You often hear seasoned observers complaining that Formula One isn’t the sport it used to be, that its restrictive rules take away the engineering innovation that makes top level motorsport fascinating, that the tyres require the drivers to at times slow to conserve them and that they, along with DRS are created purely to artificially boost excitement turning a pure sport into an entertainment similar to American wrestling.
It’s easy to formulate and support such an argument. Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell almost clashing wheels down the Barcelona straight in 1991 with sparks bursting from underneath the cars surely shows the racing can be brilliant without all the overtaking gizmos available now. But this view is blind from the truth. Aerodynamics in 1991 were extremely simple and the slipstream effect was still significant.
Yet in 2010, the last year of none-DRS racing, many times a car following another gained no speed advantage, such was the aerodynamic efficiency of the modern F1 car, and hence overtaking was drastically low. Just ask Fernando Alonso how frustrating that is.
All DRS is intended to achieve is to provide an artificial slipstream effect, and while admittedly on a few occasions – Turkey 2011 springs to mind – the effect has been far too great, on the whole the device has been a success. Overtaking is much more possible now than two years ago while still being a challenge which is most definitely a positive.
The second slight aimed at Formula One in 2013, and one which has been increasing recently, is the factor of the purposely fragile Pirelli tyres. Introduced in 2011 with the intention of changing the Bridgestone concept of one stop races into more exciting races where the teams could differ strategies between two and three stops. Thus tyre conservation became more important, something which went against the wishes of a lot of F1 fans used to the noughties concept of flat out sprints between pitstops with extremely strong tyres. F1 drivers should be pushing the limits of speed they cried, not poodling around two seconds off the pace saving rubber.
Again this argument ignores a lot of truth. Races during the noughties were often criticised for being decided by pitstops. Driving at 100% of the car’s pace for the whole race is actually a pretty narrow skill. The racing in 2013 tests the drivers’ ability to be fast over a wider range of situations, surely something which allows the more skilful to shine.
The innovation argument is definitely the strongest out of the lot however. Memorable innovations such as the Brabham fan car in the 70s, the active suspension Williams FW14B from 1992, the wide variation in body styles before the noughties brought regulations tighter than ever and the battle between radical turbos and plain natural engines are just a few examples of innovation not possible now.
But the foundations of this argument can also be shown to be weaker than the idealist would have you believe. During 1992 races were often processional affairs. Astonishingly, at the British grand prix that year, Mansell’s FW14B qualified a whole five seconds ahead of the car in 10th position; hardly a competitive affair.
Further, realism dampens the innovation argument simply because it is no longer possible to allow constructors free reign, such is the out of control nature of modern F1 finances.
Its easy to criticise the here now using specifically handpicked highlights from the past while ignoring 90% of the actual events of the time. This isn’t to say F1 2013 is better than any other era, just that people should take a deeper and more thorough look at the past they adore before they use it to criticise any current affairs.