We’re just over halfway through the mid-season break of the 2014 F1 season and, therefore, I think it’s a good time to discuss whether any of the major regulation changes have actually worked.
One of the first announced modifications ordered by the FIA was that teams had to implement a new crash structure to the front of their cars (mainly the nose cone and front wing), although this could be adapted to suit the aerodynamic packages of each team. Even before the first engines were fired up at pre-season testing and this system was put to use, there were already serious concerns as to how the structure had changed to look of the cars. Over the past two seasons, many teams had implement a ‘platypus’ nose cone design to suit the previous safety regulations. Admittedly, it wasn’t the prettiest but in comparison to what’s on show now, it was a thing of beauty! Ferrari’s ‘vacuum’ design is by far the worst out there, but the ‘anteater’ (McLaren and Williams), ‘walrus’ (Lotus) and ‘ice-cream cone’ (nearly everyone else) versions are nearly as bad – look them up on the Internet! Even the tidying up of the rest of the car (e.g. smaller rear wings) cannot detract from the hideousness of the front end. Some of the teams, namely Toro Rosso and Marussia, have liveries that detract from the monstrosities quite well, but they are all a serious eyesore!
However, the structures have more than made up for this over the course of the season. Felipe Massa (multiple times), Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikkonen, amongst others, have all suffered huge (and I mean huge) head-on collisions with barriers this season and yet they have all walked away with nothing worse than a few bruises. Just a few seasons ago crashes like that could easily have resulted in broken bones – Michael Schumacher broke both his legs at Silverstone in 1999 – and not long before the drivers would have been lucky to walk away with their lives from similar incidents. It took the death of a great in Ayrton Senna for Formula 1 to really re-think it’s safety policy but since then the improvements have been remarkable. As a fan who follows the sport regularly, I’d much rather see a car look a little bit like cleaning device than see one of the world’s greatest drivers suffer serious injury or death. Indeed, it’s quite therapeutic to see them get smashed up whilst the drivers can walk away and race again!
Another problem raised during pre-season was the sound of the new engines. The move from the V8 to the V6 Turbo engines means they are much quieter than in previous years and this caused lots of people initially made a lot of fuss about it. I, though, can’t really understand why. Yes, it may be disappointing for the fans actually at the race that the cars aren’t as loud but for the majority of us who watch it on TV it actually makes very little difference – all it takes is one of the sound editors to turn the volume up a bit! I also much prefer the sound of the new engine – it is reminiscent of the cars from the 1980s with its deep, meaty sound. The engines of the last few years have been somewhere in between that and the high-pitched screams of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s and have actually been quite boring. Although a bit quieter, the turbo engines are much more exciting to listen to.
The engines are also much less powerful this year – around 150bhp – and this led to a new power system for the 2014 season. Last year the drivers could press a button that gave them a boost of extra power for around 8 seconds per lap, but this new system means that the energy saved from braking can be used for up to 33 seconds per lap to counter the loss of power from the engine. The new system also doesn’t need the drivers to press any buttons, freeing up more of their time attentional capacity to focus on the racing. Although it sounds great in theory, I’m not so certain about the system as it is currently. There have been many occasions this year when the system has failed and the huge loss of power has meant the driver had to retire, something which wasn’t so much of a problem with KERS. Although the majority of the teams have overcome the problem, there are some who haven’t (i.e. Lotus). As a result their race weekends are being severely compromised and, although not everyone can win, any fan will tell you that it’s better to see a large number of drivers fighting hard for one or two positions than just a few.
One final change that I think has been a big success though is the revised tyre compound introduced by Pirelli. Last year, the sport was blighted by tyre problems – there were punctures galore and teams were more focused on getting their cars to last as long as possible on a set of tyres instead of racing. This year, though, I think Pirelli have finally got it right – whilst the tyres are much stronger, there is still an air of unpredictability about them. This means teams are trying out various different strategies during races and makes it confusing to work out who will finish where in the race, which is absolutely brilliant. Whilst punctures and tyre blow-outs are exciting to a point, there is nothing more entertaining than seeing five or six cars battling over the same position on tyres in various states of degredation.
Overall then, the changes for the 2014 season have led to cars that are uglier, quieter, slower and less reliable than in previous years. However, they are much safer and (with the exception of Mercedes) seem to be much more similar. This, as well as the success of the new tyre compounds, has led to much more exciting racing. Even though Mercedes have been almost completely dominant up front this year, the scrap for the final podium position and the ‘minor’ points has been absolutely wonderful and has meant 2014 has, so far, been one of the most exciting seasons for years. I just hope that it can continue for the next 10 races…