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F1: 2013 Season's storming start

Publication: 
Bryan Edwards
chiefofficersnet

Melbourne: the autumn leaves, the winter rain, the summer sun and a spring in the step of all in Formula One as they arrive for the start of the new season. Then it all went rather weird and it's difficult to feel ultra-pleased with Kimi Raikkonen's win in his Lotus branded Renault which is a shame because a win's a win, isn't it?

You've got to hand it to the FIA: they've tried removing all driver aids, limiting aerodynamic development (or at least deployment), changing engine regulations and even using grooved tyres that reduced the contact patch on the road and had wobbly bits but nothing slows down F1 cars for long. So they decided to make the tyres rubbish.

Last year, the idea was to tell Pirelli, as sole tyre supplier, to produce tyres that "improved the racing." After one of the best seasons for a couple of decades, the FIA told Pirelli to go even further this year. And so they did. It's not Pirelli's fault: although the teams pay for the tyres, the FIA is the customer and says what it wants.

But a set of tyres that is useless after five or six laps is not the best idea.

In Melbourne, the grid, only 22 cars after HRT collapsed at the end of last season and failed to find a rescuer, lined up with the top ten cars on the new super-soft, already badly grained after just three laps in qualifying. In P11, Sutil in his first race back after a year without a drive, sat in his Force India with brand new medium compound tyres. It was obvious: all he had to do was not crash or get crashed into on the first corner and stay in touch with the leaders. Then, as they all had to stop, he would inherit the lead.

Sutil should be regarded as the driver of the day: he did not make any spectacular overtaking moves, he did not charge through the field but once he hit the front he fought off all comers and was at least as quick as the Red Bulls and Ferraris - and the surprisingly quick Lotus branded Renault.

But, less than ten laps before the end, his team called him in and changed to the super-soft. There was no hope of those tyres lasting to the end of the race and at one point he was losing six seconds a lap to cars he had been leading for much of the race. He eventually finished 8th - and even then only just.

And that's why it's difficult to be excited about Raikkonen's performance. Yes, the Lotus branded Renault is fast, it's light on its tyres compared to several rivals and Raikkonen is a master in bad conditions so when the tyres give out, he's well placed to suffer less than others. But the race was not won by those factors: it was won by strategy defined on the pit wall. Even Kimi celebrated by thanking his team for a "perfect strategy."

The strategy meant that, for much of the race, Raikkonen did not actually have to race. For sure, he did sometimes and when he did, he did so with typical vim and vigour. But one has to wonder how much of that was, simply, because he was bored: mostly he had nothing to do - which meant his tyres were hammered less than those who were brawling.

The FIA has got it wrong: the tyres are so soft that, within five laps, there was a clear racing line as marbles began to build up on the outside of the corners. That means that overtaking opportunities are reduced not, as the FIA hoped, increased. Last year's marbles were silly; this year's are just plain dangerous: cars don't turn when they aren't in contact with the road.

And that's where the irony lies: once everyone was on the firmer medium compound, everyone was fast, everyone was safe and - for most of the field, there was constant racing, dicing, overtaking. Even the DRS did not play a significant part on much of the racing.

But it's off to Sepang in Malaysia where the track is wider, there are more undulations, the track surface is a purpose built racing circuit and there are huge run-off areas. The demands on the tyres will be entirely different. Those super-softs might work there. But for later in the season, the two places that soft tyres should provide great benefit - Monaco and Singapore - will be ruined if those are the tyres Pirelli choose to bring.

The FIA has made a dumb move. And the sad thing is that the winner of a superb race arguably didn't win by being the best driver in the best car. And it feels horrible to say such a thing, even though it's true.