24 January 2011

Stupid rear wing boosty thingy... (oh, and KERS!)

What a ridiculously complicated system! As we should all know by now, the 2011 technical regulations will permit drivers to adjust the angle of their rear wings whilst on track for a straight line boost when within 1 second of the car in front, to assist in overtaking. They will do this by mechanically increasing the gap between the top plane and main plane of the rear wing from 10mm to 50mm, which will as a result stall the wing and significantly reduce drag. While this seems pretty straightforward, when drivers will actually be able to use it is still relatively unknown.

One thing is clear however and that is that no one will be able to use the system on the first two laps of the race or two laps after a safety car restart. From there it gets very complicated... Drivers will have the system activated (signalled by a light on their dash) when FIA-monitored GPS technology tells them that they are within 1 second of the car in front. The system will also only be permitted for use on one section of the track, which may not even be the start finish straight! Meaning we are likely to see a lot of passes on one particular corner. Drivers will then have a separate button for their KERS systems, meaning that they will have one thumb/finger holding down the KERS button for as long they want and the other thumb/finger hovering over the rear wing button waiting for the green light to come on. All this while travelling along at over 200 miles an hour!

Now the idea of being able to stall the rear wing for a straight line boost is nothing new; with the idea coming about after the implementation of McLaren’s radical F-duct system in 2010 (which went on to be copied by almost every other team). However concerns over driver safety were raised when many drivers had to completely remove one hand from the steering wheel in order to operate the system. As such, the system was quickly banned (as are most innovations in F1) and here we are with another less innovative, more complicated system. Not to mention more dangerous! We're going have drivers flying along at 200 miles an hour, looking down at their steering wheel for a little green light to come on... What if a disgruntled fan runs onto the track in this moment? Or a stray wheel bounces across the track? At least with one hand on the wheel the drivers attention is still focussed on what's going on around him!

But why does it need to be this complicated or dangerous? There is a much simpler way of using the same system but in a way that is much easier to understand and far more exciting from a fans point of view (and much safer). All we need to do is give the drivers 30 opportunities to press the aero-boost button at any point during the race after which the system will deactivate. From the moment they press the button to when they either press it again or hit the brake pedal, the rear wing will be stalled. This system would employ a much greater use of strategy from the drivers, who will need to save it for the most important points in the race. For example, they may use it to carve their way through the field in the opening laps after a bad qualifying performance; they might use it before or after a pit stop to leapfrog other drivers on a different strategy; they might use it all in the last 5 laps to close in and pass the leader. All these options have their positive and negative points but the point I’m trying to make is, is that it will be up to the driver when he decides to use it.

It would be a pretty cool TV graphic to see who’s used their aero-boost the most and how they’ve used it. You could have a green flashing light graphic with the number of boosts left in the middle, alongside which you have an orange bar showing how and when the drivers are using their KERS button. KERS is a brilliant innovation, but the problem I’ve always had with it is that there’s no strategy element to it. The driver in front can defend with it, while the driver behind tries to attack with it. The end result being that the positions stay the same. Having the aero-boost button available for just 30 times during the race will mean drivers who have used the system wisely will ultimately finish higher in the final classification.

Let me finish by painting a picture for you. Imagine Alonso crashed in qualifying and starts down in 24th. By using his aero-boost button 25 times in the first 10 laps, he climbs into an incredible 5th place, but he’s only got another 5 opportunities to use it for the next 50 laps. Meanwhile Webber, who qualified on pole hasn’t used his at all in the first 10 laps and slipped to 6th, behind Alonso. As the race wears on, Alonso employs mega defensive tactics to try and hold the boost-riddled Webber behind. A mega battle unfolds with big lunges and epic outside moves until finally Webber finds a way past. On lap 34, with Alonso in 6th and Webber in 5th, Petrov crashes his Renault and brings out the safety car. Webber is sitting pretty with 25 boosts left to Alonso’s 3. Those ahead of Webber have got no more than 10 boosts left. By using his 25 boosts in the final laps, Webber pulls off some epic passing moves to move into the lead while those he passes desperately try and defend. Meanwhile Alonso is also desperately trying to defend against those behind who have more boosts up their sleeves. The fans look on in awe as drivers from 1st to 24th places pass each other left right and centre; all because some drivers used their boost button differently. Wouldn’t that be amazing to watch?

The main criticism that a lot of people have of the new wing stalling rule is that it will make overtaking artificial. In other words, a driver will try and be second on the final lap and then slingshot past on the final straight to take that win. I believe that this will absolutely be the case and that overtaking will no longer be an art but predictable and boring. We'll be watching the gap between the drivers and as soon as it gets to 1 second we'll say, 'Oh yep, he's past him now.' Before he even gets past! Predictable and boring that is! But wouldn't giving the drivers a set number of opportunities to use the system fix this? Well, it would not only fix this, but it would make the racing bloody exciting! Who’s with me?!