Last weekend's race at Valencia saw every one of the cars
that started the race reach the finish - but is this impressive display of
technical perfection really a good thing for F1?
It was only the fourth time in the history of F1 that the
entire grid has made it to the finish, and with 24 drivers seeing the chequered
flag it was the highest number of cars to ever complete an F1 race - giving HRT
driver Narain Karthikeyan the dubious honour of being the only F1 driver ever
The previous finishing record of 23 had been set just
five races earlier, in China this year, with Jaime Alguersuari the only driver
not to finish - and that was only because the wheel fell off his Toro Rosso.
And that in turn beat the record set in the penultimate race of last season,
where there were 22 classified finishers at the end of the race in Brazil - an
achievement last seen in 1952 (when drivers did not have to complete 90 per cent
of race distance to be classified).
All this highlights the incredible reliability of the
current crop of F1 cars - and given that this time last year the three new
teams on the grid were still overcoming embarrassing reliability rates, such an
achievement is highly commendable.
A focus on reliability has been built into the
regulations in recent years, with engines needing to last longer distances and
such severe penalties handed out for their failure making teams go to great
lengths to ensure they are running well within high margins of safety.
Advancement in oil analysis technology helps teams spot
problems with the engine and drive train before they become catastrophic while
sensors all over the cars monitor everything from tyre pressures to internal
airflow and improvements in quality control throughout the manufacturing
process have eliminated many faults before the get close to being a problem at
Nick Heidfeld managed an incredible 41 classified
finishes in a row between the 2007 French Grand Prix and the 2009 Italian Grand
Prix and impressive reliability from Ferrari allowed Michael Schumacher to post
24 consecutive points finishes between 2001 to 2003.
But while last weekend's record clearly demonstrates the
pinnacle of technical prowess in Formula One, Lotus driver Jarno Trulli
recently argued that it does not help the sport, claiming the "human
element (is) ever less important..."
He explained: "Between 10 and 15 years ago, when I
started racing in F1, a driver knew how he'd start a race, but...didn't even
know whether he would finish it. Nowadays, reliability has become (a given). I
can't remember the last time an engine broke down in an F1 race...no detail is
left to chance."
It is true that fewer reliability issues at the front
have removed one of the unpredictable elements that made for dramatic turns of
events in races, and improvements in reliability throughout the field have now
also made it harder for teams like Lotus to have a moment of glory and 'luck in'
to a good points result.
But surely in F1 that is the point?
Performance should merit results, and perfect reliability
only enhances this further.
Mechanical problems ending a driver's race has always
been one of the most unfair elements of the sport, so if all teams have
reliability then surely that only strengthens the importance of a driver and
gives him the opportunity and confidence to drive the wheels off the car to get
a good finish.
Indeed, far from affecting the influence of the driver as
Trulli has claimed, this season Sebastian Vettel is demonstrating the very
opposite and showing that a driver in his prime can truly make a difference,
with metronomic reliability allowing him to do that every single race...