced the notion of speed and flat-out racing. Two different views and I’m inclined to think there can be a happy medium.

Pirelli says it’s the chassis’s and their lack of blown diffuser and aero from last year’s spec that has caused the lottery-like nature of races while others say it is the new tire compounds and the short window of prime operating performance that is the real culprit. In the end, Pirelli have done a terrific job of providing what F1 asked for…a high degradation tire. No one can fault them for doing what other tire makers were unwilling to do and on such short notice or providing the series with the tire they asked for.

It may very well be a combination of the two elements and while I do think Pirelli’s 2012 compounds have a distinctly different characteristics with short operating windows, it is also the notion that the car is struggling with downforce from last year. Lift the downforce and provide a touchier tire and you have the 2012 season. McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh and Red Bull’s Christian Horner said (as covered by AUTOSPORT):

“I think it is an enthralling sport at the moment. A few years ago weren’t people saying ‘aren’t these processional races and aren’t they so predictable?’ Well, we certainly don’t have a predictable season. I think an unpredictable race and an unpredictable season is what a lot of fans want.”

Horner added: “I think it is remarkable that there have been so many winners. The tyres are a factor and the fact that there are so many strong drivers as well is also a crucial factor.

“Red Bull has become the first team to win two races this year, which is an achievement. F1 is different this year primarily because of teams trying to get on top of the variances in the tyre compounds.”

The Monaco GP was more traditional in what you would expect but even still, watching Kimi Raikkonen sink like a stone when his tires hit the mysterious cliff was a stark reminder of how challenging this equation is in 2012.  In the end, it is the same for everyone and as such, I can understand why many fans are having a terrific time watching F1 this year. As for me, I can’t help but feel that the series is heavily affected by the current tire and chassis regulations and the results, while exciting, may not be the truth. What I like to see in my F1 races is the truth. Just like Audi at Le Mans.

I like to see the best drivers, best car and hardest working teams reap the rewards not suffer because tactically a Sauber got the call slightly better than they did and lead the field to victory over all comers…not that I wouldn’t mind seeing one of my favorite Sauber’s win mind you and that’s the trouble with 2012…I’m torn between the truth of it over the entertainment value of the “show”.

What do you think? Too far? Just right? Needs some tweaking?  Let us know in the comment section below.

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