Why F1′s exciting new dawn may have to wait

Part of the new track in Bahrain © http://www.sutton-images.com

I’m getting a little bit worried about tomorrow’s F1 race, because from what I have seen so far of the weekend, the incredible battle that everyone is expecting may be under threat of not showing up.

This fear comes not from the competitive differences between the teams you understand, but from something far easier to resolve… and something which wasn’t even a problem two weeks ago.

The new sequence of corners at the Bahrain International circuit between Turn 4 and the old Turn 5, have added almost a kilometre to the circuit length and half a minute to overall laptimes. They’re a challenging combination of tight and technical corners, designed to add some extra spice to the track… only, they’re not quite coming up trumps.

The problem, you see, is that this new part of the track has been ill conceived and ill designed. Quite apart from the fact that there simply isn’t enough track length between corners to allow anyone to have a decent stab at a passing move, the track width is so slim that you can barely fit two cars side by side. To the naked eye, it appears almost half the width of the rest of the circuit.

So if this new part of the track wasn’t designed around the purpose of introducing more overtaking opportunities, then why put it in at all? Sure these seven extra turns now make Bahrain the second longest circuit on the calendar, but nobody’s going to care when all they’ve done is create crap racing.

And if you think I’m being overly pessimistic, may I point your attention to today’s GP2 Asia race.

Two weeks ago, GP2 Asia raced on the old circuit, the original circuit. With overtaking being pulled off at Turns 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 11, 12, 15/16 and, believe it or not, 13 and 14 throughout the weekend, the main feature race two weeks ago had me on my knees in the commentary box and in need of some strepsils. It was, without question, one of the greatest races I have witnessed in my lifetime.

Compare that to today. The extra corners served not to spice up the show, but to create one long procession. You’d never have believed we were at the same track.. because in many ways, we weren’t.

The new section didn’t allow good overtaking. Indeed only two moves were pulled off there all race and both of those were balls to the wall passes that owed more to luck than judgement. It’s also incredibly bumpy… so much so that pole sitter and today’s winner Luca Filippi has taken to wearing a gumshield, a sporting safety device more usually seen on the rugby field than in a racing car. Third placed Charles Pic has reported that he is suffering from huge blisters on both hands following today’s race… soemthing he certainly didn’t have after winning here two weeks ago!

Sure, you can argue it’s only GP2 Asia, and not representative of F1. But GP2 Asia cars were designed around the concept of ground effect and to allow overtaking. F1 2010 has not been. So if the new track turned one of the most exciting races I’ve seen into one of the most dull… what hope of a good F1 race? The 24 drivers who took part in today’s race featured only a few changes from those who competed a few weeks ago, so did they all just forget how to race? I don’t think so.

Factor in also that the new teams in F1 are not on the pace of those at the front of the grid, and there is also a potential problem… namely that between Turn 5 and Turn 12, quicker cars will not be able to pass slower cars. Even if they’re lapping them. All this will do is create anger from the leading drivers to the backmarkers at a time when the 107% rule is already being debated in unduly high decibels.

But if we are to be fair we must point out right now and before the race even begins that it will not be the Virgin, Lotus and HRT drivers’ fault if they cannot get out of the way of the quicker cars in this new section, but that of the circuit designers. Anywhere else, and there might have been space to pass… but not on a track that’s as thin and as comparative a shade of its former self as Lindsey Lohan.

They usually say that a boring Sunday GP2 race doesn’t leave much hope for the main event.

As such, I’m hoping for an epic support event tomorrow morning. If it doesn’t arrive, we may have to wait a few weeks for F1’s exciting new dawn to truly arrive.