Don’t panic!

After the race in Bahrain there was a huge amount of negative comment about Formula 1. The race had been a bore; the new rules were wrong; everything needed to be changed; the baby had to be thrown out with the bath water. The F1 team principals started talking about success ballast, grooved slicks and God knows what to try to create differentiation between the cars.

And then the Australian GP came along and F1 produced a brilliant race.

If ever there was an illustration of why F1 needs not to panic, here it was. Perhaps there will be other dull races in the year ahead, and there is no doubt that there are issues that need to be addressed in relation to the design of the cars, but the sport does not need revolutionary change.

F1 is very definitely not broken.

69 thoughts on “Don’t panic!

  1. When Lewis arrived onto the back of Fernando, he was still one to one and a half seconds a lap quicker than the Ferrari.

    The benefit of fresher tyres, a Mercedes engine, and the F-duct… and he still had absolutely no chance of getting past.

    If the race had been dry, it would have been a Bahrain repeat.

    We do still need changes, but I fear after this race, we have even less chance of seeing them…

  2. But much of the excitement was due to the rain. If it had been a dry race then it would have been a mostly processional bore-fest again. Perhaps we should go racing in winter instead…

  3. What a great race, glad I stayed up till 4am to watch all of it… long day, but I went to sleep really happy. I know there will be a few more dull races, there always are. I just hope more than half of them are exciting, a few dull ones will always happen.
    I think the fact that teams had such limited running they didn’t know the tires and all ran the race conservatively, not jsut the teams but the drivers as well. But that egg is broken, Button running the whole race on softs (insane) means that drivers know they can push then if they want to change, or conserve them if they need to run long…. It will be interesting to see how little hard tires are run the rest of the year.

  4. It’s just as unfair to use that race to prove that F1 isn’t broken as it was to us Bahrain to prove that is broken. It was a wet race! Any wet race is going to be not representative of its series if the series isn’t, say, sailing…

    I was just getting ready to ask where my GP+ was but I thought to check my inbox first. downloading now, thanks!

  5. perhaps but this was a wet race. If we can guarantee a wet race every time, I agree F1 is safe and sound but that could be said of almost any wet race in the past few years (even Hungary a few years back).

    Just as some ran to the conclusion F1 was doomed after Bahrain lets not go the opposite and say everything is fine under the sun (or not in this case). Let us have a couple dry races and then we’ll see the current state of affairs.

  6. I agree to a point, but a few things showed the real state of the cars and races at the moment. 1 – Massa was all over the track, yet Alonso was never able to get past (although Massa did become composed when the track was completely dry), I would have expected Alonso to be able to pass – even with out team orders. 2 – Hamilton and Webber were 1-2 seconds quicker than the Ferrari’s and could not pass, the both resorted to doing something drastic and it didn’t come off. So even with cars up to 2 seconds a lap quicker, drivers can not pass on a dry track without the driver in front making a massive mistake, which these guys just dont do. I can’t see any difference to Bahrain.

  7. The race in Oz is usually pretty interesting. Races in soulless desert wastelands usually are not. F1 opened its season in Bahrain. Who$e geniu$ idea wa$ that?

    Can the 2011 calendar please be Melbourne, Suzuka, Interlagos, Silverstone, Spa, Monza, Montreal, Melbourne, Suzuka, Interlagos, Silverstone, Spa, Monza, Montreal, Melbourne, Suzuka, Interlagos, Silverstone, Spa?

  8. C’mon Joe, that’s a pretty hoary debating tactic.

    You’re using a completely irrelevant fact to defend your rather unpopular opinion. Your unpopular opinion has been that the racing at Bahrain wasn’t that bad and that there should be absolutely no rush to change the show.

    I disagree with that opinion but fair enough, it’s your opinion. The irrelevant fact is this exciting RAIN race. While I disagree with your Bahrain opinion, I take a much larger issue with your debating tactic.

