Are tyres and DRS ruining ‘real’ racing?

A quick circumnavigation of the World Wide Web this morning leads us to the conclusion that F1 fans are a tricky bunch to keep happy. Do you Sunday Afternooners also believe yesterday’s Canadian Grand Prix was somehow a bit… phoney? That, far from making the race, the tyres and the DRS actually spoiled it? There are many out there that do, believe us.

They must have short memories. Before DRS there was no certainty whatsoever that a faster car could pass a slower car. All the races were like those last few laps at Monaco a fortnight ago; it didn’t matter how close a car was to the car in front, getting by was another thing altogether. And it was dull. And frustrating. And we didn’t like and complained.

Now, with DRS there is every certainty that a car will get by, even if it is only marginally faster. And when the margin is tight, there is every certainty the move will be reversed next time around. Lewis Hamilton didn’t disappear over the horizon once he’d passed Vettel and Alonso because of DRS, but because his car was faster. Isn’t that how it should be?

Certainly, his car was faster because Lewis and McLaren had put in the hours and worked out exactly how fast Lewis needed to be on every lap in and around his two pit stops, just as Red Bull and Ferrari had put in the hours (only McLaren did its sums better and Lewis was on fire yesterday). Yesterday, McLaren did the best job for Lewis; they worked for that win. Every team has the same opportunities when it sets out to engineer a car to race on 20 different circuits, hence the freaky statistic of seven different winners (five different chassis’) in seven races.

What has changed this year is that the rules have been so effectively developed that the margin between getting it right and getting it not-quite-so-right is infinitesimal. It’s why practice and indeed qualifying this year regularly sees ten or more cars divided by fractions of a second. And that’s why after 70 laps Hamilton’s margin was less than 2.6secs over Romain Grosjean who raced to a different strategy in a car we can only assume was developed on a significantly smaller budget. Do the maths: 2.513secs divided by 70. That’s the difference between winning and not winning. And that’s got to be a good thing.

Strategy and tactics, whether planned or responsive, are part of F1. As they are in every form of motorsport, and none more so than the sport F1 snobs love to deride for it’s apparent lack of sophistication: NASCAR. We’re minded to say that if all you want is to witness an expression of pure speed then it’s the LSR that you need. But then again the need to repeat the run inside a specified time frame is an engineering constraint. And as much as we’d like to see LSR cars racing, we fear it might prove a little risky.

So relax and enjoy F1 for what it is; a heady mix of rocket-grade technology mixed with the all the failings and frailty of the human condition. There is nothing like it, and after two hours on the edge of the Sunday Afternoon Sofa yesterday we would not want to change it one little bit.

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