In the wake of the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix, a race that saw Ferrari take a one-two and McLaren a little shy on pace, Martin Whitmarsh has called for immediate changes to be made to the rules in order to prevent the sport becoming a dull procession with all drivers pitting just the once. The McLaren chief’s comments come after a relatively unexciting opening race where the element of strategy seemed to be dumbed down as a result of the in-race refueling ban.
Refueling was banned for a number of reasons for the 2010 world championship, with the teams hoping to save money by not having to transport heavy rigs around. Along with saving money, the pitlane is made safer with the teams not having to refuel a race car under pressure during a grand prix. However, this has resulted in pitstops only being required to change tyres, which teams must do at least once during a normal dry race. Of course, pitstops are significantly quicker now, but the real issue is the way the teams are approaching them.
Over the course of a grand prix weekend it usually becomes apparent early on that one tyre compound is better suited to the track than the other. Having to run both compounds during the race, drivers tended to stick to one-stop races. This was emphasised when it became known that the Bridgestone rubber supplied for the Bahrain Grand Prix was actually very durable and even the super-soft choice, which many feared would fall apart after a couple of laps, lasted for much longer than expected.
The result is drivers running the less-preferred or less-durable tyre for the first stint before changing very soon in the race to the durable option. This allows the teams to get the less-favourable compound out of the way and frees them up to run until the end of the race without having to make any further pitstops.
Combine this lack of pitlane activity with the fact that drivers are still struggling to overtake due to the efficiencies in the aerodynamics, and you’re left with a procession of 24 Formula One cars touring a circuit on a Sunday afternoon. As a sport, the whole show becomes a lot less desirable.
The Bahrain Grand Prix wasn’t too bad and there were some interesting battles in the mid-back field. At the front though, we saw several drivers just tail the car in the front, seemingly unable to pass. Even with the increase in points-margin between the positions, drivers simply couldn’t pass. It wasn’t a case of motivation and rather a case of physics.
If the Bahrain event had seen more pitstops, then there may have been more passes. Admittedly, these moves may have taken place in the pitlane and not on the race track, but at least the show would have been spiced up a little. Of course, if the Sakhir circuit had been run on its usual Grand Prix configuration, the lap length would have been shorter and more laps could have been completed. Furthermore, the drivers wouldn’t have been forced to complete the silly mickey-mouse section after T4.
After the race had been completed, Martin Whitmarsh, who is also the chairman of FOTA, spoke to the BBC about these concerns and how he would like for the rules to be changed as soon as possible. Whitmarsh has suggested revisiting the mandatory two-stops idea, or pushing Bridgestone to supply tyres that simply won’t last half a race distance.
We were one of three teams, that said we should have two mandatory pitstops because we were worried about one-stopping.
I think we have to re-examine that. But I think if we can now push on Bridgestone to have ‘racier’ tyres, we need a super-soft tyre that is really going to hurt if you take it to 20 laps. You shouldn’t be able to do that with a super-soft tyre and I think even the prime, if it’s a struggle to get it to do half a race distance, then you force [the issue].
The tyres were much closer in the race than we expected and they determined the spectacle. There was no real serious degradation of the tyres, we started the roll of pitstops because we were trying to get ahead of [Nico] Rosberg and everyone started to come in at that point.
But otherwise, just based on tyre degradation, we could have run to lap 25 or more on the super-soft tyres. If you can do that on the softest tyre, then the primes are just going to romp through for as long as you like. Martin Whitmarsh.
Whitmarsh went on to say that through FOTA, he is dedicated to improving the show
Formula 1 has to be entertaining, people have to be switched on to what is going to happen in the race, if it’s processional they are not going to be. Today was not the best show, we know that and we have all got to work together to improve it.
I personally believe that more challenging tyres will help the spectacle of the show. I also personally believe that we should have two stops mandated because we want to stop this. Today, if we had had a safety car on lap five, we’d have all piled in [to the pits] and we’d have all gone on the prime tyre and run to lap 49 without a stop. That was a real danger.
We do need to look at mandatings stops, we do need to look at the tyres and make them more fragile, and we do need to work on making the cars capable of racing close together and easier to overtake. Martin Whitmarsh.
While the McLaren boss is talking sense with regards to the tyres, it should not be forgotten that it was FOTA who pushed for these changes along with the sport’s governing body, the FIA. From the outset it was clear that if the drivers can get the harder tyre to last for most of the race, they will in order to avoid pitting. Formula One is after all a competition. Among those competing is Whitmarsh himself.
Also mentioned was the fact that despite trying to cut the downforce generated by the cars, overtaking is still very difficult due to the lack of close racing caused by overly-efficient aerodynamics. Again, the team bosses are desperate to reclaim any lost performance that arises from rule changes, and the designers and engineers are simply doing their jobs when they create these cars.
There is a solution to all this somewhere, simply because there has to be. But with the teams unlikely to unanimously agree to rule changes that could see them penalised (why would Ferrari vote in favour of mandatory pitstops?) I guess, for now at least, it comes down to the sport’s sole tyre supplier who are intent on leaving at the end of the season.