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Fis'ard of Oz

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March 09, 2005 18:33 IST

So the season has finally begun, and Formula One commentators of varying expertise and experience are sitting around, debating whether or not to throw in their two cents into the peak-cap of opinion.

What does Melbourne, and its blithely dull opening round, mean for Formula One? Are we going to see a million different winners, and a great battle for the Championships? Or are we fatally doomed to lotless lottery, as Mosley has played dice with the racing universe? Chaos, it seems, is in the air.

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On the other hand, the man who dumped Heidi Klum wouldn't quite agree. His blue cars did rather well on the opening Sabbath of 2005, and things have gone better than dreamed for Flavio Briatore. Not only did his two drivers do their jobs with stupendous doggedness, but the man he so controversially fired last year, Jarno Trulli, messed up royally throughout his race, going rapidly backwards till his second place qualifying position didn't even let his Toyota take home a point. Renault indeed had a good day.

As did David Coulthard, in what must indeed be the most whopping surprise, to everyone including his mother. Chin sharpened by an atrocious new piece of fuzz, the Scotsman drove a defiantly fine race, with a remarkable jump off the blocks – overtaking both Webber and Villeneuve.

Red Bull indeed must give you wings, and if only DC had managed this determined a display of grit behind the McLaren wheel earlier on, he might have kept his job. Of course, now that the new cars have fared incredulously better than Ron Dennis' silvers, it might just all have turned out good for Coulthard.

Fisichella deserves to smile. The spunky Italian has vociferously and repeatedly declared his ambition and persistent intent to drive for the sport's most prestigious team, going far enough to say he'd actually pay for his drive.

Sunday, however, saw Giancarlo maintaining a neatly safe race pace throughout the afternoon, and gathering up a fine win. With those bright scarlet cars hardly a spot of bother, one snapping meekly at his blue heels and the other, the big 'un, out of commission after a mild fracas. Perhaps they'll look you up again sooner than expected, Fisi. A good second win.

Another man who emerged from the race with more than relative respectability was Narain Karthikeyan. The rookie was undeniably impressive on debut, and most Indians have just been hoping the Jordan driver would finish his first race. That, by the physically demanding standards the sport imposes on its drivers, is a massively tough ask, and Karthikeyan stood up to it well. Early in the race, his scrappy fights with teammate Tiego Monteiro were very entertaining, and his 15th place is well-deserved. If it had been a more action-packed race, we might even have seen the Indian among the points. Well done, Narain.

Which is far more than can be said for Sunday overall, one of the most yawn-inducing unspectaculars as has been witnessed in recent F1 history, and certainly among the most non-startling opening rounds of all time. Caution was the prevalent force on display as drivers kept pedal conservatively away from the metal, in an attempt to shield their engines from damage. Gone was the characteristic mayhem at the first corner, the mad desperate rush we are all so used to.

The new Formula One rules are a blunder, and taking the sport back – limiting its technology – is not the most sensible of decisions. Technology, and the cutting edge reached and broached constantly by teams striving harder and harder, is one of the greatly enthralling aspects of the sport. Adding cinder blocks in the way of speed is an absurd maneuver, and we're going from watching a constant run of formulaic perfection to, possibly, absolute randomness.

Yes, the formbook might just have to be thrown out the window. The rules, as they increasingly stagger out and raise eyebrows higher over the racing weekend, are ludicrous. Qualifying is a draw of lots that is now aggregated, and the perimeter for the starting grid – originally a blend of straightline speed and on-board fuel strategy – has now been reduced to purer luck than most things F1.

Kimi stalled on the starting grid, so the rest of the cars continued for another parade lap – which was deducted from the race's total laps! This is a bizarre rule, and something that an exploitative team boss – not the most unheard of concepts - can possibly loophole to his lead driver's advantage, especially at some vital point in the racing season. Wait for the uproar on this one; the backlash is guaranteed.

The overriding argument in favour of the new regulations is that they take away a substantial amount of technological aid from the drivers, making the race more dependent on their own driving skills. The racers, they claim, will now slash at each other over a far more level playing field. This is nonsense of the traditionally bullish variety, because what the engine limitations are actually doing is something tragically a lot simpler than just that: they aren't letting drivers drive.

Drivers in today's lineup aren't being allowed to push their cars. At all. The thoughts of conserving the engine and protecting the tires over several afternoons are terrifying, and our boys are petrified – so they whiz through Australia, with little exception, as tidily as Nazi schoolboys: not trying to go fast, not lunging madly at each other, not even jousting mightily for room.

Is the sight of the lead car pulling away from the rest of the field at slothful pace, and still not being challenged, what we're here to see?

Michael Schumacher, headline-grabber as he's wont to be, threw us a racing incident of little consequence as he tangled ineffectively with the Williams of Nick Heidfeld. The younger German blamed the Champ for the clash, while the senior racer shrugged it off in a these-things-happen sort of way.

To be fair, seeing as this is F1, the fact that Michael didn't yell back at Nick is almost as clear an admission of sheepish guilt as can be seen. The driver who owns Formula One's exalted 'first' position didn't have a very good weekend at all, quite like the Melbourne spectators.

This season might see many different winners – Fisichella's obviously gunning ahead with Championship hopes; Rubens feels this is his year; Alonso was the fastest man on the track; Montoya threw second place away; Webber and Button are still around, trying to optimize usage from their cars; Trulli'd like to wreak some Toyota revenge; Raikonnen is always a class act – and the Championship race could be an unpredictable, immensely topsy-turvy ride.

Lets just hope the roller coaster is fast enough.

Raja Sen