When the season started, three key things were introduced: new tire supplier in Pirelli, the return of KERS, and the new DRS. When ever there is such dramatic change, the Boo Birds come out in full force. This time was no different. Now that there are several races on the books, the chants are growing more and more distant. Back this season are aspects that have been missing. Formula One is once again a spectators sport. Still think otherwise? The opening races should give ample proof, with China seeing the most passes and Turkey seeing the most pit stops in a long long time. Pit strategy all but vanished when refueling was banned. Bridgestone was making tires that would allow the teams to need two stops, maybe one, to go the race distance. This would allow the front runners to gain enough of a time advantage to comfortably make the required stop to use both assigned compounds of the race weekend, and be back on their merry way in the lead. Now we are seeing upwards of four stops! Some events became a parade instead of a race since overtaking points are all but configured out of most of the newer tracks. The only racing to be had, it seemed, was either out of the points or low point paying positions.
Formula One has made its mark by being on the cutting edge of technology. Heck, by being on the very edge of reality when it comes to pushing man and machine to the brink of massive failure in order to achieve maximum results. That is what draws viewers in. No one wants to see twenty some odd cars play follow the leader around some of the most spectacular tracks the world has ever seen. The fans want to see drivers battle it out till the last few laps and pull out the win on the final corner. Ladies and Gentlemen, we may have our dreams answered.
During these first rounds, teams are settling in with the new toys. The last few seasons saw things like rear diffusers that would almost create a force field around the leading car, creating ‘dirty’ air and take away the slip stream and tow. The new Down force Reduction System or DRS is attempting to remedy that. So far so good. Now mix in the extra boost of KERS and look what happens. In China and Turkey we saw Mark Webber and Kamui Kobayashi come from way down in the pack and score points. Webber managed to find his way to a podium finish without KERS, but a change in pit strategy and use of DRS. Both drivers benefited from poor qualifying results by having extra tires the others did not. Add in that both are very skilled drivers and the results speak for themselves. In Canada, Jenson Button gave the drive of his career by coming from dead last to force Vettel into an error and win on the last lap.
The season so far has seen young Vettel pick up where last season left off. The only thorn in his crown so far is McLaren, taking victory in a hard fought China and sloppy wet Canada . Matching Vettel with the likes of Adrian Newey may be a strong case for sugar somehow finding its way into the Red Bull’s fuel cell right before the lights go out. Every one of the front running teams are making full use of KERS except Red Bull, who have had on and off issues but looks to be resolved. That boys and girls is what we call ‘phenomenal race pace’ or if you’re Ferrari, one would call that cheating. The other major head scratcher this season is Michael Schumacher. This once race dominator is now fighting to not be a moving chicane. The race in Turkey saw the veteran driver in a constant battle to not be run over by drivers who were in diapers when he was winning world championships. This is still Schumi so do not count the old man out just yet. Hopefully this is not showing that the old man was just an average driver who got to pilot a well designed car. Imagine the dreams that would crush. In Canada, Michael just missed the podium, finishing in fourth.
As this season roars on, the hope is that someone will be able to put up a solid and consistent fight to Red Bull. Both McLaren and Ferrari have shown that it is possible. Could we also start to see that qualifying may not be as crucial as in seasons past. Teams now seem more willing to hold back and save rubber for race day instead of burning them up in hopes of pole. Not having to reuse tires from qualify may save a trip to the pits and in term buy an extra twenty to thirty seconds. But then there is always the possible turn one carnage that the front runners usually avoid.
There are still a lot of unknowns to this season and as the Formula One circus begins its parade through Europe, a clearer picture will emerge. With more pit stops required to finish a race, there is now more uncertainty involved. Some drivers have already paid the price in lost time from stops gone wrong. Hold on to your couch cushions boys and girls, we are in for one hell of a thrilling ride this summer.
(Photo from http://www.f1-pics.com/, an awesome site with images that span many years.)