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Motor Racing

Rule changes reduce overtaking say F1 drivers

Fernando Alonso's victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix exposed potential problems with Formula One rule changes, which some drivers think could make the season more dull than exciting.

F1 introduced a ban on refueling in order to reducing racing costs and in a bid to encourage more overtaking, but Alonso's win seems to have reinforced belief the spectacle could be damaged as the sport goes into a highly anticipated championship fight.

Sebastian Vettel's engine failure allowed Ferrari driver Alonso to overtake in Bahrain, but seven-time champion Michael Schumacher believed there is very little drivers will be able to do to make up positions.

Drivers will tend to be more cautious, ensuring they have enough fuel to finish the race.

"Overtaking was basically impossible unless somebody made a mistake," Schumacher said after his first race back in F1 after three years. "That is the action we are going to have with this kind of environment of race strategy."

Schumacher finished sixth after starting seventh — Red Bull's Mark Webber dropped back with an engine worry after the start.

Lewis Hamilton, who finished third behind Ferrari pair Alonso and Felipe Massa, took advantage of Vettel's engine problem to pass, although he had earlier passed Nico Rosberg to get back to fourth.

"It is a different challenge," the McLaren driver said. "It definitely didn't make racing more exciting in terms of being able to overtake."

Massa thought GP races this season could well be predetermined by the Saturday qualifying sessions, when a car's pace and position on the grid could dictate its final result.

"Obviously the qualifying and the starts are maybe the two key points this year," Massa said. "After the first corner more or less the positions will be settled."

Apart from Vettel's failure, that was the case on Sunday. Although former champion Alain Prost said teams would eventually adapt and learn to take advantage, a sentiment Schumacher echoed.

"The drivers have never experimented with that before, so they are a bit confused, even the teams," Prost, a four-time champion, said. "They need to get used to it. It may take some races but it will be better."

Hamilton said the in-race ban on refueling made tire management more important.

Drivers must use one set of hard tires and one soft option during the race, which means one pit stop is mandatory. But even those made no difference on the desert track as all teams executed their stops with great precision.

"Bit by bit everybody is learning how to use the tires," Hamilton said. "I think that is probably the most interesting part, trying to understand the tires, trying to conserve your fuel load and know when to attack and not to attack. I think this is a real challenge."

Even Schumacher was learning to adapt his style to the new rules in his comeback from retirement.

"Everybody has to cope with (it) — I struggle a little bit with those," he said. "But after three years I guess it's natural you have to find your way into new bits and pieces."