Even though Sebastian Vettel’s domination of the 2011 Formula One season seems complete, viewership in F1 is at an all-time high. I mean, remember the time when during Michael Schumacher’s successful reign, we were all calling it Formula Yawn. So, why the big change?
Well, the simple answer to that is that racing has become fun again.
While Vettel has been in a league of his own, the battle behind him has been getting very interesting over the last few races. In a normal year, everybody would have switched off by now.
But this time round, the new regulations that were drafted to make F1 more exciting definitely seem to be working. The races this year have been unpredictable, enthralling and nail-biting till the very last lap. A deeper look reveals just how these changes have impacted F1 this year.
The combination of the new Pirelli tyres, KERS (kinetic energy recovery system), and DRS (drag reduction system) rear wing overtaking aid has given fans what we have always craved for -- wheel-to-wheel stuff among the world’s best drivers.
The rapidly degrading Pirelli tyres are the main reason for closely fought battles this season. Some drivers had to make four stops in Turkey and in the normal course of events, this would only happen when the race is rain affected.
The difference between the old tyre and new tyre is sometimes close to three seconds which means drivers can make up the pit stop time in 5-6 laps, which is what Mark Webber has been doing in the last couple of races.
Drivers have also seen the importance of saving new tyres for the race rather than using them in qualifying. In future races, qualifying might lose its appeal altogether.
The controversial DRS rear wing which was introduced this year has definitely spiced up the races this year. Overtaking has always been really tough and the FIA (the governing body) came from a position where overtaking had become too hard and DRS was introduced to make overtaking possible -- but not too easy.
The idea behind it is that it opens a slot gap in the rear wing, creating less drag and allowing the car to go faster down the straight. During the Turkish GP, not only the fans, but some drivers thought it made overtaking too easy.
There was a lot of overtaking with cars sailing past each other on the straight and not having to take any risks. However, it must be noted that only when the tyres began to wear down, the drivers got close enough to use the DRS.
Webber (Mark) and Alonso (Fernando) only got past Rosberg (Nico) when his tyres were in a bad shape, Alonso got past Webber the same way, and Webber repaid Alonso the favour when he had new tyres and the latter was on the older tyres. I think DRS is a great and powerful tool for F1, as long as the DRS zone is set properly.
At the start of the season, Indian F1 driver Karun Chandhok told me that while the DRS system will be great for F1, it will be a trial-and-error process to get it right and he was also confident FIA will make it a success.
Sadly, for all the teams and drivers, the new-style F1 also leaves very little margin for error. Races are so close that the smallest margin can make the difference and that’s what has been happening. But we, the fans, aren’t complaining one bit.