Formula 1’s first race is in the books. Even though Nico Rosberg led another Mercedes 1-2, Ferrari showed pace. Pace to take on Mercedes. Their excellent start propelled them into the lead, a lead they should have kept if not for some poor strategy. While seemingly obvious to everyone else their decision to keep Vettel on the super soft compound after the Red Flag probably cost them the race. Haas shocked many by finishing 6th.
The race was exciting, however my main take away was the complete lack of passing. This isn’t new to F1 but the Australian Grand Prix showed that the problem may be worse than it ever has been. Early in the race Hamilton in a faster car was stuck behind a Toro Rosso, unable to do anything to get by. We saw this again later in the race when Max Verstappen, who was clearly faster than his teammate could do nothing to get by. If you watched the race and heard the radio transmissions you could hear Verstappen’s frustration. Even in an era with DRS, passing is still at a minimum. Why is this? These are supposed to be the fastest, most sophisticated machines on 4 wheels, so why can’t they pass? Simple answer, aerodynamics. You don’t need a PhD in engineering to know how sensitive these machines are to air flow. 1 look at the front wing will tell even the most casual fan that if you mess with the air, the car will lose performance. After a few laps with compromised performance and the tires will fall off.
The question is, how do you fix it? The simple answer is to reduce downforce. However this wound undoubtedly slow the cars down. F1 prides themselves on the speed of their machines. F1 needs to have their cars be the fastest cars. LMP1 Hybrids are getting faster and faster so F1 cars can’t afford to see any drop in performance. So how do you keep the same level of performance and limit the demand on complicated wings? All in the effort to increase passing and improve the show to fans? Some have suggested going back to ground effects. If you were to limit the complexity of wings, ground effects would be a way to keep overall downforce levels similar to what they are today. It is far from a perfect fix, however, something has to be done.
If the season continues along it’s current path with cars unable to pass inferior competition F1 will face a huge problem. Much larger than needlessly complicated qualifying (thankfully the owners have seen the errors of their ways and voted to reinstate the old qualifying system). Bigger than the performance gap between the haves and the have nots. They will have a boring product devoid of the action F1 fans want to see. Yes, accidents and botched strategies are exciting, but it’s not why we tune in. If you want that, go watch NASCAR. We tune in to watch the pinnacle of motorsport. The very best of man and machine competing to see who is the best. Right now there is no on track competition. Car A catches Car B and because the front end isn’t gripping like it should, Car A can’t get past. I don’t know about you guys, but this is a narrative I will get tired with very quickly. F1 needs to look for a better solution and fast. It’s too late for 2016 but they need to come up with something, as in have a solution ready for 2017.