April 16th, 2013 (F1plus/B. Dixon).- Five World Champions driving for the best teams on the grid, two of which have multiple titles. A clutch of drivers on a mission to prove their racing prowess so they can secure a more prominent seat for next season. A batch of rookie drivers fighting to stay in a sport that has no room for underachievement. Fierce rivalries between team mates simmering, ready to detonate. Twenty two of the most similar cars in terms of development seen for a long time. With this much potential, 2013 should be all about spine tingling, electrifying racing.
Hearing Jenson Button request permission to challenge Lewis Hamilton for position in Shanghai laid bare the issue of attacking, wheel to wheel racing being replaced by careful, tiptoeing on broken glass type driving. The tyre issue has long been smouldering, but was bought to the boil with this public appeal over team radio.
Following the race on Sunday, Sebastian Vettel told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport, “At the moment it is not much to do with racing.” His teammate Mark Webber also expressed his concerns, likening current Formula One to American wrestling due to the fabricated nature of the competition. Flat out, on the limit racing is fuel for drivers. It is in their nature, forms their genetic structure. Creeping cautiously around the circuit, hoping to gain position over rivals with a clever pit and tyre strategy is not what motivates and excites them.
Whether it was the breathtaking Villeneuve and Arnoux battle at Dijon in 1979, the rousing racing based on foundations of fierce rivalry between Senna and Prost between 1988 and 1990, or the intoxicating contest between Niki Lauda and James Hunt for the 1976 title, today’s drivers were all inspired by displays of thrilling, breakneck driving. Every time they slide into their car, they must feel a pang of desire to follow in their forefather’s footsteps and really go racing.
The drivers are not happy, the teams are not happy, the fans are not happy. Pirelli were asked to make a tyre compound that would make racing more exciting, but why is this needed when all the ingredients for enthralling racing are already there? So far 2013 seems like a wasted opportunity because the potential it has naturally got is being suffocated by artificiality. Niki Lauda has hinted that Pirelli may bring a revised compound to Spain,
“I can break the good news that the situation will change from Barcelona. Then it will get better,”
Hopefully his words ring true. The capacity this season has for competitive, white knuckle racing leaves no room for simulated, predictable stories like that experienced in China.