In the aftermath of the less than thrilling season opener at Bahrain, both 2009 world champ Jenson Button and Ferrari pilot Felipe Massa have urged caution regarding the proposal that it’s already time, after a single race in 2010, to begin tweaking the rules to increase the wattage on race drama.
As anyone who watched the race will recall, there was no significant overtaking that occurred among the points-earning finishers for the entire race. The most exicting position change, aside from the scrum off the grid at the start, occurred with Sebastian Vettel had mechanical difficulties and dropped back from the lead to fourth spot.
Some paddock prophets have now urged the FIA to seek immediate remedies, such as mandating softer tire compounds from Bridgestone, which would shorten tire life, creating greater performance differentials, and mandate more pit stops, which in turn would create more strategic opportunities. Others have suggested simply adding another mandatory pit stop, for the same effect.
Jenson Button has acknowledged that the drama quotient of the race at Bahrain was a bit meager. “I think that even if you had won the race, you would have thought ‘where was the action?’,” Button told Reuters. “It’s a sport that I love and it’s tough to see a procession.”
On the other hand, Button also urged caution at the idea of rushing to change the rules. “I’m not going to say ‘What are we going to do about it? It’s terrible,’ because I think we’ve got to wait and see,” Button said. “It’s only one race in, so it’s not the end of the world. There’s still another 18 races to go. There’s still every chance it’s going to be a fantastic season. We just have to see what happens over the next few races and then people have got to start making the decisions if it’s not going in the right direction.
Button also pointed out that the processional or parade like aspect was hardly a new occurrence in modern Formula 1. “Even last year, people were saying that the racing can be boring, there isn’t enough overtaking,” he said. “But for me last year the balance was good. “You had overtaking, not a lot, but you had overtaking and when you did make a move it was a hell of a move and it was exciting.”
Felipe Massa echoed Button’s sentiments on the official Ferrari website. “I have seen in the media some criticism that maybe the tyre rules and lack of refueling made the grand prix boring to watch for the spectators, but I think it is too early to comment after just one race,” Massa said.
Nevertheless, Massa admitted that the new refueling ban contributed to the overtaking dilemma. “At the start of the race is that we are six to seven seconds slower than in qualifying,” Massa said. “Running on very low fuel to get a good grid position, you have a massive amount of grip, but then, on Sunday, you have a very heavy car with absolutely no grip in the early laps. Added to this, if you are following someone closely, trying to overtake, you lose more aerodynamic downforce, so these two factors combined mean it is even harder to overtake.”
While Alain Prost recently commented that the current crop of drivers would eventually adjust to the same refueling ban that he and other drivers, such as Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet Sr, Nigel Mansell and Michael Schumacher had to contend with back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Jenson Button was quick to point out in response that today’s Formula 1 cars have much more downforce that the cars of 20 odd years ago, and it’s the cars’ downforce dependency that is at the root of the overtaking dilemma in the first place. Having more pit stops merely helped disguise the problem.
Many are predicting that the next race in Melbourne should offer more overtaking opportunities, which should translate into better racing. We shall see. What we can say for certain is that the FIA probably won’t be rushing headlong into ad hoc rule changes until they see additional corroboration during the next few races that the current rules are hopeless.