The raft of radical changes introduced into Formula One for the 2011 season have proven to be just as pointless and ineffectual as most of those preceding them.
After an initial flurry of excitement and overtaking, the influence of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), DRS (Drag Reduction System) and Pirelli’s self-shredding tyres have been all but eliminated. Instead, we have returned to the predictability and processional races that have been the hallmark of recent seasons.
The whole concept of something as visceral as F1 being manipulated by technological gimmicks is beneath the sport.
Changing the rules to allow an opening rear wing, something designed specifically to create overtaking opportunities that would not ordinarily exist, is counter to what racing should be about—and yet, it worked.
For a little while, that is.
The Chinese Grand Prix saw all of the anticipation and hoped for competitive racing. It was the high point for the new innovations and raised hope for the remainder of the season.
There was overtaking galore. Mark Webber managed to move from 18th place to finish on the podium because he didn’t damage his tyres in qualifying. Suddenly, traditional race strategy was turned on its head.
While it was clear that KERS and DRS could influence the outcome of a race, something as basic as tyre management became just as important as the gimmicks.
It didn’t take long, however, for the gloss to wear off.
Technology is something that F1 does very well. Understanding and incorporating technological innovations into the car design is an essential facet of successful racing.
After less than half a year, the influence of the rule changes has been neutralised.
Teams had learned the strengths and weaknesses of the systems and had optimised the use of them to maximise lap times. Listening in to team radio, it is not uncommon to hear a river being told to use a certain percentage of their KERS at a particular corner.
Drivers don’t even have to think for themselves, it seems.
The end result is that all of the cars are using their KERS at the same time, so no advantage is gained.
The cars also still have the same aerodynamics, making close following through corners almost impossible and therefore taking a lot of the sting out of the DRS.
The FIA have played their part, too.
They have come up with oddly placed DRS zones or zones that are too short to have influence, again negating the DRS influence.
Anyone who suffered through the tedious Korean Grand Prix will understand what that means.
The ultimate proof that the technology changes are having little influence, though, lies with the car that has already secured the world championship.
Throughout the season, the Red Bull RB7 has frequently been the slowest car on the track (in a straight line with DRS open), and yet the car leads the championship by a massive margin.
For most of the early part of the season, Red Bull’s KERS was flaky and unreliable but it had almost no influence on results.
The clear message is that the FIA can mess around with cheat’s ways to make the racing more interesting but, despite their best efforts, great car design will beat gimmickry every time.
And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
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