Formula 1

Australian Grand Prix: The Answer To The Problem, Or A Clue?

3 Mins read

If, and in my mind it's a very big if, the 2010 Formula One season is destined to be boring, slow, predictable and monotonous then the anomaly that Melbourne would become showed the sport an easy way out of the conundrum.

And before you think I've wondered into the realms of parody and fantasy I am not going to suggest mandatory rain showers to strike at the some point during the race, nor am I going to suggest that two potential race winners should be relegated to the rear of the field after the first lap and one of them placed behind a driver young enough to be his son.

No, part of what made the race so watchable was the late battle between those who had chosen to stay out against those who had decided to pit for fresh tyres.

Watching the cars that pitted – Hamilton, Webber and Rosberg (to a lesser extent) – close in on the pair of Ferraris with their Bridgestones well past their best before battle was joined.

Watching the best drivers in the world battle each other rather than their cars and the clock.

It was all a fair cry from the relative snail-paced procession in Bahrain that was so rightly slammed, but why did Melbourne have a race like this when the season opener was so devoid of drama, especially in the latter part of the race.

Well, it was all to do with the rain, or rather when the rain went.

The declaration at the start of the race, as the teams scrambled to fit wet or intermediate tyre, that it was officially wet threw the rule that every driver must use the both compounds of available rubber during the race out the window.

I admit I have never been a fan of the rule, originally as it took away the worthwhile option of a one stop strategy because it would either mean running the soft tyres far beyond their useful life or running an abnormally long stint on the harder tyres with the disadvantage of a heavy fuel load.

But even with the outlawing of in-race refuelling it was this rule that was, in my opinion at the heart of Bahrain's problems.

Under new rules the top ten qualifiers have to start the race on the exact set of tyre they set their fastest lap on, and also by definition in a championship where overtaking is so difficult, these are going to be the softer – grippier, but less durable – tyres. With the additional laps from qualifying already behind them these tyres are only good for around a third of the race, so the drivers pit, stick the harder tyres and pound round for the remainder of the race, all the top runners forced into the same strategy by the cocktail of rules.

Effectively removing these rules meant teams could put the soft tyres on back-to-back, making the decision a very NASCAR like one – stick with you track position, or pit for better tyres and put them to good use recording faster laps than those ahead of you.

Give teams that same option at every race and you can expect the same mix of strategy we saw in Australia every race. For example will teams opt for an old style one-stopper with two hard tyre stints, two-stops with soft tyres all race or somewhere in between.

Those choices reintroduce some of the strategy that refuelling has robbed us of.

That would be the answer.

Or did Melbourne simply give us a clue as to what went wrong in Bahrain?

Bahrain has one of the longer, faster front straights of the season, while the Albert Park circuit has a shorter pitlane (as shown by the reduction in the 'unsafe release exclusion zone' from 55m to 30m for Australia) and front straight. Therefore you lose less time in pitlane, both in real terms and in relation to those continuing on the racetrack.

Teams with their ranks of computers will no doubt know how long is lost for every pitstop, as so whether it's worthwhile coming in for a second stop.

And that will vary from race to race.

As proper strategy should.

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