Atlas F1 How the Sport can Regain
its Winning Formula

  by Paul Murray, Ireland

The 1999 Spanish Grand Prix was one of the most uncompetitive and uninteresting motor races of the modern era. While the 1999 season produced some excellent races, such as the French Grand Prix and the European one at the Nurburgring, races have become progressively less exciting and less eventful for some time. This is largely due to changes in technical regulations instituted by the FIA over the course of the last decade. A rectification of these is urgently needed if Formula One is to recapture its former exhilaration.

The introduction of grooved tyres from the start of the 1998 season onwards, has been a source of much annoyance to teams, drivers and fans. The intention behind the move was to reduce speeds, but those responsible for bringing it about have failed to recognise the reality that speeds will always increase due to aerodynamic and engine developments, while corresponding levels of grip required to sustain such speeds no longer exist, since the abolition of grooved tyres at the end of 1997.

Jacques Villeneuve echoed the sentiments of many by contending that grooved tyres are more akin to road tyres and are not ideally suited to the Formula One arena. Since the abolition of slicks, overtaking has become even more difficult due to an increased loss of aerodynamic grip. Drivers and engineers have encountered greater difficuties with regard to fixing upon satisfactory set-ups for qualifying sessions and races. Margins of set-up error have reduced, and greater compromises have become inevitable, thus limiting drivers from taking their machines to the edge with confidence.

Many drivers complain that it is easier to fall off the road on grooved tyres than had been the case with slicks. Damon Hill was particularly displeased with the introduction of grooves, which contributed in no small measure to the Briton`s poor performances and eventual retirement in 1999. Bernie Ecclestone has sided with the drivers on the issue, even though FIA President Max Mosley holds the opposite view.

With a return to slicks, higher grip-levels could be achieved and while an increase in speeds would be inevitable, the cars would be easier to drive with greater potential for overtaking. A return to slicks seems inevitable, but for the sake of the sport as a spectical, must happen sooner rather than later.

Refuelling was reintroduced by the FIA in 1994. While this was supposed to make races more exciting, the reintroduction of refuelling has only served to deprive fans of the possibility of enjoying race-long battles. With lighter fuel-loads, drivers can run their cars in a quasi-qualifying trim for raceday and can build up big leads from the start of a race. Few drivers are sidelined from a race due to running out of fuel, while the delicate art of being careful about conserving fuel -levels has almost disappeared.

Race-patterns are unnecessarily disrupted with the option of multiple-pit-stops open to drivers. A driver with an advantage over his adversary often has to increase this before pitting to ensure victory. In effect, many races are decided in the pitlane, with few being settled as a consequence of two cars circulating nose-to-tail to the end of a race, following any meaningful duration of racing.

The area of tyre-wear is also significant. Since 1994, with the option of multiple-pit-stops, a driver need not concern himself unduly about tyre- degradation, whereas prior to '94, drivers had to be more circumspect in this regard.

A return to tyre-only stops would encourage more racing, fewer pit-stops and produce fewer variables such as drivers trying to increase a lead before pitting in order to retain the lead on exiting the pitlane - all perhaps done in the absence of a pursuing opponent.

Following the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at Imola in 1994, a premium was placed on driver-safety in conjunction with constructing "safer" circuits, with many existing circuits undergoing immediate alterations.

The trend of tighter circuit configurations has been followed for some time with venues such as the old Nurburgring, the scene of Niki Lauda`s near-fatal accident in 1976, no longer being used as a grand prix venue on safety grounds.

While safety should always be of primary concern, the design of modern-day circuits has become almost absurd. Of the sixteen venues used in 1999, Hungary and Austria appear to have been designed with the intention of making overtaking about as rare as a Michael Schumacher driving-error.

If overtaking is to be encouraged, provision must be made for the construction of wider sections of track at many circuits. Sepang, the venue of the 1999 Malysian Grand Prix, is a good example of this, but remains the exception rather than the rule. Even power-circuits like Hockeinheim and Monza do not tend to promote overtaking on a grand scale, but are at least better than the latest generation of point-to-squirt circuits.

While a return to configurations with endles overtaking opportunities such as at Clermont-Ferrand, last used as the venue for the 1972 French Grand Prix, would be almost unthinkable, the FIA and circuit-designers would do well to think about improving circuit-layouts and to work towards a situation where overtaking might once again become fashionable.

For many, the golden-age of contemporary Formula One was the Senna/Prost/Mansell era of the late 1980s and early 1990s. If the spectacular and dramatic racing witnessed during this era is ever to be recreated, progress must be made in a variety of areas. Without doubt, Formula One is the most spectacular sport on earth. The fact that many want it to become even more exciting, is a testament of that.

      Related Articles:

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The Wind of Change
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Trick Or Tread?
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1998 Rules: Pros and Cons
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The 1998 Regulations Debate
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Where Safety Means Danger
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A Tyre For All Seasons
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The Case for Slicks
(Feb-10th, 1999)

The Case for Grooves
(Feb-10th, 1999)

Slickes, Definitely Slicks
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Stop The Pitstops
(Mar-17th, 1999)

Mosley's Equations
(Apr-28th, 1999)

F1 Technical Regulations: Where Now?
(Feb-02nd, 2000)

Paul Murray© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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