If you ain’t rubbin you aint racin’. It indeed sounds as American as apple pie and NASCAR. NASCAR’s European counterpart Formula 1 however, has always been a bit more subdued in its approach to wheel to wheel racing. You would never see paint trades, Bump and Runs or even the Push to Pass. But hold on, not long ago did F1 get its own ‘greener’ version of the Push to Pass – the Kinetic Energy Reclamation System popularly known as KERS.
When KERS was introduced in 2009, there were a lot of hopes pinned on it to make Formula 1 more exciting. It also had a good chance to show the world that Formula 1 actually cared for the environment. But to be honest, the only things KERS managed that season was to showcase a completely uneven playing field with more than half of the teams opting not to use it. Reason? Well, the KERS added an extra 30kgs which ruined the balance of the car for the extra 80bhp it provided and it had every potential to burn a hole in some rich pockets. All in all, KERS turned out to be a complete dud. It was not a surprise to see it unanimously dropped for the next season.
Overtaking has always been the essence of Formula 1 and when there is a dearth of it, that is when you associate terms like boring and dull with it. That turned out to be the case in the opening few races of the much hyped 2010 season. Even the likes of Hamilton, Webber and ex-F1 drivers weren’t far behind in criticizing the lack of passing in the initial races. The only talking points after the initial races were Michael Schumacher slugging it out in the midfield and the general lack of overtaking. There were calls from all sections of the Formula 1 fraternity for imminent rule changes and this wake up call was enough to get Bernie’s men back to the drawing boards. Then came a much more ‘dramatic’ version of the Push to Pass – the Drag Reduction System. DRS, introduced to promote overtaking, made overtaking as easy as a push of a button, literally! With DRS, we saw a return of a movable aero device being used legally and a return to the old days, to a lot of overtaking.
With the introduction of DRS, overtaking in Formula 1 has got a completely new meaning. In this DRS age, an overtaking manoeuvre is almost like a programmed process. Basically, if you have the faster car, all you do is close in within one second of the car in front, wait for the DRS zone and press the button to complete your classic slipstream pass. But obviously, it is not as easy as that three step process sounds. The purists however, would always argue about the fact that DRS has killed the art of defensive driving. Or lets put it this way – only the grittiest of defensive show will work in this age of the DRS. Has the beauty of natural racing been compromised for our greed for exciting racing? Would we have seen Mansell and Senna race wheel to wheel in Barcelona ’91 with DRS? Would we have ever witnessed the greatest F1 battles if we had DRS? Ah, never mind.
Shifting focus to another menace of late, to natural wheel to wheel racing – Steward Investigations. Ok, let’s spice up Spa, 2000 with the kind of stewarding we have seen recently. Mika Hakkinen closes in on Michael Schumacher for the lead of the race around Eau Rouge. The pass seems inevitable with Hakkinen clearly carrying extra speed onto to Kemmel straight before Schumacher dangerously cuts across Hakkinen, almost dragging him off track. Stewards launch an investigation and decide upon a drive through penalty for Schumacher.
Because of that extra spice added by the stewards, we never witnessed Hakkinen’s incredible double pass, largely considered as the greatest overtake of all time. Well, you might argue about the fact that the pass happened just a lap after the incident but you need look at the broader perspective. Another illustration of the double standards set by the stewards came during the recently concluded Hungarian GP when Pastor Maldonado was penalized for his pass on Paul di Resta. It was absolutely disgraceful to see the only overtake of the race being penalized. Firstly, half of the steward investigations wouldn’t have happened had it not been Maldonado who has been under a lot of flak for his ‘idiotic’ (as described by Sergio Perez) and balls-out driving. We wouldn’t have seen the penalty had the stewards seen Gilles Villeneuve battle Rene Arnoux in the 1979 French Grand Prix. I know I sound heavily biased in favour of Maldonado and I know how dangerous racing was during those days.
And the ever debatable question again. Do we really need DRS to make Fomula 1 exciting?