Whatever happens at Sundays Australian Grand Prix there are already good reasons for fans to be excited about the future
The waiting is over and Melbourne is abuzz with anticipation and the feeling, shared by Formula One fans across the world, that this is going to be a big weekend. Friday practice will be the first indicator of pace after the poker hands of testing in Barcelona; Saturdays qualifying will be cards on the table time to discover who can turn any pace into a hot lap. Race day is crunch time for the teams but this year, with new regulations, it is also going to be a huge moment for the sport. A new start in a new era.
But it is hard not to sense an undertone of unease. What if F1 has got it wrong? Ross Brawn, appointed by the owner, Liberty Media, as Formula Ones director of motorsport, has already made it clear there will be no knee-jerk reactions to an unsuccessful reboot.
As things stand the regulations are set for three years and changing them would require agreement with the teams, whose involvement in creating the rules was half the problem in the first place. Brawns task is to create a long-term strategy and he is working to that end by looking ahead to five years time. Whatever happens in Melbourne, he does at least have other good reasons for fans to be optimistic about F1s future.
The fears for Sunday are simple. The regulations were formulated around the woolly notion that making the cars five seconds a lap quicker would make racing better. That has been achieved, largely through aerodynamic grip allowing faster cornering speeds.
It has come with wider cars, shorter braking distances and almost certainly an increase in the disturbed air thrown up by the cars all of which may combine to make racing in one anothers wakes difficult and passing even harder.
Overtaking seems to have been entirely ignored. For a pass to matter it should not be easy and while it is hard enough to find fans of drag reduction system the extra drag created by the new cars is going to make its role even more significant.
Formula One, like any sport, must be entertaining, especially to fans who only tune in for the race on a Sunday. If passing and close racing become almost impossible because of a formula dictated by horse trading between teams, then it is failing in that remit.
Let us hope it is not the case and Formula One 2017 hits the track running in Albert Park. But whatever happens the process has at least informed how such decisions will be made in the future. Brawn, who describes his role as that of benevolent dictator, is planning to set up a group of experts to create a vision for the sport and it is heartening to learn that the fans, for once, are to be taken into consideration. When there is a discussion or debate about racing or cars there will be boxes to be ticked: Is it more entertaining for the fan? Is it more engaging for the fan? Is it better for the sport? he said.
This is part of a wider strategy. Liberty Media has already been vocal in its desire to promote F1 more vigorously, using new media to try to engage with new, larger audiences.
The Formula One Group is now run by Chase Carey as the chief executive officer with Sean Bratches handling the commercial side. That two senior figures have come from outside Formula One is proving to be an advantage, Brawn believes. Sean and Chase are asking questions about F1 to which I have no good answers as to why we do things a certain way, which is good, he said. They are taking a very lateral view of how F1 works and engages with its fans and that is something we can do very quickly and is totally under our bailiwick to do.
Making the sport more accessible is something that will be acted on sooner rather than later. The process has already begun. At the tests in Barcelona, the rules governing what teams and drivers can broadcast on social media were relaxed, unthinkable under Bernie Ecclestone, and it proved to be hugely popular. The Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, said demand for their content from the tests had almost crashed the Red Bull servers.
That is an area you will see quite a rapid development in, that it wont be a five-year plan, that will be a five-month plan, Brawn said. Youve seen it in Barcelona with social media loosened up. That will continue. There has to be limits but those limits will be much further away from where they are today.
This week the focus remains firmly on how Formula One performs where it matters, where the limits everyone is interested in are those of the cars and Brawn may yet have to perform some firefighting in that department on behalf of his new employer but at least he has begun the process of ensuring F1 will not enter another season with this level of uncertainty as to what sort of racing will be on offer when the lights go out.