The 2016 Formula 1 season has shown that races are now not only much more spectacular, but also a lot harder to predict. Jonathan Noble looks at the reasons for the change.

If, if, if...

It's been a popular retort over the years that F1 is 'If' spelt backwards, but this season the conditional clause has been aired much more than usual.

What if Sebastian Vettel had been fitted with mediums rather than supersofts after the red flag in Australia?

What if Vettel's engine had not blown up on the parade lap in Bahrain?

What if Valtteri Bottas had not hit Lewis Hamilton at the first corner of the Bahrain Grand Prix?

What if Hamilton hadn't have had those engine problems in qualifying in China and Russia?

What if Red Bull hadn't switched Daniel Ricciardo on to a three-stop strategy at the Spanish Grand Prix?

What if Red Bull hadn't tried to be too clever and ended up botching Ricciardo's pitstop in Monaco?

It's been an ever present at all the races this year that the victory has been decided not by the fastest man in the fastest car executing the fastest strategy in a way that computers could have predicted beforehand, but by actual 'racing'.

Grands prix have come alive this year in a way that we haven't seen for many seasons, and it is something that we should be rejoicing: even if it is making life hard for the teams.

Whether it is the culmination of the competitive order closing up thanks to regulatory stability or the arrival of tyre choice freedom for teams doesn't really matter: what matters is we have got a spectacle and it's something that fans should be rejoicing about.

This notion of a new type of F1 came up in conversation with Renault's Cyril Abiteboul earlier this year when he pointed out that it was nigh on impossible for him to understand where his team stood in the pecking order – as there no longer was one.

"It's the new face of F1," he told me. "The sort of F1 where you have at the end of the race a pecking order where you assume everything will be straightforward, it is just not happening any more. We have to accept that."

More variables

What we have now is an F1 where variables are being thrown around left, right and centre. Teams are having to juggle their understanding of an extra compound on a weekend when there really is not enough time to use them fully, which means that often it's a step into the dark on Sunday.

And what that does is throw 'jeopardy' into the system because there are too many variables for teams to be safety in control of all the decisions themselves.

That is what opened up events like Vettel versus Rosberg on wildly different tyre strategies in Australia; what prompted Red Bull to put Ricciardo on the wrong strategy in Barcelona; and what ultimately led to the delay in the Australian's team getting his tyres ready in Monaco last weekend.

The sign of a good motor race is often that a handful of men should be able to come away from it thinking that they had a shot of winning it, had some events that occurred throughout the weekend not tripped them up. It what makes racing must-watch events.

Too often in recent F1 history have we had races that were ultimately decided before we even turned up: with a combination of the best team with the fastest car having already mapped out their race-winning strategy before a wheel had turned in anger.

One of the attractions of watching the Indy 500 is the very fact that it isn't necessarily won by the fastest man in the fastest car: it's won as much by good strategy, plus a fair bit of luck. You've got to deliver everything on the day, and when you get it right, fairytale stories like Alex Rossi's triumph can be unleashed.

Of course, races should not be decided by complete luck, but equally victory should not just be settled by rows of engineers sat in front of computer screens churning through simulation software to deliver the most boring of spectacles.

When Maurizio Arrivabene spoke on Sunday night in Monaco about Ferrari'stitle hopes not being over, he talked about the prospect of an intriguing title battle.

"This championship is going to be quite interesting I think," he said. And, of course, he is right.

What if Red Bull can now find enough performance to regularly challenge Mercedes? What if Hamilton can get on a run and close the gap to Rosberg? What if Ferrari can get on top of its tyre issues to deliver some wins.

Ah, there we go again. If, if, if.

It's exactly what F1 should be, and why we could well have a truly epic season on our hands.


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