One thing that unites sports fans across the spectra is their ability to outrage. Every sports fan constantly decry the present and point out to a glorified bygone era. In this subset, Formula One fans are a unique breed, considering the potential for outrage is much higher since the sport doesn't have a unique set of codified rules that remains constant. Every year brings in new rules and changes or tweaks to existing one, thereby increasing the potential to disappoint a large section of people.
Keeping with the tradition, even before the five-red lights went off at Albert Park in Melbourne, the self-confessed petrol-heads (read: purists) were up in arms against the new radical era of Formula-1. The doomsday predictors always see the glass half-empty. Till last season it was, people were blasting drivers for lacking real-skills and instead just pressing buttons tutored from pit-wall. The pessimists now lashed out at the lack of aural feel of the new hybrid engines and have made sweeping judgements decrying the death of F1 as we know.
However, a closer and rational look at things shows us that things are not so bad. Formula-1 has always been the breeding ground for innovation, cutting-edge technology combined with skills of a capable driver. Over the past few years, with engine-freeze, the area of development in the sport has mostly been in the aerodynamics side. Even the last major regulation change that happened in 2009 – when energy recovery was first introduced -- was mostly a comprehensive change in rules of aerodynamics.
Before we pan the new noiseless-engines, one needs to take a deeper look at the structure of the sport. Since the birth of grand prix racing, automobile companies have used racing as a testing ground for their products thanks to the requirement for high precision and cutting-edge technology which not only helps them develop their brand but also provides them with technology that can be adapted to their road cars. Ferrari President, Luca di Montezemolo, has often in the past come out strongly against the aero-dominated Formula-1. In September 2012, he lashed out at spending lot on wind tunnel work to produce small flaps that alter the air-flow, saying it doesn't benefit the viewers or the car industry.
Since the 2008 financial meltdown, many manufacturers like BMW, Honda, Toyota have left the sport with most teams now being run by individuals. With automotive industry embracing green technologies, Formula-1's new hybrid-engine formula has the potential to attract the manufacturers back into grand prix racing, something the sport will welcome considering the budget strains on most of the teams in the pitlane. Since the new rules were announced Honda has decided to return as engine supplier to McLaren from 2015.
The new rules have given the chance for manufacturers to showcase their technological brilliance in coming out with best engine package, like Mercedes showed in Australia. With more torque in these engines, the ability of drivers to control the car has come into focus. A small mistake by the drivers, can send them crashing into the barriers.
Another criticism of the new rules is the new 100 kg fuel limit per race, which people will feel make drivers not push enough in the fear of burning more fuel. Till last year it was the fragile Pirelli tyres which were blasted.
If one were to flip the argument, these new rules have put a premium on driver skills something fans have wanted to see. Drivers now need to show application to make sure they are fast enough without burning excess fuel or abusing the tyres. Also a cerebral approach to racing is bound to evolve through the season as the drivers learn how to save fuel and tyres without compromising on pace.
While one race is too soon to make any judgement, there were enough indications in Melbourne how drivers sometimes struggles to control their cars and how some flirted with danger but managed to keep it clean.
To illustrate this one just needs to see two incidents in the Australian GP. Right at the start of the race, McLaren rookie and debutant Kevin Magnussen got lit bit more wheelspin and looked like he would have crashed into Fernando Alonso but managed to control it in the nick of time to finish on the podium. Contrast that with that of Williams driver Valtteri Bottas, who starting 15th , breezed past the field running sixth and on the verge of catching Alonso in fifth when a tiniest of error, saw him sustain a puncture when he graced a wall that effectively ruined his chance of a podium finish. These tiny margins show how hard the drivers have to work.
The sport for the good or bad, has embraced a truly radical era. The technology is groundbreaking to say the least, when engine manufacturers have come up with ability to produce the same amount of power in spite of burning 40 per cent less fuel. With impressive performances from rookies like Bottas, Magnussen, Toro Rosso's debutant Daniil Kvyat, this could herald a new era in the history of sport and it would be extremely unfair to dismiss it off before understanding the magnitude of the changes and giving it time.