BBC Sport - David Coulthard column: I want to see F1 drivers flat-out
By David Coulthard
BBC F1 co-commentator
There has been a lot of critical reaction to the Spanish Grand Prix, with people complaining that it was all about tyre management and not real racing.
I enjoyed commentating on it and when it finished my main thought was that it was a great day for Spain and Fernando Alonso, and that there were lots of good stories. I did not think it was a disaster for Formula 1.
Having said that, I do accept that this is not F1 as I was used to it. When I was driving, if you qualified on pole, unless you really screwed it up, you would be on the podium.
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F1 has always been a team sport. At any give time, there is a set of regulations and you have to get on with that. Part of the requirement is managing your car and tyres, and if someone else does that better than you, they beat you.
Whether it is to do with the tyres, the track breaking up, or the weather, there are always challenges. Some are more focused on the driver and some more on the team, but that is part of F1.
In pure entertainment terms, there is no doubt that the spectacle F1 is producing now is far better than the days when we would go off in grid order and that would pretty much be the race result. People have short memories, but those days were really not very long ago at all.
These days, we never know what is going to happen - and that remains the case for a fair part of the race itself.
WHAT IS THE MAIN COMPLAINT?
There seems to be a general sense that F1 now is very different from what it used to be in some sort of 'golden age'. We're all human, so we'll always complain.
I drove Jim Clark's 1963 Lotus 25 recently. That is an iconic car that took an iconic driver to his first world title, but there is no way on earth he would have been able to push flat out throughout a race. He'd have wrecked the gearbox or the brakes would have run out or something. There were so many compromises that we're just not aware of nowadays.
I understand people's reservations about F1 at the moment - and we are hearing them from the fans and some of the drivers. We have to respect that.
The problem is, there are so many different opinions and it's a difficult and complicated subject.
Continue reading the main story
I like to see drivers driving flat out. But I also want to see an interesting race and not a procession
All tyres get slower through their lives. I never knew an F1 tyre that did not have a peak of performance when it was new and then degraded and wore out as you drove on it
What does seem to be completely clear, though, is that the drivers are not pushing right to the limit in the race. To what degree, depends on who you listen to. But after winning the race on Sunday, Alonso said he had been pushing at 90% most of the way.
In my whole career, I very rarely drove at only 90%. Usually, I'd be coughing up a lung. During my very first win, I remember thinking that if Michael Schumacher behind me didn't slow down, I was going to crash because I couldn't keep the pace up.
Most of the time, chasing my team-mate Mika Hakkinen - as I usually was, unfortunately - I couldn't go any faster. Not because I was having to manage the tyres, but because I physically could not go any faster within the grip the tyres generated.
There are many sports that are not about extreme physical endeavour, but F1 has for me always been about man and machine taken to the limit, and if you go beyond that limit there is damage or there is death. Of course, F1 is still dangerous, but that gladiatorial aspect has been lessened.
The current formula doesn't seem to please the drivers as a whole and there seems to be a growing discontent among the fans, many of whom feel they are seeing management rather than racing. They want to imagine the drivers are thrashing the cars from start to finish, even if that is not what is actually happening.
These are the fastest cars and drivers in the world. It's a high-octane, high adrenalin sport, and nothing makes adrenalin pump more than when you're on the edge rather than working to a brake-and tyre-management scenario.
I like to see drivers driving flat out. But I also want to see an interesting race and not a procession.
HOW FAR WITHIN THEMSELVES ARE THE DRIVERS?
Not everyone is complaining about the current situation, but many of those who are remember the refuelling days, which ended after 2009, when drivers were able to lap in the race within two seconds of their qualifying time.
Even in 2010, the last year of Bridgestone tyres, race lap times were usually within two seconds of qualifying times.
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On Sunday in Spain, the fastest lap was 5.5secs slower than the pole time.
That's because the drivers are not pushing to the peak of the aerodynamic performance of the car because the tyres do not allow them to. Do that, and the tyre's performance drops off too quickly. In the past, the tyres were more consistent.
As recently as 2009, I remember Alonso asking for the Singapore Grand Prix race distance to be shortened because everyone was physically spent after the first race there in 2008. No-one asks that anymore because the extreme physicality has gone out of it. Drivers go several seconds a lap slower and manage their tyres.
IS IT ALL ABOUT TYRES?
Vettel complained after the race on Sunday that he was not driving to the limit of the car; he was driving to the limit of the tyres.
The problem with that argument is that he had the same tyres as Alonso and Raikkonen , and they went faster. So trying to argue that it is all down to the tyres just does not stack up.
Alonso's incredible start in Spain
The regulations are very tight, but different teams are having different problems - for example, Red Bull's limitation in Spain was the left front tyre; Mercedes' was the left rear.
That is down to how the car runs in yaw in the corner, which depends on what camber change it has and what suspension geometries the team running. And those decisions are usually based on getting the right airflow to the right places.
If Mercedes or Red Bull knew why they were having those problems, they would fix them - after all, no-one wants to go from pole to sixth, as Nico Rosberg did on Sunday; or second on the grid to 12th, as was the case for his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
It's not like Mercedes are creating a car for qualifying - they are qualifying with what they believe is the best possible car for the race.
The bottom line is that under the regulations as they are, and on the same tyres, Ferrari and Lotus - and particularly Alonso and Raikkonen - did a better job in Spain than Red Bull and Mercedes.
A BIGGER CONCERN
A final point. For me, there is a much bigger worry about the tyres than the complaints about racing - and that's the number of failures there have been this year.
I understand that Pirelli say they are being caused by cuts, but one of these days that failure is going to happen at a critical point on a race track in a critical racing situation.
I don't want to scaremonger, but who knows what is going to happen then? That for me is a bigger concern than whether the type of racing is pleasing everyone.
David Coulthard was talking to BBC Sport's Andrew Benson