Less predictable Pirelli tyres, the re-introduction of KERS, moveable rear wings to increase overtaking – if it wasn’t thrown out, the Formula One rulebook was at least rudely shaken about ahead of the 2011 season.
The major technical changes have all played their parts: the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems have given the drivers an 80bhp kick up the backside that gets them to their top speeds faster; the DRS, or moveable rear wing, has knocked home the overtaking advantage; and Pirelli’s fast-wearing rubber has forced the drivers to play the percentage game.
The result? Lots of overtaking, three times as many pitstops as last year and a wide variety of strategies and surprises.
New 2011 season F1 rules: not everyone likes them
But the new rules are also proving divisive, and it seems sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. As former FIA president Max Mosley once said, overtaking manoeuvres in F1 are like a game of chess; they should be planned in advance and executed when least expected. That hasn’t always been the case in 2011.
‘Some of the overtakes are just too easy,’ says Red Bull driver Mark Webber. ‘The Pirelli tyres drop off so quickly that when your tyres are shot, you can’t defend your position. You pretty much have to let the faster guy through. That’s not rewarding; that’s not why you spend years honing your ability to overtake.’
Overtaking is king in F1
Yet if Formula One is only out to impress its television viewers, it can consider the 2011 season thus far a resounding success. The rules have boosted overtaking, and record levels of reliability (there were 23 finishers in China) have ensured it’s all been done out on the track, which has created gripping television. Who can forget Lewis Hamilton’s pass on Sebastian Vettel in the closing laps of the Chinese Grand Prix?
Plus, the technical challenge that for some is more important to F1 than the ‘show’ has only increased: it took Red Bull Racing, the reigning constructors’ champions, until the Turkish Grand Prix in May to get their KERS system working; Mercedes and Ferrari continue to struggle with their moveable rear wings and no-one can get their rear tyres to last more than 20 laps.
The success of F1 depends on people at home tuning in and not on the drivers enjoying themselves. People want entertainment and the new rules are providing it by the bucketload.