F1’s 2011 changes receive mixed reception at Sepang

The changes that helped deliver a dramatic Malaysian Grand Prix are being met with mixed reactions

By Gareth Llewellyn
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Pirelli is Formula 1's new tyre manufacturer Photo: Pirelli

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We have just witnessed one of the most thrilling races in recent Formula 1 history, but not everyone is happy with the changes that helped make it so.

Sepang, renowned for its changeable weather conditions during the Malaysian Grand Prix with high temperatures and humidity, failed to deliver any rain of note during qualifying or the race – but not to the detriment of the event.

The high wear rate and degrading performance of the new Pirelli tyres, as well as the energy-boosting KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), and DRS (Drag Reduction System), more than made up for the drama usually a result of heavy rain.

Yet they have left some fans complaining that it has all become too complicated.

Sebastian Vettel may have made it two wins in two races in 2011 with a comfortable win from pole, but you would be forgiven for failing to recall much of what happened behind him with so much action going on.

The Malaysian Grand Prix saw 63 pit stops, and numerous overtaking moves on the track, as drivers used KERS and DRS to power their way down the long straights.

And while some see it as contrived, the reality is that it is far better than the processions we’ve seen at many races in recent years.

Lap times varied wildly throughout the race at Sepang as tyre wear increased, with most drivers opting for a three or four-stop strategy, while some managed it on a two-stopper.

Several drivers, including 2009 world champion Jenson Button, who finished second in the race, were confused by what had happened, and Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari admitted: “I need to analyse this race with the engineers because, to be honest, I don’t really understand what happened.”

Much of the criticism has been targeted towards the Pirelli tyres, but the manufacturer’s motorsport director Paul Hembery told the Telegraph that they have done what they were asked to do: make races more exciting.

“We either go back to a one-stop strategy, if that’s what they feel is better, or we continue to do what we have been asked to do,” he said.

“It’s hard for us, we are in the middle. I am not being defensive because we are doing what we have been asked to do.

“If I am going to be criticised for making the races more exciting, I don’t know what to say.”

Lewis Hamilton blamed McLaren’s decision to put him on the wrong compound as the reason for him falling away towards the end of the race.

But that’s part of the beauty of the new tyres; the high wear rate means managing them effectively becomes crucial to continue late in the race.

The complaints about overtaking using KERS and DRS making it too easy is not as big an issue when you consider that without them, we may not see much overtaking at all.

Formula 1 has forever been at the forefront of technical innovation and it takes time for those innovations to be understood and put to best use.

David Coulthard alluded to the fact that everything about modern F1 cars is designed to make them overtake, with some more obvious than others.

The systems do offer an advantage to overtake, particularly down the long straights, but there is still work to be done by the driver to first get into a position to do so, and then make the move.

Sepang was the first race where we have really seen the effect of DRS, and it should become equally prominent at other high-speed circuits with long straights.

But there will also be races, like Australia, where the advantage is less obvious, or where drivers feel it is better not to have the distraction of deploying it.

So far, the DRS is a good system that all teams can easily use, and can become an integral part of F1’s future if harnessed correctly.

KERS might be more expensive for smaller teams, and more difficult to implement, but will become more important if the FIA wins the battle to introduce smaller engines in 2013.

As for the new Pirelli tyres, it is difficult to disagree with Hembery. If the tyres are safe and produce exciting races, why would you think about changing because a driver has to work harder?

The jury remains out on the new developments because, to use a tired cliché, it is early in the season.

A more thorough performance review can be made after the race at Istanbul in May and again after Silverstone in July.

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