One can argue that Formula One has been predictable in the last 15 years, but that has most certainly not been the case in the 2012 season. The reasons are myriad but include a limited amount of track time due to rain during the allotted winter testing, the exclusion of blown diffusers and perhaps the most influential of all, the Pirelli tires.
In a season that has run eight races with only one repeat winner, that being Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, the team principles have conceded that they have no idea how to predict a winner at any given race. Good. The manufacturers want to sell cars and showcase their technology, but the fans around the world are what give Formula One such nationalistic popularity.
If such a scale existed, barring Fantasy Racing, predictability could arguably be placed on a scale and measured in degrees. The 2012 season is no different. The very same players are at the top of the heap and the new kids on the block, Lotus, Force India and Sauber have simply added to the mix of potential winners.
Alonso said prior to the European Grand Prix that Formula One seemed like a ‘lottery’-depending on the track anyone could emerge from nowhere to take a win. So far, that really hasn’t been the case. Red Bull sits squarely atop the constructers points followed by McLaren, Lotus, Ferrari and Mercedes. So consistency is beginning to emerge and become the one thing the drivers can cling to in hopes of winning a drivers championship.
Pirelli’s tires have proven to be the one major factor in how these cars react to any given track and that has become the big unknown. Each car has a different appetite at each track to the assigned tires from Pirelli. What’s wrong with that? In a world that’s reeling from economic uncertainty, the entertainment provided by this unknown is worth millions of dollars in viewership across the globe.
In America predictability equates to boring. When Schumacher was dominating the headlines and the track, the U.S. audience tuned out in droves. When Sebastian Vettel had his season of total dominance, the U.S. audiences didn’t bother to watch after the first few races, it was far too predictable. Vettel to P1, Vettel disappears at the start like the Road Runner from Wile. E. Coyote. That was it. The 2012 season has caught them all by surprise.
Adrian Newey, designer of the RB8 Red Bull, has conceded that even as fast as Vettel was at Valencia, before succumbing to a bad Renault alternator, it’s a race-by-race season so far. Martin Whitmarsh of McLaren said, “It is very, very difficult,” he explained. “Everyone has given up predicting this season, so we have to accept that you have to turn up at each event and do the best job you can. That is what we will seek to do at Silverstone.”
That is where the excitement has come from this year. Every team would love to come straight out of the transporter and be a contender but the data they have hasn’t translated well to the Pirelli tires. They degrade at different rates depending on the driver, the set-up and the track conditions. It’s almost like rain, the great equalizer, where a driver’s skill, along with the engineers, have to make quick decisions on set-up.
All of the Cray computers, the wind tunnel information and simulations haven’t been able to transfer accurately to the actual track. Lotus was tipped to take Valencia and but for an alternator, might have taken the win, but even if Romain Grosjean’s car hadn’t shut down, he would have still have to have gotten by Fernando Alonso-easier said than done. The human element has been harder for the engineers to weave into their equations than they may have once thought.
Is this a bit of chicanery for the show’s sake? If it is, it’s working. If not, it is nonetheless taxing to the manufacturers, engineers and the drivers. They simply aren’t used to not knowing what to expect in anything less than predictable conditions. And, predictable conditions are never realistic. Temperatures change, track surfaces are different, humidity affects the engine performance as well as some of the colder climate drivers.
Whatever the outcome of the season, the racing has everyone looking towards the next race, Silverstone, rather than who’ll take the championship.
It’s exactly as it should be.