Martin Whitmarsh has proposed the idea of having two mandatory pit-stops in F1 2010 in an effort to spice up the spectacle and encourage more overtaking after a processional, anti-climactic curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir at the weekend was widely panned as 'boring' rather than the thrill-fest it had promised to be, with drivers bemoaning that 'after the first lap the positions will be set'.

Criticisms of the action under the baking sun in the desert kingdom have been wide-ranging, with the general complaint being that with just one pit-stop being on paper the fastest way to go under the new refuelling ban, the onus has shifted from hard-charging aggression with a view to fighting through the order on-track, to tyre preservation in the knowledge that pushing too hard could cause costly damage and necessitate a second pit visit later in the race - likely resulting in a lower finishing position as vital seconds are lost. The new rule stipulating that the top ten qualifiers must now also begin the grand prix on the same rubber that they used in Q3 only serves to accentuate the need for strong tyre-management come race day.

Fuel conservation now also plays a far greater part, with no opportunity to pit for a quick late splash n' dash should a driver run low. Caution, it seems has taken the place of brio and verve, and the overwhelming consensus both within the paddock and amongst fans is that the rule changes have done F1 no favours in terms of improving the spectacle.

"Obviously qualifying and the starts are maybe the two key points this year," Bahrain runner-up Felipe Massa is quoted as having said by The Associated Press. "After the first corner more-or-less, the positions will be settled."

Those sentiments were echoed by Massa's Ferrari team-mate and race-winner Fernando Alonso, who opined that 'with no refuelling, it will be difficult to see any overtaking', whilst defending F1 World Champion Jenson Button agreed that barring a miracle solution, the entertainment factor in the top flight could be in short supply this year.

"The first lap is definitely your best chance of overtaking," the McLaren-Mercedes star told the BBC. "[The refuelling ban] might throw up a few more strategies in the race - I hope it does, because [to] run like that every race, it's not the most exciting."

Others, however, like F1 comeback king Michael Schumacher and four-time world champion turned race steward Alain Prost are confident that the situation will improve as drivers and teams adapt and get more accustomed to the ban - and some, commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone included [see separate story - click here], have urged strongly against making a knee-jerk reaction.

"The rules are fine," stressed 1997 title-winner Jacques Villeneuve, who was close to returning to the grand prix grid himself this season until Serbian hopeful Stefan GP's dream was dashed at the eleventh hour by the FIA. "One race doesn't mean anything. The worst thing would be for sudden changes before everybody is sure what they want."

"[Bahrain] was boring, but it was the first race and it's too early to make a verdict - I think it will work out," concurred ten-time grand prix-winner Gerhard Berger, whilst Lotus Racing chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne urged that 'any changes improve the show'. Veteran team owner Sir Frank Williams, speaking to The Guardian, described the lack of on-track action as 'very worrying' and stated the case for 'a different style of circuits with longer straights and wide run-off areas'.

The most popular suggestion at present - and one that is due to be reviewed by FOTA's Overtaking Working Group (OWG) several races into the campaign, once a clearer picture can be discerned - is to implement a mandatory two pit-stop rule, allowing drivers to push harder knowing that they have fewer laps to complete on each set of tyres, and can therefore throw caution to the wind rather more without fear of wearing the rubber out too quickly. The proposal is being championed by Whitmarsh, since January the chairman of the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA).

"We were one of three teams that said we should have two mandatory pit-stops because we were worried about people one-stopping," the Englishman is quoted as having said by ESPN. "I think we have to re-examine that. The tyres were much closer in the race than we expected and they determined the spectacle. There was no real serious degradation of the tyres.

"We started the roll of pit-stops because we were trying to get [Lewis Hamilton] ahead of [Nico] Rosberg, and everyone started to come in at that point - but otherwise, just based on tyre degradation, we could have run to lap 25 or more on the super-soft tyres. If you can do that on the softest tyre, then the primes are just going to romp through for as long as you like.
"I think if we can now push on Bridgestone to have racier (less durable) tyres [that would help]. We need a super-soft tyre that is really going to hurt if you take it to 20 laps. You shouldn't be able to do that with a super-soft tyre, and I think even the prime."

"I think the problem, with the format of the races, is that you are in danger of one-stop races at all events," agreed red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner. "I think we should consider whether we do two mandatory stops. It seems ridiculous that the guys train like hell for one stop.

"We've only had one snapshot [so far], so perhaps we should review it after the first three or four races. Everybody thought I didn't want [two stops] because of tyre degradation, but I think we have shown that tyre degradation isn't a problem for Red Bull."

Given all that F1 has been through in recent years - from high-profile scandals and public ridicule to the loss of half of its manufacturers - what it really needs more than anything in 2010 is a season of high-octane thrills n' spills to turn the focus firmly back onto what is taking place on the circuit. Whether that is what will materialise remains to be seen.


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