The Law of Unintended Consequences (so dubbed by sociologist Robert K. Merton) embodies the notion that when an iherently complex system is modified the results are often unexpected, and might or might not be desirable. According to Lotus pilot Jarno Trulli, this year’s tech and sporting regs in F1 are a case in point.
Trulli has suggested that the new tire compounds, in particular, have made the drivers so prudent about using up their rubber prior to race day that they are running fewer laps during qualifying on Saturday, with the unitended effect that qualifying has become less exciting.
Trulli recently wrote in his column for La Repubblic, “Like everything in life, the 2011 changes in F1 have some pros and cons. The pros are more exciting and spectacular races, which the public seem to like; the cons are grands prix that are a bit less comprehensible and, since Istanbul, what I call ‘the end of qualifying.'”
The fact of the matter is, over the past 20 years, as F1 cars have become more aerodynamically sensitive, passing has become ever more difficult and rare. Thus, with few passing opportunities, the race was often decided during Saturday’s qualifying sessions.
Now, however, we see the situation somewhat reversed. With overtaking greatly enhanced under the new rules, the races have become much more fluid, which has rendered qualifying less critical. Add to that the fact that drivers now wish to conserve their first set of tires for the race (recall the Red Bull twins in Istanbul: both Vettel and Webber ran only a single hot lap in Q3), and you might say that the final moments of qualy have less of a cliffhanger aspect.
Trulli is able to see the good with the bad, however. “There are pros and cons,” he said. “The pros are better races decided in the last 10-15 laps depending on the strategies and the tires, while the cons are that qualifying is less spectacular and more tactical.”
But isn’t this a return to proper racing? If the most dramatic part of a race weekend is qualifying, and if the race itself is anticlimactic, then there’s something wrong with the formula.
Qualifying serves a function, and, at best, is an appetizer to the main course. But when the appetizer makes the entree seem bland (which seems to be the case at many of the restaurants I freuent), you’d better consider changing the menu — which is just what the FIA did for this season.
Furthermore, I don’t really agree with Trulli’s assertion. While the Red Bull boys did gamble on single lap Q3 urns at Istanbul, Vettel later said that while you might be able to save tires on Saturday and romp through the field on Sunday, as Webber did at Shanghai, he (Vettel, that is) would much prefer to go for pole position, having a better shot at the ultimate winner’s laurels.