    In truth, we all know that a rainy Australian GP has in no way proved that Formula One’s DRY race show isn’t horribly flawed.

    The -Only- thing proved by this Australian GP is that F1 continues to provide an excellent rain show. It’s a truth that hardly needed re-proving. F1’s rain-races have always been the height of excitement. The fact that F1’s rain-races continue to be the height of excitement should surprise absolutely no one. Dry races make up between 80% and 90% of the events. That we had another in a very long history of exciting rain races in no way absolves the DRY races of their horrible flaws. This race fixes nothing, it absolves nothing.

    Rain races aren’t the problem nor are they the solution. Rain races are an exception that have absolutely no correlation to the dry races that make up the vast majority of the season. Not unless you agree with Bernie’s wry suggestion that sprinklers should be set up at each of the events.

    Bottom line. F1’s problem is horribly boring DRY races, a good rain race disproves nothing. Although clearly, any number of people in F1 circles are trying to use this rain race as a rational to change public perception of F1’s boring nature. I suspect it will only work as long as the skies agree to help out.

  9. Inclined to agree. But…

    Just about the only change that still needs to be made, in my opinion, is opening up the tyre question — would be great if Bridgestone would supply super-soft options and hard primes for every race, but in any case there should be no rules about number of pitstops or starting the race on the qualy tyres.

    One of the things that made this race a great one was that tyre strategies were thrown out the window by the start on inters, and drivers had to, you know, use their skill and judgement. If Jenson had been forced to make a second stop onto the prime tyre, or some such, all the skill that he brought to preserving his tyres would have been for naught, and the race would have been lessened.

  10. But maybe Michael’s resolve is broken. I cannot see him staying around much longer to be humiliated.

  11. If only we had intermittent showers at all the Grand Prix. Take away the rain and the ensuing tire strategy and I think we’d have had another processional race.

  12. It may not be broken, but it helps when the track is wet. Maybe Bernie should install sprinklers along the track and turn them on at a whim.

  13. I think everyone agrees F1 is definitely not broken. But it definitely needs sprucing up. Harder tires would be the way forward.

    Another thing FIA needs to know, if the show is boring on TV, it will 10x worst track side. I managed to have a few micro sleep whilst watching the Singapore GP track side last year.

    And i still believe it is a dumb idea to start races at 5pm. I have better use for my cash then pay for an extra night of extortion hotel rate.

    D Hon

  14. Certainly, panic is not in order but, Joe, there is a whisker too much “she’ll be right mate” in your sentiments.

    The passing yesterday was all about the cars being tippy-toe due to a damp track much of the time (I was there, wearing my attractive yellow poncho in an uncovered stand!), lots of marbles due to the long time many cars spent of softs, various people being on cool tyres after tyre changes and a cool ambient.

    No, F1’s not off my hook just yet. Excessive downforce remains the elephant in F1’s room.

  15. I’m still concerned that cars that are 2.5 seconds a lap faster can get past the one in front (Lewis/Alonso). I think this race highlighted that issue more than Bahrain.

  16. Oh its not broken when we get a little bit of rain to liven things up.

    When its dry the jury is most definitely still out.

  17. I font agree with you Joe, that race wad brilliant because the weather was changeable and cars had different tyres on at different times enabling huge differences in lap times, Buttons change to slicks being the best example as the track dried.
    F1 is in need of radical change to aero and mechanical grip rules, and yes we can look forward to many more boring races this year when the weather does not spice things up a bit.

  18. Joe this is a bit over the top. Sorry. Give us a bit of a track and a bit of water and F1 will nearly always be exiting. I enjoyed this race and I wish for plenty more like this one. But in you own words wait a couple of races to see if the others will be exiting and do not base your opinion on this (excellent entertaining) race.

  19. I guess the Overtaking Groups prayers for a wet conditions and safety car incidents were answered then. Because that was what made the difference. Still plenty of evidence of an inability to overtake in normal circumstances. Ask Schumacher!

