Monday, August 5, 2013

How commercialism is destroying sports – Part 1: Formula One

The rapidly degrading Pirelli tyres and DRS have somewhat changed the nature of racing in Formula One. DRS has made overtaking easier and rapidly degrading tyres give more overtaking opportunities for the drivers whose tyres are in a better shape. And that was the reason for why DRS and rapidly degrading tyres were introduced. Overtaking had become very difficult in F1. They tried to make overtaking easier with rule changes for 2009, for example aerodynamics were reduced and slick tyres were introduced to help to follow a car ahead. But that didn't increase overtaking very much. That's why something more radical was made for 2011; a driver can open his rear wing when he is enough close to the car ahead. Also, the tyres were made to degrade more rapidly. That was made because some drivers having much fresher tyres would enable more overtaking.

But was that good for F1? We can hear people praising today's F1 as it has much more overtaking than there was some years ago. But we can also hear other people complaining about how F1 isn't anymore proper racing. And that is my opinion, too. Rapidly degrading tyres have brought an endurance aspect to F1. Drivers need to nurse their tyres to avoid additional tyre changes. That wasn't the case some years ago when the tyres didn't degrade as much. Over the last decades, F1 had lost the endurance aspect it had had in its early decades. The relatively short race distance allowed building cars that lasted well for the whole race and drivers didn't need to save the car. The longlife engines and gearboxes introduced in the 00s multiplied the distances driven with them but because of their great reliability, drivers don't have to save the engines unless they are in a position where they can do it without losing their position.

But the rapidly degrading tyres have caused that the drivers need to save tyres and that's why we can hear engineers warning them of driving too fast. I don't think that kind of an endurance aspect belongs to F1. Endurance racing like Le Mans is another thing, even though the improved reliability has reduced much of its endurance aspect, too. Also, the rapidly degrading tyres have affected to racing in F1. It is easier to get overtaking chances if you have fresher tyres than the car ahead. That has increased overtaking. But if the driver ahead is struggling with his tyres and trying to preserve them, he may be reluctant to do all he can to defend his position. And I think defending a position is an important element of racing. That's why it is sad to see drivers being unable to try to defend their positions. Also, overtakes where a driver passes another driver who cannot defend are not so spectacular in my opinion. The greatest overtakes are the ones where a driver battles his way past a well-defending driver.

That is also the reason why I don't like DRS. Too often it leads to easy overtakes where the driver ahead cannot defend. I think DRS works best on circuits like the Hungaroring where it is almost impossible to overtake otherwise. On those circuits, DRS doesn't make overtakes so inevitable. But it is sad to think there is a DRS zone on places like the Kemmel straight at Spa. That was always a great overtaking spot even without DRS. DRS takes away all challenge in overtakes there. If there has to be an overtaking aid in F1, I would prefer the push-to-pass system used in IndyCar. You can get extra horsepower only for a limited number of times and you can use it also to defend.

But why does F1 need those overtaking aids? The purists may be complaining but more overtakes and drama is what the big crowd wants. The big crowd was bored of most races being processions after the first lap and it was hard to win from behind the front row. Now we can see a driver winning a race after a poor qualifying if he can manage his tyres better than others and now races aren't over after the first lap.

And F1 isn't the only sport which has been affected be commercial interests. One of my next texts will be about how commercialism has changed the game of tennis.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your post entirely. The most important aspect of an overtake is that it is fair. Using DRS to handicap one driver doesn't make for interesting overtakes at all. Push-to-pass is a better solution as it puts the onus on the driver to tactically manage when and how to use them.