Debate: Is F1 challenging enough?

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Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Montreal, 2007, 4It’s the year of the super-rookies.

Seven races in and Lewis Hamilton hasn’t been off the podium yet. Sebastian Vettel just became the first teenager to score an F1 point.

Has F1 gotten too easy? Or is it just coincidence?

Are F1 cars too easy for beginners to get to grips with? GP2, which Lewis Hamilton just graduated from, seem to have a higher power-to-grip ratio than F1 cars, and no traction control.

F1 cars are almost bolted to the ground with masses of aerodynamic grip and, until next year at least, bristle with electronic aids to help the driver avoid spinning.

Circuits are less punishing of mistakes than they used to be – most tracks have vast run off areas allowing drivers to make mistakes without losing time or crashing. No one wants to see drivers get hurt, but it’s much easier now to put a wheel offline and not get penalised for it.

Has F1 gone a bit soft? Or have we just got a new crop of extremely talented and young drivers on our hands?

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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18 comments on “Debate: Is F1 challenging enough?”

  1. I think it’s a range of things; whereas I agree that F1 cars are easier to drive than in the past for the reasons you’ve listed above, there has been a trend over the last five years to find younger drivers (Kimi, Jenson, Fernando, Philipe, etc.) – so from that alone records for ‘Youngest Driver To..’ are going to be broken.

    With the higher investment in F1 over the last tean years, the general standard of driving talent has also increased. I don’t think that a Ricardo Rosset would even get a peek at F1 now; even the pay-for-seat drivers are of a fair standard at the very least.

    I feel for Heikki Kovalainen who’s doing a good job this year for a rookie but is being over-shadowed by the likes of Lewis and Sebastian, in a car that’s off the pace.

  2. Ogami musashi
    18th June 2007, 12:07

    Your argument is not rightly focused. You’re comparing the easiness of driving of F1 compared to other series and former F1 with easiness of competition within the F1, that’s between drivers.

    That the the F1 is easier (this is your statement, certainly not mine) is possible, but the same applies for all drivers in F1.
    If Hamilton or vettel or kovalainen score points, it is that they’re better (at one time, in one bunch of circumstances etc..) that the others.

    They are maybe rookies, but they are not parachuted in a novel world. Hamilton is at BWM since 13 years old, vettel , kovalainen all were very familiar with F1 far before they had their seats.

    You also forget one thing, F1 racing may be dull in term of mistakes and crashes, but that’s just your in presence with drivers that are overselected.

    However if you watched the US grand prix you had a bunch of mistakes and run off that coasted a lot, for exemple heidfeild was in good position until he went straight in turn N1,same Sato was going great when he spun and his car could not come back on track while she had no damage at all.

    As for F1 to be easier, one thing, F1=Speed. The more speed the more complicated task are.

    You may want to see mistakes, why don’t you focus of pilotage? pilotage is also taking a curve the best way possible.

    I don’t why everybody want to see people being overtaken or people spinning off everywhere, it is just like if in bycicle every body wanted to see drivers fall on the ground.

  3. Ogami musashi
    18th June 2007, 12:08

    sorry i meant hamilton is at MClaren.

  4. Nathan Jones
    18th June 2007, 13:48

    ii think it has become a bit soft!
    even at monaco u can make an error and get away with it! the cars are much easierr with tc etc!
    we’ll c next year when it’s long awaited extinction (to my view anyway) is achieved! bring it on

  5. ITV-F1 were making a lot of the fact that the Karting minimum age limit has been lowered to 8 from 11 making rookies far more experienced by the time they reach F1.

    However, I think the points that you make are all valid.

  6. The karting age has been lowered from 11 to 8 ……. that’s MINIMUM age, they had better not do anything about MAXIMUM age, I’m 62 and have to run with these kids. I don’t feel many of these “young guns” are skillful at all, just fearless. If karting is the birthplace of so many F1 drivers, and I’m able to keep up with most, then why are there no older F1 drivers?
    I think this karting/F1 connection is over hyped.
    The way it works is we the public get tired of a driver after a few years and get excited over a new name. We’re already to throw Alonso and Kimi overboard, they’ve been on the scene 5 years, now it’s Hamilton and Vettel and anybody who’s Daddy drove an F1 car.
    Five years from now Hamilton will be a two time champion and we’ll be tired of him and it will be time for the next baby driver. The title question is, “Is F1 challanging enough? Just look at Hammy and Alonso and Massa alight from their cars last Sunday not a bead of sweat, their heartrate barely 100 bpm and look what happened
    when Heidfeld’s power steering failed……park the car! And when teenagers with virtually no experience can jump in the seat and score points…….
    the answer is rheotorical.
    It’s no longer the F1 of the ‘good old days’ it’s now F1 as a business and as such needs new blood to keep up interest.
    F1 should learn a lesson from NASCAR and then drivers would last 15-20 years each !!!