  20. Of course, grooved slicks would be one of the worst things they could re-introduce. The problem, as ever, is that the cars rely too heavily on aerodynamic downforce. Here’s an alternative approach: just like the cars all have the same tyres, why not give them all the same front and rear wings and ban all twiddly extra wings and turning vanes (as the FIA appears to have done).

    They have a standard engine management unit, standard tyres, standard fuel, with standard wings, the FIA technical group would be in control of how much basic downforce was available. Then, over perhaps a couple of seasons, they could simplify the wing designs until the engineers were forced to find performance in mechanical grip and chassis design, leaving the drivers to actually fight it out on the track.

  21. It doesn’t need revolutionary change, but to ignore the fact that it needs something to change is simply blinkered.

    F1 might not be broken, but it’s being bent.

    We can’t have changeable conditions every race, we need dry races to provide us with something similar more often.

  22. Joe, I feel the unforgiving nature of the Albert Park circuit with it’s gravel traps kept the drivers honest and caught out a few who were a bit careless. It would seem that this along with the rain made the Aussie GP thrilling.

    But given the number of tracks where the run off areas are massive and don’t make that much of a difference to drivers that go off and rejoin (like Kimi at Spa), I guess F1 is a bit broken?

  23. Australia was a great race but I don’t think F1’s problems have been solved by any means unless it rains every race, F1 is still in intensive care as the fact that Lewis found it so hard to get past Alonso and Schumacher took an eternity to get past Alguersuari shows that fundamantal problems still exist with regards the technology which will not be washed over by one entertaining wet inspired race.

  24. I’ve the feeling that there are more to do with the circuit designs. A few days ago we did a quick examination of the season calendar and we concluded that the majority of the circuits should be dropped because the lack of action. This not against the countries, this is against most of the circuits introducted in the last 15 years.

  25. What are being described as ‘dull’ races, are in fact ‘average’ races. Every season has had them from the 50’s to the 00’s, and they will continue to happen.

    It’s the ‘here today gone tomorrow’ fan boys, and agenda driven media hacks that are stirring up dissent.

    Real F1 fans (although undoubtedly craving more races like Oz’), understand F1 racing, and take a long term view, instead of the knee-jerk over-reaction of ‘jerks’.

  26. If it wasn’t for rain clearing all the rubber on track, then everything would have been different. F1 is not broken but cracked. Change is needed before it’s broken.

  27. If we had rain at every race that might be the case, but witness Hamilton’s inability to overtake Alonso when there was a lot of dry track when he was catching him at over 2s per lap in clean air.

    We still have problems I think.

  28. And why was it good?
    Because there was an element of randomness, rain!
    The rain took away the effectivness of the better chassis and engines and handed back the ability to race to the drivers that can drive!
    If ever there were pointed directions to how F1 need a “correction” this race was it.
    Remove the downforce.
    One set of (dry) tires.
    A non Tilke track.
    Ok, so I’m “banging on” again, but what a great race, so why cant I get it every time!

  29. If you want all of the F1 races this year to be link Austrailia then every fan has to bring a garden hose to the venue so they can begin the race in the wet then let the track create a dry groove so we can see who changes from intermediates to slicks and who stays out on intermediates. The weather crated the great race we saw in Austrailia, not the F1 regulations.

    Starting a race in the dry with no threat of rain will still produce Bahrain results.

  30. Australia was a huge improvement over Bahrain, to be sure. But if one bad race was too little to prove the sport was broken, isn’t one good race too little to prove it’s not?

  31. I want to qualify my last comment – I didn’t mean to sound as relentlessly pessimistic as I did. I just mean that before we conclude that the sport is in great shape or that it’s in a downward spiral, let’s take some time, gather some information, and see what patterns emerge. At the end of the season (possibly sooner), let’s count up the good races, count up the bad races, and see what, if any, lessons need to be learned.

