Made in China or Define “Racing”

A post on Chinese Grand Prix is was due a lot earlier, but I somehow got stuck in the real life. Apologies for that. But now I can just throw all my rather random thoughts on the last weeks’s GP into one post.
When I was scrolling through the pictures on tumblr I thought that there was one summarizing the whole Chinese Grand Prix, And I can’t help but reblog it:

The new F1-royalty.

Pirelli tyres have had a huge impact on the dynamics of the sport in general and whether the driver was able to find a reasonable approach to the tyres has defined success of failure. Characteristics of the tyres add a random element into the equation, which has an enormous impact on competitive balance in the field. It was particularly evident in the beginning of 2012 season with 7 different winners in first 7 races of the season. But the situation now is different: while the tyres were simply unpredictable at the beginning of 2012, now they are simply bad. All of the teams knew that soft tyre would be gone within 6-7 laps – it is not a random element any more, but a determinant of strategic choices made by the teams.

The variation in strategies adopted by the teams in China made the race interesting, but a bit difficult to follow. And at some point I thought that if it was my first race, I would neither have a clue what was going on, nor get interested in the whole thing. Fortunately, it wasn’t and therefore I was lucky to be able to appreciate certain complexity of the choices made by the teams. As it always is with strategy, success of one player is influenced by decisions of the others and it was interesting to find out how Red Bull’s or McLaren’s strategy worked – from the qualifying, when Jenson was joking about outperforming both Red Bulls with a 2 minutes lap, to the race, when it was only traffic that didn’t allow Vettel to end up on the podium. Was it exiting? Absolutely. But was it racing?

Sebastian mentioned that he had to just watch Alonso pass him twice without attempting to defend because his tyres would be gone otherwise. Jenson on a two stop strategy didn’t do any overtaking at all.

In a way it was a quite strange race to me because I couldn’t block, there’s no point fighting people, you just have to lit and let people overtake you and not fight back, because it was the quickest way to the end of the race. This is not the most exiting way to go racing, but we got 10 points doing that.
— Jenson Button via BBC postrace commentary

The increase in the uncertainty of the outcome obviously comes at it’s cost and in this case it is real racing. You need one car to be quicker than another to overtake, it’s physics, there’s nothing you can do about it. But a reason for the speed difference is another question. Some people think DRS overtaking is fake, but if so, overtaking with different level of tyre degradation or overtaking when there is no point to defend is equally fake, then.

In the drafts I have a post about why I love Formula One in general, and one of the major points is the complexity of the sport and of the environment in which teams and drivers operate. It makes the whole thing exiting not only in terms of who’s gonna win, but also in terms of all of the whys and hows that make the difference. The equilibrium between multiple determinants of overall performance is what makes Formula One so attractive as a sport. You can always go into details, there is always something that you don’t know yet. But if one aspect becomes too dominant the balance is disturbed. And I personally find it rather sad that such things as aerodynamic performance or driver’s ability to overtake is constrained by tyres to such an extent that it becomes almost irrelevant.

Speaking of competitive balance: it is obvious that to a certain extent all of us want an uncertainty of outcome. Many people dread to think about repetition of the 2011 season, but equally the craziness of the 2012 season was too much for many. There is a nice discussion paper published in 2010 by the researchers from the University of Münster. They tested several hypothesis concerning the determinants of the numbers of F1 TV viewers in Germany and arrived at the conclusion that while people like a close fight at the top, too much unpredictability reduces the attractiveness. I wonder if the same tests extended by the numbers from 2011 and 2012 would yield the same results, I bet they would.

As always I have drifted away from an actual topic of the post, I should probably just stop here.

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