Debate: Is F1 challenging enough?

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Montreal, 2007, 4It’s the year of the super-rookies.

Seven races in and Lewis Hamilton hasn’t been off the podium yet. Sebastian Vettel just became the first teenager to score an F1 point.

Has F1 gotten too easy? Or is it just coincidence?

Are F1 cars too easy for beginners to get to grips with? GP2, which Lewis Hamilton just graduated from, seem to have a higher power-to-grip ratio than F1 cars, and no traction control.

F1 cars are almost bolted to the ground with masses of aerodynamic grip and, until next year at least, bristle with electronic aids to help the driver avoid spinning.

Circuits are less punishing of mistakes than they used to be – most tracks have vast run off areas allowing drivers to make mistakes without losing time or crashing. No one wants to see drivers get hurt, but it’s much easier now to put a wheel offline and not get penalised for it.

Has F1 gone a bit soft? Or have we just got a new crop of extremely talented and young drivers on our hands?

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18 comments on Debate: Is F1 challenging enough?

  1. The way the cars are designed to make the most of the rules is changing every year because the rules change in major ways each year. That means that every year, the cars are substantially different, leading to different driver attributes being emphasised. So the rules may benefit smooth drivers one year and aggressive-turning drivers the next – or put particular emphasis on one perfect qualifying lap one year and on producing slightly slower pace several times in the same hour in another.

    This on its own would not produce the effect that rookies often beat their more experienced team-mates. However, many of the older drivers (certainly those who began in 2001 or earlier) come from a generation who did not have to change their technique so often, because major rule changes were less frequent. Previous examples of rule changes which changed the face of the grid include grooved tyres, which played well to the likes of Mika Hakkinen, but caused major problems for drivers like Damon Hill, who struggled to adapt to them.

    Several of the drivers also appear to have got to the stage where they are stuck in a rut created by refusing to let go of driving behaviours that worked for them in the past but don’t work now. Ralf Schumacher has been in that mode for several years, but he’s no longer the only one.

    Then there’s the paddock’s short memory. It has long been the case that a driver who didn’t get good results for 2-3 years in a row could pretty much assume that their career was sunk. With the paddock being less patient (largely due to manufacturer and sponsor pressures) results are now generally demanded within a year.

    The quality of rookies has also improved, as many of you have said. A lot of these drivers have a decade or more of pre-F1 experience. When Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard started their careers, only very talented kartists or people struggling for funding would consider staying in karting long enough to get that kind of experience. Even Michael Schumacher had only 7 1/2 years of experience before reaching F1! As a result, drivers are coming in with much more racing experience. Increased manufacturer funding for a handful of drivers also gives those drivers more time to work on racing elements rather than sponsor-chasing elements.

    There are two things that are too easy about F1 as a whole, though – defending position and recovering from minor mistakes. The advantage in overtaking situations is heavily with the defenders, and push-to-pass will make that even more so. So people like Lewis Hamilton are impossible to pass because the aero situation is silly, not necessarily because Lewis is any better at making his car wide than anyone else. In the cars of a decade ago, we’d get a fairer assessment of what Lewis’ defense capability is.

    Minor mistakes only lose tenths of seconds now, whereas before, they often lost whole seconds because awkward bits of the car would break and/or fall off. Retirements were more likely, either because the car was beached or because a damaged component may break later on. It seems like that everything is combining to reduce the apparent differential between top and bottom drivers, youth and experience, in F1 these days.

  2. one of the things I like about motor sports is the uncertainity of results, your motor could blow in the last turn, and the race end for you!

    But by now, F1 are incredible resilent, top temas never abandon, so if someone made a nice gap, he certainly win the race (as in many of these season bored races)…

    I think that FIA would focused in promote development, so confiability will decrease: for example, regulated size of gasoline chamber, then each team would imporve their motors,a nd then some experimentation would be made… And in the futre might this tech could be used in low-gas consume cars!

  3. I believe that F1 could be more challenging for a number of reasons.
    I except the argument that the cars are considerably different from
    those of past decades, down on power, more downforce and driver aides etc etc. However, nobody mentions the fact that the circuits have
    changed also.
    Old circuits, such as Hockenheim, Imola, and even Monza have been
    altered in recent years in an attempt to slow down the cars. I appreciate that following the San Marino Grand Prix of 1994 that
    changes like this were bound to happen, however, I believe the sport
    has suffered to a certain degree because of this.
    For instance, compare the classic, original Hockenheim circuit to its
    modern counterpart. The original had huge, 200mph straights which
    resulted in tight chicanes. Perfect for overtaking. The new circuit is
    no where near as exciting, for the t.v watching punter, as the original.
    And, even more worrying, are the new circuits. With these other
    Herman Tilke built arenas, the biggest talking point is almost always
    the facilities. It should be, wow, what a great track this is, not at how flash the pits look or the corporate suites are!
    I like that fact, that, F1 drivers like Kimi Raikkonen for instance
    are always talking about how much they love racing at Spa for instance, rather than some of the more glitzy new circuits.
    The reason for this is obvious. The old circuits offer more of a
    challenge to the driver because the driver knows fully that he is at risk of going off the road and in a big way. Which plays a huge part in why they do it in the first place.
    Second, give the cars greater power! Prove to the public that F1 is a ‘true’ racing series, where the ‘best’ and only the ‘best’ can
    compete. If it means running slick tyres instead or grooves, so be it.
    F1 is a spectator sport, lets make it a spectacle.

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