  32. well, if you can promise every race will start wet, will be held in melbourne, and will feature poor strategy and ridiculous shunts, then i’ll stop panicking.

    but, we’re headed to another dreadful tilke track and if it’s dry i will predict a repeat of bahrain.

    melbourne is always an anomaly and until the stupidity of banning refueling is addressed and the super-soft tyres stop lasting FOREVER, the races will not be up to par.

  33. My fear is that although the Australian GP was excellent, other dry races will end up dull because of the tyre rules.

    Forcing drivers to use both compounds means that after the first stops, most teams will be on tyres that can last to the end of the race.

    Add that to Lewis showing the difficulty in overtaking even though he was on fresher tyres and quicker, the teams are going to be ultra conservative (like in Bahrain).

    I think it’s not surprising that a race with open tyre choices (after lap 7, everyone was on dry tyres) mixed things up more than the mandated tyres in Bahrain.

    Time to abandon the 2 compounds per race rule and get Bridgestone to bring all 4 compounds and let the drivers pick what they want when they want! F1 is supposed to be all about driver skill right?


  34. One of the best races of the last few seasons actually. I think the main problem was making Bahrain the first race of the season. If it was the normal Australia which never fails to amaze with it’s spectacular crashes and failures of cars there would not have been any talk of changes. I think F1 fans have been spoiled in previous years by this which is why they put up with races like Malaysia which follow immediately afterwards without too much moaning.

    Just a side note, a shame that so much of the media is concentrating on other things Hamilton did this weekend rather than the phenominal race he had. Some of those passes truly had me on the edge of my sofa at 3 am. Amazing and the guy deserves more of a mention for it. It is driving like that which proves to me that there is not much wrong with the racing. If Hamilton can pass top cars on the outside and basically all over the track then I don’t see much wrong with the new rules. Massa and Webber were pretty awesome with some of their moves also. Apart from at the end 🙂 Bridgestone deserve a big shout out also for the performance of the tyres.
    Obviously kidding but If you want to make F1 more exciting put Hamilton, Webber, Massa and Alonso at the back of the grid for every race and they will take care of the rest of the show. Excellent driving!

  35. Hi Joe. Well, yes and no…

    It was indeed a good race and there was excitement. It was interesting to see the various dynamics right throughout the field. From Jenson’s inspired call for tyres right down to Chandhuk making it to the finish intact.

    However, I am still cautious because of the overtaking dlimena. Lewis Hamilton was indeed flying – as soon as he was within the turbulence of Fernando, he stopped. For sure, the rain spiced things up a bit.

    F1 is not broken. But it is not looking too shiny either. A couple more races should tell us whether we need to get the Brasso out.

  36. quote:
    “Perhaps there will be other dull races in the year ahead, and there is no doubt that there are issues that need to be addressed in relation to the design of the cars, but the sport does not need revolutionary change.”

    Sure thing, but how about better race tracks, the new ones are all very uniform and produce ditto races. It is the older tracks or street circuits that make for interesting events.

  37. Joe,
    I just watched the race – had plans over the weekend and, yes, it was a very interesting race. There may be a clue in looking at why it differed from Bahrain. The track certainly is different but the major difference was the slick conditions caused by the WEATHER.
    Now it isn’t likely that anyone would want to sprinkle water on the track on race day (except Bernie) but the lesson may be the reduced grip which allowed or required a little more technique from the drivers.
    So, as others have suggested, how about a tire specification which is sufficiently hard to leave less klag off the racing line, might make pit stops unnecessary, but requires more car control to consistently get the maximum performance.

    Button’s decision to go to slicks a lap before anyone else proved prescient. His tire management skills then made the difference for the rest of the race.

  38. We shall see. The fundamental reason that the race was exciting was due to the initial rain which then resulted in the subsequent strategies re tires etc.


    peter N

  39. I agree that Australia was a good race. The future is neither as bleak as Bahrain, nor as bright as Melbourne, however. The rain changed the equation significantly. In my opinion, it is a non-controllable factor that really shouldn’t be considered when talking about the health of the sport.

