The fourth race of the F1 season produced our fourth different winning driver. That’s quite unusual, and it bodes well for a close and exciting season ahead. Not since 2003 have we seen four different drivers win the opening races. But it gets better: all four of them were driving different cars. To find the last time four different teams won the opening rounds you have to go all the way back to 1983.
McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull have all won races so far. And we’ve had some close runners-up too. Sergio Perez’s Sauber was just 2.2s behind in second place in Malaysia. And last weekend, Kimi Raikkonen crossed the line 3.3s after the winner in his Lotus.
So we’ve had six different teams all in with a shout of winning in the opening four races – half of the 12-car field. There are two reasons why we’re seeing a much closer season this year. First, the new restrictions on exhaust-blown diffusers. This has clipped the wings of the front-running teams, especially Red Bull who were on pole position for 18 of last year’s 19 races. The other thing keeping the racing close this year is the latest generation of tyres supplied by Pirelli. However we are beginning to see a backlash against this.
When Pirelli took over as F1’s tyre supplier last year they were given an unusual brief: create tyres that won’t last a race distance. The purpose of this was to improve the often dreary racing which had been seen in the previous four seasons on Bridgestone rubber. The teams and those running F1 urged Pirelli to supply tyres that would improve racing and increase overtaking in F1. And in that respect they have been a success: last season saw a lot more overtaking. So much so that F1’s other much-vaunted innovation last year – the controversial Drag Reduction System – has looked like a step too far.
As drivers now have to pay more attention to not destroying their tyres, the field is kept closer together. And the complexities of juggling different types of tyre in different states of wear has created more variety in strategy and more surprises in the races. What’s not to like, you might ask...
Schumacher vs Pirelli:
After stepping from his car on Sunday Michael Schumacher said: “The main thing I feel unhappy about is that everyone has to drive well below a driver's, and in particular, the car limits to maintain the tyres. I just question whether the tyres should play such a big importance, or whether they should last a bit longer - and that you can drive at normal racing car speed and not cruise around like we have a safety car."
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery hit back: “I'm disappointed to hear those comments from someone of Michael's experience. Others were getting on with the job and getting their tyres to work. His comments during winter testing were that he was very happy with the tyres, and now he seems to have changed his tune."
This a debate we are likely to return to this season. But keep this in mind: 12 months ago, after the first few races with Pirelli tyres, some people were making similar complaints. Within a few races the teams had become more familiar with the tyres and the frenetic pace of the racing had died down somewhat. It’s entirely possible the same could happen again – in which case, expect those on the other side of the debate to pipe up and ask why the racing has suddenly become less exciting.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic, at http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk