As the days and weeks roll by, the Australian Grand Prix gets ever closer. The Melbourne race will start the 2008 season, the 58th since the organised championship began, and the sport as come a long way since the days of Ascari and Fangio. But the modern era of Formula One seems to be dominated at the moment with politics and money. Admittedly, if you were looking to point a finger, you cannot necessarily blame the sport entirely for this. It just happens to be the climate of the times in which F1 rests; it isn’t going to change too soon and is something the teams and fans have become used to over the passing decades. However, this money and political involvement has caused the rules of the sport to be changed significantly, and not always for the better.
Generally speaking, the sport of Formula One has improved since the ’50s on a variety of level, most notably safety. The last death to occur during a race was the tragic weekend at San Marino in 1994 when both Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lost their lives. Only last season Robert Kubica suffered an almighty accident that, had it occurred fifty years previous, would have almost certainly added to that season’s fatalities.
So progressing the sport is essential for its long term survival; be it for safety reasons, trying to get more viewers by hosting the races at different times or even just altering the testing regulations to improve the fairness. Whatever it may be, positive and well thought-out progression is vital.
Unfortunately though, and here comes the crux of the post for those eagerly waiting, not all changes have been for the better. Once again qualifying has been tweaked for this upcoming season. This small change should actually be for the better, but the original change from the 12 lap free-for-all was simply a bad decision in my opinion. Another example of bad decisions is, once again in my humble opinion, the tyre change rule. Yes, being forced to run both compounds does add a little spice to the proceedings. But it has taken away one thing I loved about F1, and added another that simply isn’t necessary.
What this rule has added is an extra layer of complexity for new fans to follow. Heck, it sometimes provides a sore head for some of the older fans as well! Trying to understand a team’s strategy is at best a nightmare, but throwing in a differently-behaving type of tyre just makes it harder for newbies to understand and may contribute to them turning the TV off.
What the tyre rule has taken away is, for me, more damaging. It has taken away the essence of Formula One: A driver doing his damnest to win a race by out-driving and out-witting their opponents. In 1997, Mika Salo scored two valuable points at the rain-soaked Monaco Grand Prix. The race was held over 62 laps, having been cut short from the intended 78 laps due to treacherous conditions causing the time limit to come into effect. The eventual winner was Michael Schumacher, who won with a comfortable margin over his rivals. However, everyone aside from Salo who finished pitted at least once, Salo managed to get his Tyrrell to the end without a single stop. The Finnish driver used the weather to his advantage and conserved fuel and looked after his tyres. Not once did he come down the pitlane during the two hours of the race. That, to me, is partly what F1 is about; using your head, innovative strategy, common sense and down-right guts – his tyres looked pretty ropey towards the end and he had a damaged front wing for last few tours of the Principality.
The FIA are constantly tweaking the rules, trying in their minds to improve the show and provide better racing. As regular readers will note I’m not a particular fan of the governing body, but I hope my examples above aren’t too vindictive of the man who really needs to leave when his current term is up. But all that aside, to bring the post together, I would like to return to my question: What one rule would you change in Formula One? And of course, the obligatory why…