Motorhead: Why F1 needs a touch more predictability
At what point does the Formula One season throwing up one different winner after another go from thrilling to bad for the sport?
The season is six races old, but already we’ve had one more winner than we saw across 19 grands prix last season.
Six drivers representing five constructors have won races, while seven of the teams in all have had at least one podium finish.
Predicting the result of the next race is a mug’s game, the sort of thing you’d leave to Mystic Meg – ‘I see a man in a helmet... a driver... in overalls... will be lucky too...’. When you don’t know what’s going to happen next, it’s hard to take your eyes away.
And yet there has to come a cut-off point, a stage at which unpredictability becomes randomness, devaluing the competition.
If six different drivers win six different races, that’s one thing – what if 20 different drivers win at one of the stops on the calendar this year? Even by the topsy-turvy standards of Formula One this season, that would be a stretch; but given there are three world champions in the field – Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen – who have been good enough to top qualifying or set fastest laps of the race, and the likes of Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez have demonstrated pace and racecraft, there could be 10 race winners this year.
The grands prix are individual races with their own nuances and foibles – some cars will be better suited to one circuit than others, while certain drivers have a particular affinity for certain tracks. But they are part of something larger – a search for the most talented driver in the best car.
At present, the fear is that the tyres are too much of an X-factor, a mystery item that can turn a supercar one minute into a shopping trolley the next.
Alonso’s poor car at the start of the season perhaps makes him a bad example, but most drivers on the grid – including some of the sport’s most metronomically consistent racers – have endured spectacularly inconsistent results.
Niki Lauda was one of the first to raise concerns about the way the championship is playing out.
"It was very interesting in the beginning, we all were surprised,” he said. “But if this continues...then we will lose spectators or interest because the main public wants to see the world champions winning.”
At least Bernie Ecclestone did not have his way and push through the ‘gold medal’ system a couple of years ago. The F1 supremo wanted the title to be decided by the most race wins, then the most second-places in the event of a tie, then the most thirds. This is how the title race would look now on the Ecclestone system:
Even by the current scoring system, any of six drivers could theoretically find themselves top of the standings by the end of the next race.
Sooner or later, the season needs the cream to rise to the top.
That may well happen, as the mysterious tyres are worked out, and the teams which hit upon the solutions first will find themselves with an advantage over their rivals every bit as sizeable as those who came up with the most innovative and effective design over the winter.
And it would be churlish to dismiss the excitement that this season has brought already. Storylines like Williams’ first race win after eight years, the arrival of Mercedes at the top table, the harsh readjustments and subsequent successes of Red Bull and Ferrari, and even McLaren’s infuriating gaffes have made this season one to remember.
But while nobody wants to see another season like the 2002 campaign, when Schumacher had sealed the title with six races to go, there is a balancing act that needs to be struck. With all the various rules of design, it is very easy to create a playground for one man to dominate, but as we are also perhaps now witnessing, it is also possible to create Formula One's version of a lottery.
And as Lauda intimates, the sport needs two or three drivers to start pulling consistently away from the pack, so that a true champion will emerge from an illustrious field.