Formula One is not about entertainment, it never has been. That is just a spin-off. It is about technology and performance.
The current crop of cars are so aerodynamically efficient they are unable to follow each other close enough to actually race. But that did not come about by chance. The cars are not a result of evolution, they were designed and crafted so the outcome would have been well-known before they ever got to the race-track.
Changes are to be introduced for the 2019 season to address the issue but I’m not so sure about that. Previous attempts over the years have been short-lived at best. Once a level of performance has been achieved the designers will soon find a way of regaining it, no matter what the regulations may say. For example, when flat-bottomed cars were introduced for the 1983 season to eliminate ‘ground effects’ the claims they would be able to race again at circuits like Clermont-Ferrand proved a little over-optimistic.
The power for technical change lies not with the rule-makers but with the teams themselves – the constructors. And the best brains available are not going to give away an advantage or compromise the ultimate technical possibilities by designing something lesser just for ‘the show’.
Overtaking between evenly matched cars has never been easy. What about Niki Lauda’s Ferrari unsuccesfully chasing James Hunt’s Hesketh around the sand dunes of Zandvoort for 32 laps in 1975, and Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari leading a train of five cars covered by just 1.24 seconds at Jarama in 1981 or Nigel Mansell spending the last 7 laps of the 1992 Monaco Grand Prix all over the back of Ayrton Senns’s McLaren. Rather than highlight the problems of overtaking, these races are celebrated as some of the sport’s great battles.
Historically, the greater parity between the cars meant that a greater spread of winners was likely, but was the actual racing better? The cars were a lot slower and more significantly, unreliable. Races were lost, and therefore won, through mechanical failure – first wins for Tom Pryce (Shadow) and Alan Jones (also Shadow) for example. Race results could be affected through a fluffed gear change, an over-revved engine or simple driver error in cars with lesser grip on unforgivinig circuits.
Such moments of randomness have all but been eliminated from today’s racing. But on the other hand the required strategic input by both team and driver to cover today’s variables of mandatory pit-stops, mixing tyre compounds and safety car intervention have introduced a greater element of skill more so than just, as in the past, being the recipient of good or bad fortune.
But does Formula One actually need more overtaking? I thought that was what DRS was all about.
Whether they are able to overtake or not, there is no disputing these cars are spectacularly fast. Just stand trackside at Baku, a pavement’s width away, as they speed past at more than 340 km/h.
And if the race produces a pole-to-flag victory, so be it. It’s up to the leader to stay in front and the others to catch him. All the elements of competition and the variables that could affect the outcome in the blink of an eye are still there even if the race is perceived as ‘boring’. I would rather see that than a victory lost through a blown engine.
And, occasionally an unexpected failure, or random event like Valtteri Bottas’s puncture at Baku may affect the outcome just like they did in ‘the good old days’.
Note: Many of these images are taken from original prints, negatives and slides that are nearly 40 years old and are therefore not reproduced to the same standard as current day digital images. All reasonable attempts have been made to ensure these images are reproduced to the best possible standard, however, in some instances colour casts and blemishes may be present.