The re-fuelling ban may have attracted many critics after a very processional Bahrain GP but it was the catalyst that created the thrilling Turkish GP.
There have been many criticisms of the re-fuelling ban, including the fact that there is less strategy than before, it’s now more about nursing the car rather than pushing hard, and it’s more difficult to make progress from a poor grid position.
However the Turkish GP wouldn’t have been anywhere near the spectacle it was had re-fuelling still been permitted. Mclaren would have had a far easier time winning this race.
They could have approached the race in one of two ways.
They could have fuelled both McLarens lighter than the Red Bulls. Considering that Lewis Hamilton was just 0.138 seconds slower than Mark Webber’s pole time, a lighter load would almost certainly have given him pole position. Potentially, Jenson Button could also have joined him on the front row.
In the first stint of the race the two McLarens would have simply driven away from the Red Bulls. Considering how quick they were in the race there is a very fair chance that they could have built up enough of a gap to emerge from the first pit stop sequence ahead.
From then on it’s likely they would have been able to hold position and win the race.
The alternative strategy may have been to fuel to go a few laps longer and use their superior pace to leapfrog the Red Bulls in the pit stops.
With this strategy it’s very feasible that we would have seen the McLarens following the Red Bulls reasonably closely on track. Of course knowing that they could make the jump at the pit stops neither Hamilton nor Button would have had any intention of attempting to make a pass.
It’s hard to imagine the McLarens being able to take both Red Bulls at the first stop. In all probability they would have been able to jump one of them, and then they would have had an opportunity to pass in the second pit stop window.
In either of these two scenarios, it would have been a case of waiting until the pit stops to see if the leading positions would change or not. That’s the sort of race where there are plenty of opportunities to go and make a cup of tea knowing that you are unlikely to miss anything important.
The variation of fuel loads would have also spread out the top four cars as opposed to the many laps we saw them covered by just two or three seconds.
It’s doubtful we would have seen the McLarens or Red Bulls going wheel to wheel either. One of the drivers would have been a couple of laps lighter than the other. Therefore, again, it would have been a case of waiting for the pit stops for the heavier driver to have a go at skipping ahead of their team mate.
In Turkey, McLaren knew they were faster in the race, but had absolutely no choice but to attempt to pass the Red Bulls on track. They were certainly not going to sit back, and gift Red Bull a one-two finish, when there was a great opportunity to beat them.
This created 40 laps of close racing at a ferocious pace, with plenty of tension and fascination on every lap until the Red Bull collision took place. You couldn’t take your eyes off it.
This is the sort of exciting race we could see more of, particularly on tracks which allow overtaking. Upcoming races at Montreal and Hockenheim are both tracks which historically have been good tracks for overtaking.
On the other hand, it would be fair to say that races on the tracks that are impossible to pass on are duller than last season. There is hardly any chance of passing on them, and now less chance to pass due to strategy. Whilst Montreal and Hockenheim could produce a repeat of what we saw in Turkey, Valencia could be a very turgid affair
Another factor to consider is everyone was quite cautious in Bahrain. After seven races the teams and drivers are getting more adapted to the new regulations.
The drivers now know they can’t rely on the pit stops to overtake anymore. So we are now starting to see drivers improve their race craft, becoming more aggressive and going for moves. There have been a few drivers who got too used to the comfort zone of being able to wait for the pit stops to overtake.
The title these guys are giving is a “racing driver,” which is what we want to be seeing them doing. Passing someone during a pit stop phase isn’t real racing.
Also, the teams are now playing about with the fuel they start the race with. In Bahrain the tendency was to be better safe than sorry. This led to many teams finishing the race with spare fuel left in the tank.
Now they are being more and more marginal so that by starting with less fuel they can extract a bit more pace. Having to start conserving fuel later on in the race is the ingredient that sparked the McLaren and Red Bull civil battles.
This is a feature that we could see more of particularly at the next race in Canada. With a near certainty of seeing the safety car appear just how much of a gamble will the teams take with the fuel?
In conclusion, the critics of the new regulations may have had plenty of evidence to suggest they were right after the Bahrain GP.
However, Turkey demonstrated compelling evidence on how the re-fuelling ban can improve the spectacle of F1. It’s also a real vindication of those who said the new rules should be given a chance.
An immediate repeat performance is possible especially if the trend of Red Bull being quickest in qualifying, but their rivals being fastest in the race remains.
Yes there may be dull races at the tracks where overtaking is near impossible, but it’s not as if mid-race refuelling magically turned those races into thrillers.
Those dull races will be tolerable if we can have more great races like Turkey.
If FOTA and the FIA can change some of the technical rules to make overtaking easier, then this combined with the re-fuelling ban will create more regular classics.
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