|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
F1 rule change favours smooth operators
February 15, 2005 11:22 IST
BAR see Jenson Button as a smooth operator steering them to a first Formula One victory this season.
New rules require drivers to qualify and complete the race on the same set of tyres, which must now last for at least 350 km rather than the previous 80 or so.
Tactical awareness, self-control and silky skills will count for more than muscling the car around the circuit in a 100 percent all-out attack.
Which is where the 25-year-old Button, still without a victory despite finishing on the podium 10 times in 2004 and steering Honda-powered BAR to second place in the constructors' championship, can cash in.
"Jenson's best quality, vis-a-vis the new regulations, is smooth driving," said team boss Nick Fry. "The tyres are going to be absolutely critical and I think Jenson is an ace card with regard to preserving the tyres.
"There's a couple of drivers out there probably that are better than the others and Jenson is one of them."
If tyre wear becomes the key, then the whole rhythm of races will change.
This season could even revive memories of the 1980s when France's four-times champion Alain Prost, dubbed 'The Professor' for his tactical brilliance in nursing tyres and fuel to the finish, held sway.
Last year, despite the shake-up caused by drivers qualifying on different fuel levels, the races were effectively divided up into a series of sprints between the pitstops with a final cruise to the finish.
No longer, said Renault head of engineering Pat Symonds, who looked forward to a 60-lap race actually being a race over the full 60 laps.
"One of the things that was wrong with grand prix racing up to the end of last season was that the chequered flag was pretty meaningless," he said.
"The result of the race was determined after the last pitstop and really nothing happened after that.
"Now I believe that is going to change...I think that the guy who has used his brain rather than his tyres is going to be able to overtake in that last stint," added Symonds. "It's going to be the intelligent guy who wins races this year."
The bad news for Button is that Ferrari's Michael Schumacher, with seven titles and 83 wins, has shown over the years that he is the shrewdest of them all.
Ferrari can also count on the undivided attention of Bridgestone, whose other teams -- Jordan and Minardi -- will be struggling to score points.
Rivals Michelin however have strength in numbers and have already collected huge amounts of data after completing thousands more kilometres in testing with their top teams.
"We expect at the beginning significant differences from one team to another in the way they can achieve the downforce which for us is absolutely critical," said Michelin motorsport head Pierre Dupasquier.
"If the driver begins to feel a little bit of understeer, and if he pushes on the steering wheel like a dummy, then obviously he will lose the front tyres immediately. The poor front left will not go to the end of the race."
Pitstops will lose much of the precision teamwork of old, when cars were refuelled and re-shod in seconds. Now the drivers will be coming in for refuelling only, unless there is a dramatic change in the weather or they suffer a puncture.
"There won't be the choreography around the car...those days are gone sadly, unless its a wet tyre change," said team boss Frank Williams.
"It's a bit sad in a way if the car must come in."
The character of individual circuits is another factor, with some far harder on tyres than others.
"We've been doing a lot of race distance runs just for the reliability and to put mileage on the tyres," said Button in Barcelona last month.
"Over the last 15 laps you really feel the car is very twitchy in the rear.
"We're going to have to think a lot more, which is difficult for a racing driver I know," added the Briton.
"It's going to be very interesting to see who's looked after their tyres towards the end of the race and if you've looked after your tyres and they are in better condition it can make a really big difference over the last 10 laps.
"It can make it a lot easier to overtake people by pushing them into a mistake or something."
Ultimately, that could see some of the more rough-edged drivers having to change their styles, just as single-lap qualifying forced a rethink.
"I'm sure some people will be changing their technique, I haven't changed mine," said Button.
"I'm sure there will be some people struggling with the tyres (at the first race) and in keeping them good for the whole race distance. I don't think I will be one of them."
Formula One: The Complete Coverage