x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Confusion as pit stops replace an F1 procession in Malaysia

McLaren's Button and Toro Rosso's Alguersuari join the bloggers in voicing their bewilderment at events in the Malaysia Grand Prix.

Red Bull Racing driver Sebastian Vettel takes the plaudits in the pit lane following his victory in a 'complicated' Malaysia Grand Prix yesterday.
Red Bull Racing driver Sebastian Vettel takes the plaudits in the pit lane following his victory in a 'complicated' Malaysia Grand Prix yesterday.

In their quest to improve Formula One as a racing spectacle, the governing body of world motorsports risks confusing the very people it is trying to entertain.

Rules and regulations introduced by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) ahead of the new season - such as adjustable aerodynamics and the Kinetic energy recovery system (Kers), as well as a new tyre supplier, Pirelli, providing quick-wearing rubber - arrived with the intention of improving the sport through increased overtaking.

And at yesterday's Malaysia Grand Prix, there could be no denying that both objectives were met, despite the rain that was widely expected to cause havoc failing to materialise.

The bewitching 56-lap race at Sepang International Circuit, won by Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing, saw the 12 teams forced to perform a combined 63 pit stops and resulted in the drivers exchanging places like a game of mechanical musical chairs.

Yet when the drivers are sitting down after the race discussing their puzzlement by the plethora of pit stops and team principals such as Christian Horner, of Red Bull, are likening their strategical discussions to air-traffic control centres, it is not difficult to assume the casual spectators are struggling for some comprehension also.

"It was a really confusing race in a way, trying to understand the pit stops and whether it was worth looking after tyres or not through the stints," said Jenson Button, after finishing second.

"It was pretty tricky. I don't think anyone really knew who was going to finish behind Seb."

Jaime Alguersuari, the Toro Rosso driver who finished 14th, said afterwards that he would have to analyse the race with his engineers because "to be honest, I don't really understand what happened".

Message boards were filled last night by fans debating whether the sport has overstepped the mark. One blogger complained that racing "shouldn't be about conserving tyres, [but rather] about speed and overtaking", while another wrote: "If it's too complicated for you then may I suggest trying another motorsport; there are many out there."

One of the primary reasons the FIA has introduced the new regulations is to avoid the type of processional races that have been evident in recent seasons.

Last year's championship-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit, where Ferrari's Fernando Alonso failed to pass Vitaly Petrov of Renault despite having a faster car, came in for heavy criticism.

Jean Todt, the FIA president, said it was "impossible" to overtake on the UAE capital's track. Richard Cregan, the chief executive of Yas Marina, has been meeting with officials this weekend and was in the Sepang paddock yesterday.

The former Toyota manager confirmed changes will be made to turns six through to nine for this year's November 13 race. However, he once again asserted his belief that the track is not to blame.

"We saw the same situation with Alonso and Petrov in Australia [last month], so I don't know how people can say the problem is with our track," Cregan said. "We spoke with Charlie Whiting [the FIA's F1 race director] and he spoke with the drivers and they actually had very few issues with the circuit."

The changes will be made in July and August when the track is quieter due to the summer heat.

Button believes that by then the uncertainty regarding the new race strategies and pit stops will have receded. "It is complicated, and I think at this point of the season it's going to be because there's a lot that we're trying to learn ourselves on the circuit," said the McLaren-Mercedes driver.

"If we had one tyre for the whole race and didn't have pit stops, would it be exciting? I don't know. I think to make the tyres the way that they have done is the correct thing to do.

"It made [yesterday's] racing exciting and as the season goes on we will realise and understand the tyres a little bit more every race. The races will calm down - but hopefully not too much. Hopefully they will still be exciting."

Vettel said the fact there are more battles going on between groups of drivers on the track can only be good for the sport, while Nick Heidfeld, who finished third in yesterday's race for Lotus-Renault, agreed, arguing that while "it's probably more complicated to understand from the outside, at the same time the show's better because for sure there was more overtaking going on."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae