Does F1 need to plan more unpredictability or was Turkey a step too far?
The Turkish Grand Prix risked turning into a farce thanks to the slippery Istanbul Circuit.
But Sunday’s dramatic wet race raised questions as to whether the sport could - or should - try to force more unpredictability in the future.
The ‘ice-rink’ conditions on a newly resurfaced track left drivers slipping and sliding on Friday and drew varied opinions, from Lewis Hamilton’s “terrifying” to Charles Leclerc’s “good fun”.
In wet conditions across Saturday and Sunday, the sight of cars slithering around the track, wobbling around every corner, was almost painful to watch, especially given the majesty of a driver firing flat-out with confidence through the monstrous turn eight.
As a leveller, what transpired did apply greater pressure on the drivers in a sport that has always been defined as much by machinery as it has by talent.
But what do the fans want and how can the sport give it to them?
CHASING THE WEATHER
When F1 asked its fans earlier this year to choose the best races of the last decade, the results made for interesting reading.
Last year’s German GP was voted the best. That was run in changeable conditions. Canada in 2011 was next on the list. That was wet, too. In fact, six of the top 10 races were affected by the weather.
Back when Bernie Ecclestone ran the show, he once suggested some tracks be fitted with water sprayers, so unpredictable conditions were available on tap.
As crazy as it sounds, he did have a point.
After Turkey, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel said: “You have more ability to make a difference in these conditions because it’s so much on edge. The key to the future is coming up with a formula that naturally we have races like this.”
What has been interesting this season is that the calendar is typically laid out to optimise logistics, with one eye on the likely weather. This time, due to Covid-19, races have been added in wherever they could be.
This has led to situations like racing in Italy in November, when it is much colder than usual, and, of course, going to Turkey in a month that is one of its wettest.
Both situations, and the additional element of the track surface in Istanbul, provided teams and drivers with a welcome challenge.
Planning some races ‘off-season’, or even moving them around season by season, could provide that varied challenge that delivers unpredictability.
But there is a more fundamental problem.
The very suggestion of introducing unpredictability to spice up racing makes a bit of a mockery of the sport.
Teams spend millions of pounds and employ hundreds, or even thousands of people, whose focus, day in, day out, is to improve their car’s performance. Even an improvement of less than a tenth of a second is worth the spend.
The use of wind tunnels, simulators and other expensive tools is being restricted because of the cost. But still, teams plough money into the quest for perfection.
Vettel added: “I think it is very difficult to find the right compromise because F1 and all the teams are driving for perfection. Perfection means very few mistakes and very little differences between the teams and drivers.
“What we want is the cars to go very fast and not artificially slow like here, but having scope for doing something different, trying something and that paying off.”
Yet that golden egg has proved elusive for F1 – the challenge of blending the lines between real action and video game racing.
DRS was introduced as an artificial way of spicing things up, and many argue it is far from ‘pure’ racing. ‘Short cuts’ have been suggested in the past, while Formula E introduced ‘Fan Boost’ and ‘Attack Mode’ to increase the action.
But when we get a race like Turkey, there’s no doubt everyone [apart from those who lost out in the conditions] is left with a buzz – an exciting race, lots of drama, but everyone back home safely at the end.
What’s more, Turkey showed that the cream rises, whatever the conditions.
At one point, none of the top three had won an F1 race. Yet by the end, who was on top of the podium? The same guy who’s been on the top in nine other dry and wet races this season.
Afterwards, Williams driver George Russell said he “would have loved watching it from my sofa” but insisted a race like that is “not what F1 is about.”
That’s true enough. F1 is about reaching the pinnacle. It’s about the best drivers in the fastest cars.
But it’s also about great racing, and you only have to look at the fans’ poll to work out what delivers that.
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