As Ferrari and McLaren unveil their new 2008 F1 cars to the world, all the talk has turned to the fast approaching new season and how wonderful it will be to watch now that driving aids have been banned. Well, I don’t wish to rain on the parade before it’s even got off the grid but, frankly, I doubt it'll turn out to be that great.
If your car spun uncontrollably the moment you went over the limit of its tyres’ adhesion, you’d soon moderate your driving to make sure you never exposed yourself to the risk and, because the majority of F1 drivers aren’t thick, so will they. Long before they get on the plane to Australia, all will have completed thousands of testing miles and, because they’re quite good at their jobs, will have figured out exactly how far these cars can be pushed. And if you think that equates to the glorious three figure powerslides beloved of the likes of Ronnie Peterson in his Lotus 72, I fear you are in for something of a shock.
Expecting the removal of driver aids to make F1 look more interesting (ref Gilles Villeneuve battling against an impending spin back in 1979, above) is as likely to lead to disappointment as expecting a couple of aspirin to alleviate the pain of putting your arm in a hay baler. The problem is not the aids, but the cars to which, hitherto, they were attached. What we want to see is oversteer and overtaking but, because they won’t have any less aerodynamic grip and their little V8 engines won’t produce any more power, there will be no more of it on show this year than last. And even if they could be easily slid, the resulting tyre wear would prohibit it.
One day the FIA and F1 constructors will twig what every sane fan has known for decades, namely that what’s required are cars with huge power, tiny wings and colossal tyres constructed, ideally, from concrete. Then you’d have all the overtaking and oversteer you could wish for and the true artists of the sport would emerge.
But don’t hold your breath waiting for it. When the rule mandating that engines must last two races was introduced, we all thought there would be more engine failures but, in fact, their constructors just got wise and fewer cars blew up than ever before. Just like that old rule, this new one is a step, but it’s similarly small and equally in the wrong direction.