    I don’t think F1 is broken, but I still believe there are some problems that need to be addressed. As you said after Bahrain, we shouldn’t over-react. In this case, we shouldn’t over-react in the positive way.

  40. The race was definitely not boring, thats for sure. They need to somehow make it rain for every race. However, in addition to the rain, this race was great because Albert Park is a very entertaining track. Watching the race yesterday highlighted the differences between an interesting track that invariably produces good races and the bore-fest Herman Tilke tracks.

  41. I disagree.

    Lewis caught up to Fernando & then nothing.

    Felipe followed Robert, Fernando followed Felipe. And even when Felipe made a mistake, Fernando might get next to him, but not around.

    Unless there’s going to be a dash of rain @ every race, things still need to be worked on.

  42. It was a great race but how much was it down to the random element that the weather threw in?

    The basic problem remains: Formula 1 cars cannot overtake when the track is dry and all other elements are stable (ie they are on slicks)

  43. “Don’t panic!”
    Are you reading this from the cover of the yet to be published “Joe Saward’s Guide to the F1 Galaxy”?

  44. I completely disagree with this post given that it is a fact that any race blessed with rain turns into an entertaining one. That’s a fact as much as the earth evolves around the sun.

    Safety cars also add to race drama and that’s another fact eventhough given the no refueling rule the safety car effect will be less important for the leading driver in every team : the 2nd driver in every team will be heavily penalised.

    So, I still think that races will be duller this year than the previous years under the same circumstances. Something that might help I think is if a driver has the choice between either using both set of tyres (soft & hard) or using only one set for the whole race. At the end of races, those going for only one set might struggle and be catched and harrased by those going for two sets of tyres, the way Hamilton did with ALONSO and it was entertainig even if he wasn’t successfull.
    The Alonso Hamilton situation was due to the fact that one opted for 2 sets of slicks while the other opted for 1 one set of slicks. The rain had nothing to do with that situation.

  45. F1 still has problems. After the strategic decisions of when to switch to dry tires and how many stops to make, the race still ended in a procession. Massa was slower than everyone behind him. Alonso couldn’t pass him. Hamilton, who caught the pair at 2 seconds a lap, with the trick wing good for 5-6 kph on the straights, couldn’t get past Alonso, and Webber with the fastest car on the track couldn’t get past Hamilton.

    The McLaren post race debrief reckoned that a car needed a three second per lap advantage over the car in front to guarantee a pass. Three seconds. That is an eternity. If you can’t be right behind the car in front coming onto a straight, all the trick wings in the world will not get you past at the end, even with fresher tires that allow you to brake late. Else Hamilton would have been chasing Kubica, not Alonso. And Webber said the front of his car rose up when he attempted to follow Hamilton during Hamilton’s attempt on Alonso, destroying his braking and causing the collision.

    There is still a problem, even when it rains.

  46. Joe I beg to differ, Melbourne was only interesting because of the rain just before the start. If it had been dry all day I reckon you’d have had a race as boring as Bahrain although perhaps the lesser lights would have produced a couple of safety cars that may have mixed up the order. Given that Malaysia will start at a similar late hour as Melbourne then I guess we should expect more damp weather there and the same probably for Shanghai.

  47. Indeed. Bahrain has never produced a memorable race, yet Melbourne has barely ever produced a boring one. If you stick a circuit as soulless as Sakhir as the first race, of course everyone is going to have negative vibes for the season ahead.

  48. This race proved two things:

    a) formula one can still be exciting
    b) the rule requiring teams use both sets of tyres takes away from the spectacle.

    At aus we saw overtaking was possible although work needs to be done to ensure that a car that’s 2 seconds a lap quicker isn’t halted by catching a car but then suffers chronic understeer inn it’s wake. We also saw how when there are no compulsory tyre changes strategy can be varied and lead to an exciting climax.

    A great race and no doubt after malaysia the critics will be out in force again – the link being hot weather and tilke tracks. Let’s hope for rain and a new track designer!

