What’s the meaning of close competition? Is it the one where those involved in a competition are equally matched? Or one where the spoils of victory are more or less evenly divided? Fine. Let’s take that as the base for this argument. Now, how do you extend the concept to a league featuring a multitude of sparring parties? Convention dictates that there will be front runners, there will be the pretenders, constantly trying to mix with the fancied contenders and then there will be the also-rans. A tight league, would normally be one where the margin of victory is small and no one team dominates throughout.You’d think two or maybe three real front runners battling it out would be a tight league. If in such a premise, the winner more often than not barely scrapes through to a win, almost always stubbornly challenged right to the end, it would be a fantastic league to watch.
But what happens when in a league if 12 teams and 24 contestants, you get not three, not four but six different winners from five different teams, another two who have flattered [and that too very very highly] to deceive thus far: Team Lotus, a team that is seemingly just about keeping pace despite assurances of more : Force India, and a prancing pony who suddenly remembered to gallop: Felipe Massa? You get the [borderline ridiculous] spectacle of the top 16 cars clocking times within a span of 1.0 second in a grand prix qualifying session. This is what we have in front of us this year in Formula 1.
Granted, the Montreal race track is a unique specimen, essentially four long straights separated by sets of chicanes and a couple of hairpins thrown in between. It’s a bit of a might-is-right track that rewards raw power and sheer bravery. You have to agree that on those two particular counts, there really isn’t much to separate any of those top 16. Of the 24 cars on the grid, six run on Mercedes power, six on Renault and six on Ferrari.That has essentially meant a very level playing field for all the established teams, and has fostered a sense of close competition, the result being out there on the qualifying charts.
However, one look at the championship standings, and you’ll be wondering what the fuss is all about. Clearly, Alonso’s brilliance has seen him through a tough season start, and both Red Bull drivers, Vettel and Webber are hot on his heels, but where are the rest? Shouldn’t everyone be bunched up? A close look at the scoring system offers some clues. True, the system doesn’t take into account the margin of victory, or the fastest laps. True, it rewards consistent performances, but it tends to reward consistent top performances more. And only the top four have managed to do that thus far. Why four? Because Lewis Hamilton, winless so far is still just 13 points behind the leader Alonso, and it would be a crime not to recognize the consistency in his results.
|2||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||73|
|3||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||73|
But why so much noise about the season being so tight? we only have four drivers within real striking distance of their leader. Rarely have we seen grandstand finishes involving P1 and P2 [Monaco is always an exception], in spite of the dogfights lower down the order. The standings tell us that at the 30% stage [we still have 14 races to go] the top 9 drivers are covered by 48 points. That’s two race wins, while the one race win bracket covers the top 6, the 6th man being Kimi Raikkonen, another man yet to win a race this season. What it means is that the margin for error is very very small, and a single DNF for the top few can result in major reshuffle in the official standings. What it doesn’t quite tell is that a lot of people are showing up with a lot of promise on Fridays and Saturdays which hasn’t been seen for a long time. For probably the first time, the distinction between the top teams and the midfield has been blurred this much. Evidence: Sauber’s P2 in Malaysia, Williams’ win at Barcelona, Mercedes’ win at China + pole at Monaco, Lotus’s multiple podium finishes and the fact that they are tied with Ferrari for P3 in the constructors’ championship.
Thus far, only a few have put it all together when it really matters to cash in on this closeness of the grid. As the big guns start to settle in the new status quo, and start breaking it by pulling away on the strength of sheer resources, real gaps may start to appear, most probably around Monza, but we can be assured that barring an extraordinary string of events favoring a single team\driver, there’s every chance we’ll have more than 5 contenders for the title till the very end. And that in itself, is redefining the tightness in a tight Formula 1 season.
PS: If you still need convincing, look at the Q1 charts from Montreal :)