May 24th, 2012
04:31 PM ET

Should Formula One be so unpredictable?

Sebastian Vettel's fans have had only one race win to celebrate this year ahead of the Monaco GP. (Getty Images)
Sebastian Vettel's fans have had only one race win to celebrate this year ahead of the Monaco GP. (Getty Images)

(Editor's note: Ed Foster is the associate editor of Motor Sport magazine. He is also an F1 pundit for CNN's World Sport show.)

Five winners from the first five races? What’s happened to Formula One? We’re used to seeing a young German dominate, but he’s only won one race this year.

It has happened before, but it's very rare. In fact you have to go back to 1983, when five drivers from five different teams won the first five races.

Alain Prost broke that streak at Spa in Belgium, with his second victory of the season, but almost 30 years later there is no guarantee that the 2012 trend will not continue this weekend in Monaco.

So why is the racing so hit-and-miss at the moment? Firstly, yes, the tires have played a very large role.

The car that can get the best out of the Pirelli rubber, at the right time, will be much faster than anything else on track whether it’s a Red Bull or a McLaren. It’s all about maximizing the tires’ sweet spot and making sure that they last without their performance dropping away, very suddenly.

Ask Kimi Raikkonen how that feels - he had first-hand experience in China when he lost 10 places in one lap on worn tires. If you’re on the wrong rubber at the wrong time you may as well head to the pits and munch on ice cream, as the Finn famously did when a race was halted in 2009.

The fact that tires are now more important is partly down to the huge loss of downforce resulting from the ban on exhaust-blown diffusers at the end of 2011.

With less downforce at the back of the car (which means that it is pushed into the ground to create more grip), the rear tires slide around more and therefore get hotter, quicker. Add to this the huge variations in the temperatures at the different tracks and you’re some way to seeing why tire management is such a science.

Some teams are easier on their tires than others, and some drivers - like Perez and Button –have a remarkable ability to nurse them. But the current situation is emphasizing tire management and car setup even more than ever before.

The team that gets its head around the perfect way to treat the Pirellis will go on to win the 2012 world championship. It could be anyone from Williams to Ferrari.

The other reason for the apparently random results is that there is also a reasonably stable set of regulations this year, meaning that the performance differential has been somewhat leveled and almost every team - bar Caterham, Marussia and HRT - is in with a shot at taking the checkered flag at any given race.

It may be making the average fan salivate with excitement, but a certain Michael Schumacher is far from happy (and far from winning) with the emphasis on tire management.

Understandably he’s pretty tired of driving around constantly conserving tires, not being able to race flat out. Racing drivers tend to like driving as fast as they can.

“I just think,” he told CNN, “that they're playing a much too big effect because they are so peaky and so special that they don't put our cars or ourselves to the limit."

It’s not just Schumacher who’s tired of the current F1 lottery though; Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz also thinks that the tires are throwing up too many surprise results. But whether that is down to the fact that his driver Sebastian Vettel has won the last two world championships with predictable racing, I couldn’t possibly comment on.

Okay, so for the purist fan it is perhaps a step too far, but for the average fan? They’re loving it. “Wouldn’t want it any other way” and “totally brilliant” were two typical responses when I posed the question of whether the unpredictability made good watching on Twitter earlier this week.

There may only be 20 points between the top seven drivers, but if you look at the top of the championship table the names Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel sit side by side on 61 points each. They’re arguably the two fastest drivers in F1 at the moment and that’s perhaps the crux of the argument.

Yes, the racing is unpredictable, but class still rises to the top.

With all this in mind, looking ahead to possible contenders to win in Monaco this weekend is going to be a pretty thankless task. Unless, of course, I just list every single entrant. But you can’t ever ignore the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, nor the Ferrari of Alonso. Hamilton has been plagued by bad luck this year and it’s surely time for things to swing his way.

The Red Bulls will be fast, but then so could the Williams – especially in the hands of recent first-time winner Maldonado, who is very quick around the Principality. Last year he drove one of the races of his career only to be taken out in the closing stages by a charging, and hot-headed, Hamilton.

Lotus also looks very strong and if it goes smoothly for either Romain Grosjean or Raikkonen, then expect there to be six different winners, from six different teams, in the first six races of the year. It sounds better than it did after Monaco last year doesn’t it? After the street race in 2011 Vettel left with his fifth victory of the season, 58 points clear in the championship.

The 1983 season ended with Nelson Piquet just edging out Prost for the title, which he achieved with only three wins compared to the Frenchman's four. Hamilton’s comment that this year is all about consistently bagging points is spot on. Win or lose in Monaco, no-one will want to leave with nil points.

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Sam Knox

    I agree. Race results are unpredictable, but if you look at the overall standings it's the usual suspects.

    May 24, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Reply
  2. Dave

    Great racing so far this season. I'm not sure why any fan would complain that things are so wide open. I can understand why Red Bull might not be happy, but too bad.

