Is 2010 F1's Epitaph or Its Wake-Up Call?

Pawel HyrkielCorrespondent IMarch 16, 2010

SAKIR, BAHRAIN - MARCH 14:  Ferrari mechanic is seen in the pitlane during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit on March 14, 2010 in Sakir, Bahrain.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

This past weekend, the public tuned in to the long awaited first race of the 2010 F1 season. Throughout the preseason, writers of F1 Racing magazine, reporters on Autosport website, and so many other F1 dedicated media sources, presented the 2010 season as the biggest one in decades.

The writers and reporters were not to blame for blowing the season out of proportion before the first lap had been completed. After all, there were so many things to look forward to. 

After a three year absence Michael Schumacher was competing again; he had been signed by Mercedes GP, Jenson Button’s old team that brought the Britton victory last season. Would Michael be up to the task? Would Mercedes continue its success from last season? Had Button made a mistake in signing for McLaren and leaving Brawn?  How would the young Britton cope in team Hamilton?

Would Ferrari reclaim its place at the top?  Would the McLaren and Ferrari teams return to the top? How would the new teams cope with F1?  Would Alonso find success at Ferrari? These stories merely scratched the surface of 2010. 

Fans around the world tuned in on Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon, and evening to watch how these storylines developed.  While the storylines have not come to a conclusion, it is uncertain how much of the public that tuned in on Sunday will watch their outcomes. 

In 2007, Lewis Hamilton was hailed as the kid that single-handedly saved F1; in 2010 the Bahrain GP may be hailed as the first tolling of F1’s final bell. The public that watched eagerly the battles of the 2007, 2008, and 2009 seasons may once more turn away from the sport.

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If the Bahrain GP were to be graded, it will undoubtedly be given a grade of F, and that grade does not stand for Fun or Fantastic, but for utter and absolute failure. And if F1 does not fix itself, the manufacturers should seriously consider starting their own series. 

F1 has always stood for excitement, advanced technologies, battles, and spectacular feats of heroism. Yet, these days, it stands for boring, quite simply boring. F1’s status of pinnacle of motorsports seems to have been dragged down and been buried with Max Mosley’s career.

F1 has struggled to adapt an image of economical understanding and ability to deal with the current crisis, ensuring its survival in these difficult and tough times.  Recently, however, F1 has also tried to repackage itself as a competitive series so that teams such as Force India or Scuderia Toro Rosso do not waste their money on development of an F1 car only to have it blown out of the water by Ferrari and McLaren. 

In adjusting the rules and equalizing the racing plain, F1 has attempted to make racing exciting again. New technologies such as KERS were introduced only to be rejected, and the overtaking committee’s ideas were proven useless by smart engineering that led to the development of the twin-diffuser. 

Overtaking was almost eliminated in 2009 by severity of rules, differences in rule interpretation, and the tractor-trailer like front wing that, on numerous occasions, proved to be in the way in wheel to wheel racing. 

Re-examination of the rules and lessons learned from the 2009 season was promised to result in better racing and a more exciting season. Instead, the outcome of Bahrain is proving that no lessons were learned and the sport is even worse off than at the time of the Schumacher domination. Yet, the Schumacher era did have exciting racing, and the racing was exciting because rules allowed for engineering breakthroughs. 

In the late 90s McLaren was experimenting with rear wheel steering, rotating exhausts, and so many other ideas. Ferrari, Williams, Benetton, and so many other cars were allowing engineers to develop new ideas that may help them win the race and the championship.

These days, the rules are so tight, so limiting, that the car that wins the race is the one that started from pole position, has had no mechanical failures, and whose pit crew has done the best job. The first race of 2010 is a perfect example. 

AS the different team bosses gather to discuss what can be done about the dire situation, the solution may be quite simple: allow for engine development, allow for mid season testing, and perhaps make the aerodynamic rules somewhat. 

F1 has started a new season without refuelling; If this is the avenue that F1 chooses to go down, than F1 needs to allow for engine development once again. No longer will the racing be boring because everyone has the same engine, and so everyone fills up with nearly the same amount of fuel of the race. 

A team could develop a more economical engine that burned less fuel, or perhaps burn more but deliver higher horsepower. Cosworth is known for the DFV engine, but in limiting engine development, Cosworth, like Ferrari or McLaren, is just another copy of a FIA spec engine. The technology could also then be applied to road cars; Ferrari’s new engine that consumes less fuel and provides more speed could be put into their automobiles. 

To drive development and make the racing exciting throughout the season in-season testing needs to be reintroduced. Not only will drivers like Luiz Razia get an opportunity to show their skills, but the teams will be able to attempt to level the racing field by testing new modifications without having to waste Friday practice sessions. 

Friday practice sessions serve two purposes: to test the car for that specific weekend and to provide entertainment to the attending public and those at home. These days, the practice sessions are far less entertaining.

Today’s practice sessions bring fewer and fewer fans to the track and most likely F1 lose money, but these should not be eliminated. F1 needs these sessions, and they need to be made fun and interesting to watch.

In 2008, the sessions were fun and enjoyable. But in 2008, the cars looked far more different. Back in 2008, the cars used every nook and cranny to improve overall performance by adding and reading new wings and twists to the chassis.

While engineers have introduced some fascinating and ingenious solutions to make the 2010 cars very aero dynamical, the cars look very clean and almost identical as a result. F1 needs to allow for some aerodynamic modifications to add character to each car, and drive aerodynamic ingenuity as well as solutions.

Last season, F1 has fought more battles in the courtroom than on track, and this is not the F1 the public wishes to watch. F1 should not be a competition whose results are settled behind closed boardroom doors, but on the track.

Yet, when F1 does not allow for technological development, this is often the only way a team can overtake the others in the sport, the only way Brawn or Red Bull, Ferrari or McLaren, Williams or BMW Sauber Ferrari, Toro Rosso or Force India, can declare victory. 

In remaining on the current track, F1 is at risk of becoming a full out business and losing its sports character. And in order to save F1 from its own demise, Jean Todt needs to turn F1 around so that Max’s departure is also not the sport’s epitaph. 

Then again, perhaps it is too late for this, and in reality Max’s final act was to deliver a killing blow to the sport that has never properly thanked him for its resurrection.

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