  49. OzGP was much better joe, but I disagree that the suspense is part of the show. I’d prefer a seven goal thriller than 1-0. Watching Hamilton & Webber stuck behind those wallowing Ferrari’s was disappointing. Not at all like Villeneuve & the train behind back in 1980 or thereabouts.

    Fine drive by Kubica though. How did Williams let him go and sign the geriatric?

  50. Oh and thanks for the “meet the press” evening last night, with special guest stars Mike Doodson & Tim Schenken. Loved the Princess stories. I didn’t get to ask – who was the motorsport journo who fell asleep at jean Todt’s press call?

  51. Just got back to New York after being there for the week. God I’m tired but it was all well worth it – the Aussies put on a fantastic spectical!

    Unfortunately I flew back the morning of your Evening with Joe so missed it but I trust it was a success?!

  52. Stirring again! It was a much better race, but there wasn’t as much rain as there needed to be. A proper shower with ten laps to go would have given a good finale. What sport other than F1 has a dull processional finale?

    So we now have a clearer understanding that racing is good in direct proportion to the amount of rain that falls. Nobody agrees with my idea of randomly-generated sprinkler events, so why don’t we analyse why it is that only rain produces good racing. Because of lack of grip? So why do we have regulations that allow mega grip? Because we’re stupid.

    Sometimes we’re not quite so stupid though. Not that long ago, there was agreement that it would improve the racing if mechanical grip was increased and downforce reduced. This was to be the theme of the new regulations. Fine. So what did we do for 2010? The opposite. We made the front tyres narrower, reducing mechanical group, while continuing to permit the diffusers that were supposed to be banned for 2009. Why? Because we’re stupid.

    But of course this kind of analysis is the worst form of panic. All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Rome isn’t burning. It’s a myth. What day is it? Where am I? What the hell did he put in that cocktail?

  53. For everyone saying it was the rain that made AUstralia great, you’re only a little bit right.

    Yes it helped, but not because it was a wet race (lets not forget they only had wet tyres for 6-7 laps).

    The main benefit of the rain was that once eeryone was on slicks, they weren’t forced into an artificial tyre strategy so felt they could gamble track position for another set of soft tyres.

    Had they started on slicks, they’d all be on hard tyres to the end of the race.

    The problem for me is the tyre regulations which are pointless

  54. Anyone else get caught out by the clock change in the UK?

    There I was, watching the extras on the Grand Prix movie DVD, all about racing in the mid-60s, thinking “hmmm the race will be on soon….bet it’s dull compared to this stuff” while all the time I was missing a cracker.

    Ho hum.

  55. Completely disagree, its the broadcast F1 is making it boring. Bernie ‘ring master’ Ecclestone’s FOM have terrible graphics, direction and completely miss most of the action on the TV feed.

    I could do a better job with my hands tied behind my back

  56. @ David

    You’re missing a big part of why the rain made Australia so exciting.

    Although there was a dry line after lap 8, off line, the track was still very wet well after half distance. Anyone getting off line had deal with slippery conditions throughout the majority of the race.

    A wet track was almost exclusively the reason the Australian GP was so exciting.

    You’re right in one respect, if the current tire regulations remain in place, it is going to make for some awfully boring dry races this season.

    Soft tires aren’t the answer, because Bridgestone will never, ever, EVER be convinced to provide a truly soft tire. A truly soft tire would fail if used too long. When it failed – and it would, because some team would use it too long – Bridgestone would take it on the chin. No company wants to see their products fail while billions of consumers are watching. Bridgestone isn’t going to set themselves up for that possibility.

    Since it is impossible for me to believe that Bridgestone could ever be convinced to provide a truly soft compound, I think the only alternative is for the teams and FIA demand Bridgestone provide a compound so hard and so slippery that it would provide rain-like levels of non-traction.

    The drivers would hate it, but so what. It would provide some very exciting races.

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