    May 26, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  3. Ben Johnston

    6 different winner's in the first 6 races. Wow!! It has been an incredible start to the 2012 F1 season. I think that it Canada we may have our 7th winner from seven races as Lotus look extremely quick so unfortunately they didn't perform terribly well, However they still came away with a couple of points.

    I think we could either see Kimi Raikkonen or Lewis Hamilton win in Montreal. I believe that it's not just down to the tyre's this season. They play a huge part in the sport obviously but the new regulations this year have helped to open up the championship.

    It is going to be an extremely interesting season. Some people said that the Monaco GrandPrix was boring however I thought it was a great race because we had our 6th winner and Mark Webber really showed that so far this season he has had the upper hand on Sebastien Vettel.

    Who will win the championship this year? It's way too early to see, however I think Fernando Alonso could possibly win it, However I think Jenson Button will also recover from a bad result in Monaco. He was sensational in Canada in the wet last year so I think he can do it again.

    May 29, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Reply
  4. Amy

    I'm an avid fan and I love the unpredictiability of this season!

    June 1, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Reply
  5. Ed Foster

    The teams have now come out and said that they don't mind it being too unpredictable either... There are plenty of F1 purists out there, though, that hate it. There's no pleasing some people!

    EF

    June 15, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Reply
  6. Mike

    The F1 drivers championship is no longer won by the best driver if the drivers cannot put out their best because their tyres have degraded. If the "best" driver does not have good tyres how can he demonstrate that he is the best? F1 has become too much of a lottery. It is the same as restricting the size of the fuel tank. The race becomes an "economy" run. If it is excitement that the organisers are looking for then they should reverse the starting grid with the fastest cars starting at the back..!!

    June 18, 2012 at 2:12 am | Reply
  7. Robert Hembrook

    Greatest race in the motor racing calendar for the 250,000 fans on the ground at LeMans and millions watching on TV and not even a mention on CNN? What's going on? Page after page of F1, and one comment each about women in NASCAR, dead rally drivers, and motorcycles.

    LeMans celebrated its 80th running this year.

    Where is CNN?

    June 18, 2012 at 7:29 am | Reply
  8. Arthur Nascimento

    You guys are totally forgetting what is the concept of "Team".

    As an engineer and purist fan of speed, I'd like to say that this is the season in wich every single member of the team (not just the driver and the head engineer) are going to get their credits!
    And still as an engineer I can affirm convictly that those changes on the rules are healthy. They are the reasons to develop new technologies!

    June 22, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Reply
  9. Kenny McCormick

    Yes it should be. I hate it when one team is dominant. I hate being able to sit down at the start of a race, go "Vettle first, Webber second, McLaren third", and be right 9 out of 10 races.

    I'm all in favor of getting rid of a lot of the Tilke-designed tracks that favor such dominance to boot. I want to see a return to the days when some crazy sumbit could show up and win their third ever Grand Prix. I want to see a return to the days where we had 1200HP and next to no downforce. I want a return to the days where it took driver skill, not pit crew, aerodymanicist and strategist, skill to win the race.

    July 13, 2012 at 1:33 am | Reply
  10. Julia

    i love formula one and i can see that this year swear a really competition. Go Vettel!

    July 21, 2012 at 1:29 am | Reply
  11. Jhonatan

    the purpose of the olcymips is to compete for the glory of sport and for the honor of your team and country. Take the Jamaican bobsled team for example, they didnt expect to do well and they didnt but they still competed so they could walk into the stadium and represent their nation and some times, really talented people come from these small countries and do win against the bigger countries. To look at it in a more abstract view, you could say that because there are so many athetes that want to go to the olcymips in the USA, there are more qualifying competitions narrowing down to only the best athletes of the nation making for a better quality of athlete going to the games.another example is the vergin islands. a US bourn man always dreamed of going to the olcymips but started getting older and older and eventualy with the high standerds to comete under the US flag, he was unable to go to the olcymips so he moved to the vergin islands and became a citizen and went to the olcymips for the sport of luge at the age of like 56 i think. the olcymips really art just about winning gold medals but just to compete.you can say that big countries like the USA sends too many people to the olcymips but if we were to cut down to only like 1 athelete per sport, we will be sending the best of the best making for a better quality of athlete so the smaller countries with less people to choose from to represent their countries would still be sending a lesser quality of athlete so cutting down how many people big countries send to the games would just make it more unfair than it already is.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Reply
  12. Marta Paglianni

    To Robert H, you are right LeMans is a great endurance race. But F1 is a whole season. Also each race is done in different countries, save for Spain that has two races, and each track is totally different with lots of turns and shapes. You can go right or left at any given moment.

    While racing in the USA, be Indi cars or Nascar, the tracks are always the same like a merry go around, just keep turning the same way and back at the same turn. No much fun there and cars dont fo as fast. Many F1 drivers after they give up racing F1 then they try racing at the Indi circuits.

    August 5, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Reply
  13. Dr. Aki Bola, Esq.

    F1 used to be at the peak of technology. Then Pirelli delivered rubbish tires and Businessman Bernie covered for Pirelli by saying how great they are. Humbug.

    October 11, 2012 at 4:21 am | Reply

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