  7. I don’t understand this point. Sure it seems easier and all but it doesn’t explain rookies being better than the experienced hands. I think the truth is closer (as F1Punter and ITV-F1 mention) to the levels of experience. I remember Jackie Stewart mentioning to Jenson that Jenson had driven in more races in the junior series before getting to F1 than Jackie had driven in his entire career let alone before he’d won his first grand prix.

    Surely that’s what’s changed in F1? The experience levels of the drivers.

  8. Watch the way these guys drive, and you’ll understand. Hamilton is so silky smooth it’s a pleasure to watch him run. Alonso lost the race when he bobbled trying to pressure Hamilton in the second stint. Watch the other older drivers. Their pretty constantly driving off the track or into each other. Last week Alonso probably drove a quarter of a mile less than any body else because he couldn’t seem to figure out how to turn the car. This week Schumacher ended several drivers’ races in the first turn.

    And if you’re going to complain about Heidfeld parking the car, remember two things. Turning the wheels against 250000 lbs of downforce requries considerably more effort than much of anyone is going to be able to make, and the same hydraulic system runs the transmission, so when his powersteering failed, so did the shift mechanisms in the tranny.

    And on the topic of carting: Yes a few old codgers can keep up with the young fearless kids. So when they start to get faster, they move on, and you’re stuck competing against more absolutely green children. Which indicates you’re at your performance limit, and since these kids are still learning and developing, they’ll be getting faster. That’s why they’re getting F1 rides and you’re still in a cart

  9. Not sure.

    After all, Vettel only managed 8th, in a car that Heidfeld might have got up to 8th. Not bad, but hardly in the same league as Hamilton.

    And not all of the newcomers have had it so easy – look at Kovalainen. And count the number of times Sutil has been off the road.

    But still, the difference between a good and a great driver is perhaps only 0.3s a lap, where once it might have been nearer 1s a lap. Driver aids haven’t eliminated the advantages the best drivers have, but it has massively reduced it.

  10. We have to keep in mind that the absence of Schumacher lets everyone else sine a bit brighter. When Michael wins over half the races in a good year for Ferrari, the rookies are overlooked. With him gone and it now being McLaren’s year, Lewis is able to exploit his talents properly. I also think that Hamilton had a great deal of experience racing in other series, unlike Kimi, and it’s showing.

    The two types of tires rule has to be one of the dumbest ever thought up by Mosely’s fascist mind.

  11. I think its a combination of things. I don’t think it has got any easier but in Hamilton there is rare talent who also happen to have a good car as well and to me that’s a good combination.

  12. Wow, hot topic.

    It’s a bit of both, actually. F1 is a bit too soft, if only because of safety and lessening the chance of error. There is much more grip and speed available on the cars now, so it is easier for a rookie to learn now than it was, say, 10 years ago.

    However, it does not explain how Alonso is getting manhandled by Hamilton at the moment. It does not explain how Kubica managed to have a storming drive in Hungary. The fact that these guys manage to beat the more experienced ones – regularly – means that these guys are also VERY good. Perhaps the only sad part about it is these guys got good more because of scientific methods (like the one I read on on Lewis) than because of natural talent and experience (e.g. Schumacher and everyone before him).

  13. Nice topic indeed.

    Although I’ve learned a lot (from reading here!) I have to admit I haven’t been watching real Formula 1 to comment about the ‘today versus yesterday’ debates, but I can say that the average age of pursued athletes has lowered in -all- professional sport, so why should F1 be an exception?

    What I find bothersome is the -reason- for youth movements in most professional sports: salary control. Why overpay an aging, underperforming athlete that is expected to decline when you can slightly overpay (for his age) a younger, underperforming athlete that is expected to grow into the next big thing and is therefore exciting?

    Canada footage lent a little credence to “the tracks are too easy” argument, though, and frankly, I’m all for putting the softest gravel possible in the runoffs to nearly ensure anybody that has an off gets stuck. The reason is that we shouldn’t want to see injuries like Kubica’s or wish for multimillion dollar project cars to be destroyed by a single mistake, but if you compare to, say, Moto GP, when they have an off, they usually fall and have to leave the bike down. Circuit Villenueve was actually destroying the cars of drivers that were making mistakes, and even destroying cars of drivers that didn’t make mistakes. There aren’t a lot of venues where you can say that right now.

