Valencia’s first F1 race was not a classic. Looking at the rate the race poll it seems most people thought it was as boring as the Bahrain, Spanish and French Grands Prix.
But let’s not jump to conclusions about the track. Circuit designer Hermann Tilke is not to blame for the paucity of action in yesterday’s race. F1 car design and the sporting regulations are responsible.
The GP2 races showed that single seater cars with less downforce and slick tyres were capable of racing wheel-to-wheel on the circuit. The sprint race featured some excellent, genuine battles for position.
F1 has been stuck with the same problem for years: the cars have become so dependent on their wings to generate downforce and grip they become hyper-sensitive to disturbed air from cars in front of them, and cannot get close enough to each other through corners.
The refuelling rules make matters worse, by encouraging the field to spread apart. As anyone who qualifies 11th or worse can use whatever fuel load they choose, all these cars tend to run with high fuel loads in the hope that a safety car deployment will play into their hands – as it did for Piquet Jnr at Hockenheim.
The top ten drivers qualify with their race fuel loads and board and – what do you know? – the cars with less fuel end up nearer the front. So when the race starts the lighter cars drive away from the heavier ones.
We end up with the field spreading apart because of the refuelling rules, and when cars do get close enough to each other they usually can’t pass each other because they are too aerodynamically sensitive.
This is why we fans approach every F1 weekend hoping for rain. It disrupts the grip levels, allows the cars to get close to each other, and can make refuelling strategies less important.
Next year the aerodynamics regulations are going to change, with wings being cut in size and slick tyres brought back. This looks like being a step in the right direction. (Driver-adjustable wings, as we’ve discussed, does not. And Vee’s got misgivings about what KERS will do to the competitivity of some teams).
For years F1 has been looking to revised track design to encourage better racing. Has it really worked? I’d say not – the Bahrain Grand Prix this year was rubbish.
Blame the tracks for bad races? No. Blame the rules.