The Overtaking Myth – Part 2
If you accept that there is about the same amount of overtaking in F1 as there has ever been, has this harmed the sport? Has it ensured that the fans drift away in their thousands? You know it hasn’t; F1 is more popular now than it has ever been, rivalling football as the most-watched sport in the world. From being a niche interest of dedicated petrol-heads, it has become a major player in the global viewer stakes.
If F1 is so boring, why do people continue to watch it in such huge numbers? The answer has much to do with television, of course; make the sport available to anyone with a TV and the spectacle will do the rest. Our perception may be that there is no overtaking but the reality is that racing at the cutting edge is gripping, with or without overtaking. Only those who were never going to be captured by the sight and sound of F1′s glorious and bewinged speed machines and the tussle between supremely gifted drivers can resist a Grand Prix.
Some of the greatest races have happened precisely because there has been no overtaking. Think of the Spanish GP of 1981 and Gilles Villeneuve holding back a train of six cars that were all faster than his slowing Ferrari. All true F1 fans recognize the skill it took to keep those cars back for lap after lap and to win in the end. And then there was Monaco in 1992, when Senna held Mansell back after his late pit stop for tires. The race is memorable in that Senna succeeded and Mansell never managed the overtaking manouver that looked inevitable.
We need to admit that overtaking is not what makes F1 racing exciting. There are moments of great overtaking manouvers (F1 Fanatic has picked out his fifty favorites – but I thought he said there was no overtaking…) but the real drama is the battle between talented drivers in closely matched cars. One of the highlights of 2006 occurred in the Turkish GP, when Michael Schumacher closed in on Alonso and challenged him for the lead. We were all fascinated by the struggle between two such gifted combatants in the best cars of the year. And did it matter that there was no overtaking, that Alonso stayed in front to the flag? No, we knew we had witnessed the essence of F1 – real competition between the best with everything at stake.
I am not saying that F1 does not need overtaking; my point is that it already has plenty and tinkering with the rules in an attempt to artificially make overtaking easier is always counterproductive. The FIA has been trying to increase overtaking for twenty years now. The result? Nothing has changed – it is still just as difficult to pass in a GP as it ever was. Meanwhile the restrictions on the designers have increased to the point where there is no room for ground-breaking innovation – we deal in thousandths of a second when looking at lap times. And still they talk of even more restrictions “to make passing easier”. Will we ever learn?
I have not finished. In fact, this has been such an enjoyable rant for me that I shall continue tomorrow. Now that I have mentioned the FIA, let’s have a closer look at their tinkering in this matter of overtaking in my next post.
To be continued…