‘Buy F1 app’ reads an instruction in my notebook. That’s my main thought after the Australian Grand Prix and the first race of the year. F1 just got a whole lot more complicated, in my view, and providing we commentators can tell you the spectator what’s going on, then we all have a chance. Strategy is going to be paramount – but is that the right way to go or do we want to encourage more wheel-to-wheel racing?
The more strategic race is mainly down to the increase of tyre specs available from two to three. In Australia we had supersoft, soft and medium but because of mainly wet weather on Friday, teams firstly didn’t get much running on dry tyres until Saturday afternoon, and then mainly had lots of some of the specs available for the race. In theory, this simplified things as teams were limited in their running on some compounds but had lots of tyre available. I made a rather crass comment to a Pirelli press man on Saturday night that I bet they were pleased they’d brought all those medium compound tyres halfway around the world – because at that stage no one had used them. Of course in the race itself they were vital!
Pirelli, of course, were thrilled after the race, because F1 has just become tyre-centric. ‘Top six drivers use five different strategies’ screamed their press release; ‘eight drivers use all three compounds available’ they went on. Just one small problem; unless you had someone keeping count, it was only afterwards that a commentator realised that some people had used all the compounds. And although this was manna for Pirelli with everyone talking about tyres and strategy, Paul Hembury has actually admitted that they haven’t actually managed to achieve the performance cliff that was asked of them.
But is this going to be the right direction for Formula One? Is that what we want, vastly differing tyre strategies that some commentators – let alone fans – just don’t understand, which they can’t keep up with? Sure, TV commentators will do their homework and keep an eye on that F1 app but I’m seriously worried about some of my colleagues around the world who do one race a year. They will have no idea what’s going on. God help the man in the grandstand – who can hear us less now that the engine noise has been turned up. Where there are more than two commentators, we’re not going to have much time to explain either.
But then you could argue that the variety of tyres available to drivers when the red flag came out in Melbourne was what made the race it was, with Ferrari opting for the softest compound, and Mercedes going for the hardest, which was the right solution. So in a way we didn’t see a conventional race because of that ‘free’ tyre stop at the red flag, however good it was. The jury may still be out.
Even so, might this still just be a step too far? We need to keep grounded, to keep the racing as uncomplicated as possible, not more so. It’s down to commentators – and I don’t hear the TV and radio guys so I hope that they kept up – to make the right calls and F1’s app will help with that.
The rules regarding qualifying and radio communication seem to be particularly fluid – if that’s the right word. I like the radio communication ban; if teams want to make their processes complicated then they must have the drivers with the brainpower to take it all into account and make the right adjustments at the right time. Sebastian Vettel, who I would have thought was perfectly capable of handling all this, felt that he was there to race ‘not to play some memory games.’
Interestingly, observers think that the radio ban – whose restrictions changed on Sunday morning – may affect Nico Rosberg more than Lewis Hamilton. Nico, they say, is always asking the team what he should be doing, what adjustments he needs to make. Lewis, however much he questions the strategy and decisions, seems happy with his own set-up and doesn’t query the actual settings so much. He was quick – almost too quick – to say that it made no difference to his race on Sunday.
I’m not sure if it was only our TV feed or it applied to everyone, but we didn’t get much radio traffic on our coverage and nor were we told who was talking. We didn’t have pit stop graphics either but it may just have been us and not an overall problem. There did seem to be some problems with certain aspects of the organisation this weekend and this may have been one of those…
And qualifying? Well, the new system has already been kicked into touch and rightly so. Lewis Hamilton thought it was a good thing to try out something new but then he and teammate Rosberg pointed out that the Mercedes engineers had been absolutely right in saying it just wasn’t going to work.
So who decided it and why? The idea came out of a meeting of team principals at Barcelona but was modified in that they decided to go back to the original method without elimination for Q3. The FIA, however, never put this modification to the vote so it went ahead as elimination throughout. At least five drivers were in the pits when they were eliminated – what a disaster. And however much Lewis felt that new things should be trialled, should they be trialled very publically in a Grand Prix when there are quite obviously holes in the system?
So there are quite a number of things to be looked at as we head to Bahrain for round two. It was a clunky start to the season, in spite of an entertaining race and the massive accident which had such a fortuitous outcome. Mercedes were there again, but Ferrari proved quicker off the line and then made that wrong tyre choice. A conventional race might see a different outcome. Bring it on!
By Bob Constanduros