Boring Bahrain backlash

I have to say I have found the Bahrain Grand Prix boring — well, the aftermath of it. All the same old whingers keep on stomping their feet about their old hobby-horses. They couldn’t wait for this season to start so that they could claim that Formula 1 has been broken by X, Y and Z.

That’s despite the fact that the grand prix wasn’t actually all that bad. Sure, it wasn’t a sizzler. But hardly the end of F1 as we know it. I reckon there were at least a dozen races in 2009 that played out in a similar way. In fact, this Bahrain Grand Prix had much more overtaking than the average race in 2009, even including the mad wet races.

There can not be a set of “fans” that complain more about the sport they follow. And yet, bizarrely, year after year, they carry on watching for some reason. Who’s the sucker here? It sure ain’t me.

Too much hype

The problem was that, as usual, F1 journalists went into overdrive with the pre-season hype. Time and time again we were told that 2010 was set to be the most exciting in years, although not much in the way of evidence was ever provided in support of this.

We were supposed to be excited because of the return of Michael Schumacher. But as I pointed out months ago, he was always bound to be off the pace, and so it proved to be. There will be no eighth world championship. Unless lots of sixth place finishes really get you going, there will be little in the way of excitement round here.

I think the new teams were also supposed to add a new dimension of excitement. They certainly have increased the level of interest in the back of the field — and a good thing that is too. But quite what else we should have expected as a result of their participation is a head-scratcher for me.

I seem to remember journalists banging on about the all-British inter-team rivalry at McLaren this year as well. That has also turned out to be a bit of a damp squib (so far). But it is not exactly a problem with F1 if one of them has so comprehensively outclassed the other already. Is Lewis Hamilton supposed to drop anchor just in order to increase the excitement here?

I sent the hypothetical question out there on Twitter — Can anyone remember the last time journalists didn’t say that the coming F1 season was due to be “the most exciting ever”? Alianora suggested 2004, which is a good thought. Although it was on the back of a really rather good 2003 season (tyre-rules-rigged-in-favour-of-Ferrari-scandal aside), and there was a lot of interest surrounding the radical Williams “walrus nose” (another damp squib).

The forgotten good news stories

No wonder people were upset. Not many races could have lived up to these expectations. What was, in truth, an average race (nothing more, nothing less) has been cited by hordes as definitive evidence that F1 is dying.

But I struggle to understand what people were expecting. Indeed, I have been quite surprised at the sheer number of interesting angles on the Bahrain Grand Prix that appear to have been largely overlooked.

  • Fernando Alonso’s winning début — Okay, so this one has been covered extensively, but it is worth underlining. Alonso joins the select group of drivers to win on their Ferrari début — and he set a fastest lap over a second quicker than anyone else to boot. Forget the comeback of Michael Schumacher — Alonso showed his critics that he is the best, and with ease.
  • Felipe Massa’s comeback — In his first race since his horrific crash in Hungary last year, Massa put in an admirable performance and finished second.
  • The speed of Red Bull and Vettel — Despite the Ferrari 1-2, Red Bull have shown that last year wasn’t a blip, and they are serious contenders this year.
  • Nico Rosberg outclassing Michael Schumacher — This one doesn’t fit in with the “Schumacher is the saviour of F1” narrative, but even so I’m surprised more people aren’t hailing Rosberg’s success after what must have been a rather difficult winter for him.
  • McLaren’s sneaky and massively clever pit stop strategy — McLaren appear to have exploited an under-advertised new rule that introduces a 55 metre zone round every pit box, designed to stop unsafe releases. My brother reckons McLaren are exploiting this to their advantage by bringing their cars in on the same lap as rivals that are just the right amount ahead of them, just to delay the release of that car. Genius (both McLaren and my brother!).
  • Force India becoming the best of the rest — Most will have expected Williams to be the fifth team, but Force India look like they hold that position quite comfortably just now.
  • A steady performance from Russia’s first ever F1 driver — Vitaly Petrov did a solid job in his first ever F1 race, running in a very respectable 11th place until a suspension failure. Petrov’s GP2 career was a slow burner, but his F1 career has got off to a bright start.
  • Lotus beating Toro Rosso — This one has been covered extensively too, but it’s still worth highlighting again. Lotus — who have only had five months to design and build their car — have already emerged as the strongest of the new teams. They look to be around equal with Virgin in terms of pace, but definitely have the more reliable car — and even beat a Toro Rosso. Lotus are also bound to improve more than the other teams. At this rate, I’d be surprised if they don’t score a point this season.
  • Virgin’s CFD-only gamble not backfiring — The question as to whether avoiding the use of a wind tunnel would be fatal to Virgin’s hopes has been put to bed. The car sets a decent pace, and the biggest problem is in fact reliability.
  • Hispania’s miracle breakthrough — After a horrific winter, Hispania turned up at Bahrain having never tested, and did a hugely admirable job. Special mention should go to Karun Chandhok who did a great job in qualifying despite not even taken part in any practice!
  • The less said about Sauber the better — although it’s still an interesting story.

It looks to me as though there is plenty for F1 fans to sink their teeth into just now, if only they tried. It is just that there was so much hype about the wrong things that the wood has been lost for all the trees.

But it can be improved

However, like most people I would prefer Formula 1 to have more wheel-to-wheel action. The signs at Sakhir were not particularly encouraging. I will reveal my thoughts on what’s what when it comes to on-the-track action in my next article.

2 comments

  1. Hear hear!

    I don’t think Bahrain was anywhere near as bad as it was made out to be.
    In fact, I thought it was more exciting as we had no idea when they were going to stop for tyres, unlike last year when the FIA published fuel weights ahead of the race.

    I think everyone needs to give it at least 5 races so the teams and drivers can adapt and then see how it looks.

    P.S. Thanks for the plug 🙂

  2. Thanks Brogan! Great work on Clip the Apex! 🙂

    Absolutely agree about the publishing of fuel loads. There was utterly zero excitement to be found in that system, and I for one am certainly glad that they are trying something different. All of the avenues through refuelling had been thoroughly exhausted.