More by accident than design F1 finds its groove

Damian Stack looks at some of the stories making backpage news over the past seven days

Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing
Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing

Down the longest straight on the calendar they hared, hitting top speeds of close to 340 kilometres an hour. It should have been and could have been spectacular. It should have been exciting. It should have been all of the above and more.

Instead it left a lot of people cold. It wasn't that there wasn't any overtaking. It was more that there was too much of it. So much that it became devalued. With rapidly degrading tyres, with differing levels of grip, with the DRS flap wide open the cars just breezed by one another. Easy. Much too easy.

The sticking plaster had itself become a bone of contention. When the Drag Reduction System (DRS) was introduced it was in response to criticism that overtaking had become much too difficult in Grand Prix racing.

An ever increasing reliance upon aerodynamics in the rule-book - and the increasing sophistication in the design of the cars - had resulted in a formula where it became near impossible for one car to follow another closely enough to effect an overtake.

In clean air a Formula 1 car will run as if on rails. Following another, stuck in what's known as the dirty air (that is air coming off the back of the car in front), grip dissipates and the front end of the car washes away.

With that the traction just isn't there on the corners, not sufficient at any rate to get close enough down the straight to overtake. No matter how effective the slipstream effect can be it was rarely sufficient to allow one car enough momentum to pass another.

DRS was the rule-makers' response. The cars still couldn't follow too closely through the tricky stuff. Down the straights, however, it gave the car behind up to a ten or eleven kilometre an hour speed boost - more than enough to breeze by.

Trouble was and is with DRS it doesn't feel as though the over-take has been earned, rather that it has been gifted. Nothing exemplified that feeling more than last year's Chinese Grand Prix.

In the 2016 race there were more than one hundred moves for position. In theory that sounds like a thriller of a race and in a sense, yeah, it was. Still in another, more significant way, it all felt a little artificial. There was this gnawing sense that this was something less than the real deal.

Thankfully the same can't be said of this year's event. As if by accident Formula 1 has hit upon a set of regulations that, while maintaining DRS, have made overtaking more difficult and, yet at the same time, still possible.

Sunday's race saw thirty two over-taking manoeuvres, very few of which felt like those from previous years. A lot of moves - most of the consequential moves in fact - were made into turn four without the aid of DRS.

There you had Max Verstappen diving down the inside of his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, not for the first time showing everybody else how it's done. Shortly after that again you had Sebastian Vettel doing the same thing to his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen

Later on Vettel tried something similar on Ricciardo. This time the Australian rebuffed the move and forced Vettel to the outside. Undeterred Vettel swept around the outside and later, when Ricciardo put the squeeze on him, happily banged wheels with his former team-mate to get by.

Quality stuff. Real racing. One of those moves was worth any number of DRS moves from previous seasons and to think just a fortnight before people were fretting that the new regulations had made over-taking too difficult.

This year's cars are quicker, wider, more aggressive, even more reliant upon aerodynamics, in other words not the sort of things you'd think would facilitate good racing. In the off-season the drivers - and Lewis Hamilton in particular - worried aloud that it'd be even more difficult now to follow a rival than before.

The season opening race in Australia seemed to confirm those fears. There was hardly any over-taking - maybe two moves of consequence as the main action took place on the pit lane.

With the benefit of hindsight it's clear that it had more to do with the characteristics of the Albert Park circuit than with the fundamentals of the new cars that the racing was so deadly and deathly dull.

That worry has now been assuaged. The cars look a damn sight better (they still sound horrible), the racing is good and the battle at the front of the grid is genuine. Ferrari look to have Mercedes' measure and on their day Red Bull aren't that far off it either.

Two races into the new season and F1 is already looking in better health than it's been in for a long time and all because a set of regulations worked better than anybody had right to expect.

They did so as much by to accident as by design. You don't get much more F1 than that.