  14. Ralf Schumacher certainly manages to make it look very difficult…

  15. Maybe it’s the ‘Playstation Generation’ – faster hand-eye co-ordination, learning tracks in games etc etc.

  16. The way the cars are designed to make the most of the rules is changing every year because the rules change in major ways each year. That means that every year, the cars are substantially different, leading to different driver attributes being emphasised. So the rules may benefit smooth drivers one year and aggressive-turning drivers the next – or put particular emphasis on one perfect qualifying lap one year and on producing slightly slower pace several times in the same hour in another.

    This on its own would not produce the effect that rookies often beat their more experienced team-mates. However, many of the older drivers (certainly those who began in 2001 or earlier) come from a generation who did not have to change their technique so often, because major rule changes were less frequent. Previous examples of rule changes which changed the face of the grid include grooved tyres, which played well to the likes of Mika Hakkinen, but caused major problems for drivers like Damon Hill, who struggled to adapt to them.

    Several of the drivers also appear to have got to the stage where they are stuck in a rut created by refusing to let go of driving behaviours that worked for them in the past but don’t work now. Ralf Schumacher has been in that mode for several years, but he’s no longer the only one.

    Then there’s the paddock’s short memory. It has long been the case that a driver who didn’t get good results for 2-3 years in a row could pretty much assume that their career was sunk. With the paddock being less patient (largely due to manufacturer and sponsor pressures) results are now generally demanded within a year.

    The quality of rookies has also improved, as many of you have said. A lot of these drivers have a decade or more of pre-F1 experience. When Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard started their careers, only very talented kartists or people struggling for funding would consider staying in karting long enough to get that kind of experience. Even Michael Schumacher had only 7 1/2 years of experience before reaching F1! As a result, drivers are coming in with much more racing experience. Increased manufacturer funding for a handful of drivers also gives those drivers more time to work on racing elements rather than sponsor-chasing elements.

    There are two things that are too easy about F1 as a whole, though – defending position and recovering from minor mistakes. The advantage in overtaking situations is heavily with the defenders, and push-to-pass will make that even more so. So people like Lewis Hamilton are impossible to pass because the aero situation is silly, not necessarily because Lewis is any better at making his car wide than anyone else. In the cars of a decade ago, we’d get a fairer assessment of what Lewis’ defense capability is.

    Minor mistakes only lose tenths of seconds now, whereas before, they often lost whole seconds because awkward bits of the car would break and/or fall off. Retirements were more likely, either because the car was beached or because a damaged component may break later on. It seems like that everything is combining to reduce the apparent differential between top and bottom drivers, youth and experience, in F1 these days.

  17. one of the things I like about motor sports is the uncertainity of results, your motor could blow in the last turn, and the race end for you!

    But by now, F1 are incredible resilent, top temas never abandon, so if someone made a nice gap, he certainly win the race (as in many of these season bored races)…

    I think that FIA would focused in promote development, so confiability will decrease: for example, regulated size of gasoline chamber, then each team would imporve their motors,a nd then some experimentation would be made… And in the futre might this tech could be used in low-gas consume cars!

  18. I believe that F1 could be more challenging for a number of reasons.
    I except the argument that the cars are considerably different from
    those of past decades, down on power, more downforce and driver aides etc etc. However, nobody mentions the fact that the circuits have
    changed also.
    Old circuits, such as Hockenheim, Imola, and even Monza have been
    altered in recent years in an attempt to slow down the cars. I appreciate that following the San Marino Grand Prix of 1994 that
    changes like this were bound to happen, however, I believe the sport
    has suffered to a certain degree because of this.
    For instance, compare the classic, original Hockenheim circuit to its
    modern counterpart. The original had huge, 200mph straights which
    resulted in tight chicanes. Perfect for overtaking. The new circuit is
    no where near as exciting, for the t.v watching punter, as the original.
    And, even more worrying, are the new circuits. With these other
    Herman Tilke built arenas, the biggest talking point is almost always
    the facilities. It should be, wow, what a great track this is, not at how flash the pits look or the corporate suites are!
    I like that fact, that, F1 drivers like Kimi Raikkonen for instance
    are always talking about how much they love racing at Spa for instance, rather than some of the more glitzy new circuits.
    The reason for this is obvious. The old circuits offer more of a
    challenge to the driver because the driver knows fully that he is at risk of going off the road and in a big way. Which plays a huge part in why they do it in the first place.
    Second, give the cars greater power! Prove to the public that F1 is a ‘true’ racing series, where the ‘best’ and only the ‘best’ can
    compete. If it means running slick tyres instead or grooves, so be it.
    F1 is a spectator sport, lets make it a spectacle.

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