Too many toys in the box?

The dust has settled after Lewis Hamilton’s outstanding victory in the Canadian Grand Prix 2012 two days ago. The Englishman drove a hard-charging race and made the most of his two-stop strategy. Fans of the show could not complain either – the race was mostly thrilling. But questions are being raised now over whether F1 actually needs all its bells and whistles that have been brought in to improve the spectacle. Hugh Podmore looks at each contender.

Tyres – there can be little doubt that the efficacy – or lack thereof – of the Pirelli rubber has been the single biggest contributor to the spectacular racing fans have witnessed over the last year and a half. Teams’ inability to find the sweet spot of the tyre, and even less their exploiting of said optimal point for any consistent period of time, has translated into superb on-track action and a resulting rise in the importance of strategy and the pit stop. Needless to say it has also seen rapid drop-off of performance and much head-scratching, but while the teams agonise, the fans rejoice. A firm thumbs-up.

DRS – The case has been made that the drag reduction system has made the art of overtaking redundant, an argument with which certain ardent Hamilton fans would concur. Instead of sizing an opponent up and pressuring him into a mistake, drivers now wait til the DRS zone comes round and simply breeze past, goes the contention. This is partly true. It is also partly true that the DRS sometimes does not work, or is in the wrong place, or results in idiotic passing and re-passing while audiences yawn. The final nail in the coffin of the DRS, perhaps, is that it is not so much a bad idea, but superfluous in the era of massive tyre degradation and KERS. Too many toys in the box, perhaps, and this is the least attractive of them. How much more mouth-watering would last Sunday’s battle between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso have been if the man behind hadn’t been able to float past serenely?

KERS – After a stuttering debut in 2009, the Kinetic Energy Recovery System has come into its own. TV viewers must surely all get a frisson of excitement when the KERS graphic comes up on the screen, showing the amount of juice left and the second-by-second comparative usage by two warring men and their machines? The best thing about it is that it is not, like the DRS, a push-to-pass; if you’ve used yours up, you have to wait for the next lap. And if you’re a deft defensive driver, you can still rebuff a KERS-led assault. In this way KERS complements racing, rather than making a parody of it as DRS does.

Fans may well be grateful for the vast improvements in spectacle we have seen in the recent past, but now is not the time for the sport to rest on its laurels. Take away one toy, and see how they cope. Meanwhile, bring on the eighth winner in eight races. Romain Grosjean, anyone?

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