Has the bubble burst?

Bahrain thrilled us: Formula One came back on a high with drama in qualifying, a gripping battle for race victory, an astonishing rookie debut, and plenty of overtaking. But Malaysia was a tedious damp squib. So which one was the one-off?

Malaysian Grand Prix 2006 StartIt’s easy for an F1 fan to let their head drop after a race like Malaysia, when all the weekend’s big storylines simply failed to materialise:

How quick is Kimi Raikkonen? No idea – Christian Klien ham-fistedly bundled him out of the race on lap one.

Do Williams have the pace to win this year? It’s academic if they Malaysian Grand Prix reliability is anything to go by – two engine failures totalling 21 racing laps for two cars.

Is Giancarlo Fisichella on terms with Fernando Alonso? No idea – Alonso was decimating Fisichella’s advantage after the Spaniard’s third stop, but his team ordered him to turn on the cruise control.

Now, there’s a funny turn of phrase, ?????ǣteam ordered him????????????something about that in the rules??????can’t quite put my finger on it??????Ah! Here we go:

FIA Sporting Regulation #147 ?????ǣTeam orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited.??????

That’s it, verbatim, black and white. Did Renault interfere with the race result? Well, one could certainly argue that they prevented it from being changed – they imposed their will upon it. And they’re by no means the first team to do so – it was par for the course for Ferrari in 2004 when that regulation was still on the books.

Michael Schumacher & Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari, A1-Ring, 2002It’s fair to say that if the ‘no team orders’ rule were being interpreted a little more aggressively by the FIA, we might have seen a bit of a battle at the end of the race. But I digress – what of the next few rounds?

Melbourne is a bit of a wild card – a virtually unique parkland circuit for the F1 calendar, outside of its regular slot when the teams would ordinarily not know their cars so well. It can be expected to mix up the order a little, even if the track is not conducive to overtaking.

Nico Rosberg, Williams-Cosworth, Sepang, 2006Nor is Imola, at least until they straighten out the Variante Bassa as is planned for 2007. For 2006, Renault have already publicly predicted a Ferrari walkover – which could just be cunning reverse psychology, but pre-2005 form strongly suggests they aren’t bluffing.

But even if these races do jumble the order up a little, will this necessarily produce good racing? This is where we have to take a look at the rules, and many are already grumbling about the return to ‘sprint-stop-sprint’ racing since the re-legalisation of tyre stops.

That may be so – but at Imola last year a fresh set of tyres may well have aided Alonso’s cause in staying ahead of Michael Schumacher. Alternatively, if the circuit were as easy to overtake on as, say, Silverstone, Schumacher would have blasted past and there would have been no nail-biting climax.

You can go chasing after tiny little reasons why things aren’t perfect, but perhaps lets give this season a chance to bed in before anyone starts grabbing copies of the FIA Sporting Regulations armed with a pen and Tipp-Ex.

Although perhaps someone could underline rule 147??????

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