Spain reminds us that good circuits are the key to good racing

Another grand prix, another parade dominated by tyre degradation. Drivers did five stints, and that was while they were all tiptoeing around trying to conserve their tyres. It seems as though Formula 1 has truly jumped the shark this time, and the powers that be know it.

It would be one thing if the tyres were designed so that drivers were aiming for a two or three stop strategy, with drivers choosing one or the other. The two-stoppers would conserve their tyres, with the three-stoppers pushing harder. That would be a sort of racing that belongs in the real world. The format at the moment is in a cartoon world.

The Spanish Grand Prix this weekend got me thinking about the debates surrounding the quality of racing in the pre-DRS, pre-Pirelli era. I was always firmly of the opinion that the problem with racing was being caused by the design of the circuits.

It was no coincidence that the same old circuits gained a reputation for producing dull races. And at the top of the list was always the Circuit de Catalunya. It’s a great circuit for testing, but the amount of overtaking allowed by the layout is negligible.

MArussia MR02 Chilton Barcelona Test 2

In 2007, the final sector was massacred with the introduction of a clumsy chicane at turns 13, 14 and 15. It was designed by — who else? — Hermann Tilke. We were told that it was designed to improve overtaking, “by bunching cars up ahead of the final turn”.

The chicane does indeed bunch cars up. But it does nothing to aid overtaking. In fact, it forces drivers to run in single file. It is so tight that there is no way cars can run side-by-side.

Inevitably, the driver in front can put his foot down much sooner than the driver behind, who has to hold station in single file just to avoid contact. The driver in front maintains this advantage for the next corner and the entire start–finish straight, and this whole charade continues for lap after lap.

This terrible set of corners was the pinch point of a lot of incidents over this race weekend. At least two drivers complained about getting held up in that section during qualifying.

Then in this morning’s GP2 sprint race, there was an almighty pile-up at the chicane that was mainly as a result of congestion. Drivers had nowhere to go in a tightly bunched-up field.

It’s difficult to imagine how a set of corners could be designed to inhibit racing any more than this ridiculous chicane. Yet this was sold to us as an overtaking aid. Year after year, it has proved to be just the opposite.

Instead, we as fans were told to stop complaining about the circuits. Instead, we were force-fed junk tyres and fake DRS passing.

This is the time to draw a line under it all. The evidence is all here. The fans are getting fed up with this emasculated form of racing with drivers not pushing and all overtaking being done with the flick of a rear wing.

It’s time to turn the focus back onto how the circuits can be designed to improve the racing, not inhibit it.

1 comment

  1. The 28% drop in viewer figures for Sky between Malaysia 2012 and Malaysia 2013 says it all. People are not liking what they’re seeing. Casual viewers are getting confused by the commentators’ failure to understand what is in front of them. Devotees are getting bored by the predictability and/or irritated by the failure of commentators to understand what is in front of them. All are getting tired of over-hyping.

    A lot of my friends (in the middle) said Spain was a great race. When asked further, they fell into 2 camps – those that said the tyre failures made it exciting and those who said they couldn’t predict what would happen next. Even though statistically it’s more predictable than at any point since 2010 (and possibly earlier).

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