Faster cars, but what a drag GP racing has become

If the n Grand Prix was representative of the much-vaunted new era of Formula One, long-suffering followers are in for yet another season lacking exciting racing.
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While the revamped rules returned Ferrari to victory for the first time since 2015, on the basis of Sunday’s largely processional 57 laps around the Albert Park lakeside circuit, the faster cars have not improved the on-track action.

At least Sebastian Vettel’s despatch of Lewis Hamilton was a promising early sign that Ferrari has used the technical upheaval to become a serious threat to Mercedes-Benz’s crushing domination of the past three years.

But while the competitive order at the very top of F1 may have altered, the move to wider tyres and more aerodynamic downforce did nothing for the spectacle of the racing.

In fact, as widely predicted, the changes made overtaking moves even more difficult than before – so much so that there was only one position change involving a pass in racing on the track (excluding the dash from the start to the first corner) during the whole event.

Vettel overtook Hamilton in the pits thanks to Ferrari’s superior strategy, stretching his first stint six laps further to give him the decisive advantage.

It was a great and popular effort by Ferrari and Vettel, erasing the memory of the strategic blunder that cost them last year’s Melbourne GP, but it wasn’t an exciting battle.

The only actual overtaking not involving a pit stop was on the 52nd lap – and even that was between backmarkers as Esteban Ocon muscled past Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso, who was then also immediately relegated by Hulkenberg.

The lack of overtaking and close wheel-to-wheel racing was the predictable result of making the cars much quicker by significantly increasing grip in the braking zones and through the corners.

The new, more muscular breed of F1 racers were certainly much quicker – although not to the record-breaking extent expected – and a lot more physical for the drivers.

They could push harder for longer on the grippier, more durable Pirelli tyres and for those who understand such nuances, it was clear that the likes of Vettel, Hamilton, Valterri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen at the front of the field were racing on the limit all the way.

However, as a spectacle, the race was an indictment of F1’s reliance on over-complicated technology that is a known barrier to close competition.

It is likely that things will improve as the 20-race season wears on, with the teams learning more and extracting more speed from the new cars.

There is already hope that Ferrari is going to fight Mercedes for the world championship, with fans praying Vettel’s strong start is not a false dawn and that he will wage a season-long battle with Hamilton for the crown.

Fans around the world – and especially in – that Red Bull Racing also catches up, putting Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen into the fight.

The big crowd at Albert Park – by all accounts, a major increase on recent years – was bitterly disappointed by Ricciardo’s early exit on top of a pre-race problem that saw him make a delayed start from the pit lane.

Whether spectators – and, indeed, the worldwide TV audience – appreciated the extra lap speed of this year’s machines is questionable, particularly in the absence of the local hero trying to fight his way through to the tail of the front-runners following his qualifying miscue.

One wonders, too, what the big bosses of F1’s new owner Liberty Media thought of their new acquisition, which needs to be a major sporting spectacle to justify their multi-billion dollar investment.

Long-time F1 czar Bernie Ecclestone has been replaced by a triumvirate tasked with making the sport more fan- and viewer-friendly.

While F1 chief executive Chase Carey and his commercial lieutenant Shane Bratches would’ve been impressed by the scale and action-packed program of the n GP, they should be concerned about the lack of exciting racing in the main attraction.

The other member of the trio, F1’s new sporting boss Ross Brawn, has a lot to think about as he plots how to make the racing closer and more visceral, and spread the competition more evenly through the field.

There is much to be done.

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