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The Overtaking Myth – Part 3

An unfortunate result of the general perception that there is not enough overtaking in F1 is that the FIA has become involved. For more than twenty years they have been creating rules with the alleged intent of making more passing opportunities. Unsurprisingly, nothing has worked and the amount of overtaking remains about the same. The really silly thing is that everyone knows exactly what is needed – a long straight with a slow corner at the end.


Monaco – some can, some can’t…

The easiest way to pass in motor racing is to slipstream or draught the car in front down a fast straight and then use the extra speed to come alongside and attempt to outbrake the other car at the corner. Without a long straight, overtaking becomes nearly impossible (but not quite – as already demonstrated in previous posts).

The light does appear to have dawned and the latest circuits, such as Turkey and China, have been designed with such straights and corners. As a result, they have become immediate favorites. But the damage done in previous attempts to increase overtaking remains and further changes are planned. The FIA’s CDG wing is an example.

It is my contention that the amount of overtaking should not be the concern of the FIA in the first place. Their job is to create a workable formula for F1 and then allow the designers to create the best cars they can within the stated limits. When the governing body becomes involved to the extent of dictating the design of wings, something is very wrong.

I have already written about this in my post, The FIA and the Aero Boys, and I do not want to repeat myself in this article. Suffice to say that you cannot legislate for overtaking and the FIA should stop trying. Now that circuits are being designed to the necessary configuration, the need to meddle with the cars in the quest for overtaking falls away in any case.

It is our own fault that things have come to such a ridiculous pass. By accepting the myth of “no overtaking in F1″ and then complaining about it, we gave the FIA the green light to extend their powers into this area. The only excuse we have is that the myth originated with the drivers themselves. Repeatedly they have said that the aerodynamics of modern cars are interfered with when following other cars closely – and this is true. But to say that this makes passing impossible is not only obviously untrue (since we see cars being passed in every race), it is also missing the point.

F1 aerodynamics have made it more difficult to pass but not impossible. And the difficulty level is what sorts the men from the boys. This is what it’s all about, after all – the sport is supposed to be for only the gifted few, those drivers who can recognize difficulty but overcome it. Out there on the tracks we see great drivers passing each other in spite of the difficulties involved. If we were to make it easy to pass, where is the glory in being able to do so? Do we want F1 to be like NASCAR, with constant meaningless lead changes? I sincerely hope not.

Formula One fans are the most informed in the world. To understand and become passionate about the sport, they have to develop a knowledge of engineering, aerodynamics, politics, drivers, circuits, teams, tires, weather, driving techniques, race strategies and a hoste of fine details. I am constantly amazed by the extent of knowledge and understanding amongst the fans – to be able to give such informed and sensible opinions as they do on every aspect of F1, they must all have done their homework. Surely it is time that they recognized this whole overtaking thing as a myth. We don’t need more legislation, we need less.

4 Responses to “The Overtaking Myth – Part 3”

  1. I wish I could add something to your ‘overtaking’ trilogy. There is only my appreciation, given I’m sure on behalf of many others in the same position.

  2. Thank you, David. It’s good just to know that it’s being read.

  3. Yes, for overtaking you need long straights and a slow hairpin at the end. However, on modern circuits I believe what is missing is the buildup before the straight. For overtaking, you need a series of corners, with each successive corner getting quicker and quicker before a long straight then slam on the brakes for a tight turn.

    Look at Spa for instance. You have a buildup of speed all the way from La Source on through Eau Rouge and then all the way to Les Combes where very often an overtake will happen. Or look at the run from Stavelot to the bus stop chicane. A series of fast flat corners then bang on the brakes for bus stop.

    Another circuit that demonstrated this was Adelaide. You had a long straight prior to the infamous hairpin. But look at what happens before that long straight. The corners build up speed and get progressively quicker.

    However, nowadays, those raised front wings introduced in 2005 exacerbates the aero problems and I don’t know if my argument could still hold. But it surely was the case before 2005.

    The problem with Tilke circuits is that with all these slow corners, the racing becomes more of a drag race. At least in a drag race you start side by side. Out of a slow corner, you only need to brake test the guy behind and jump on the power immediately and he has no chance catching you before the next turn, long straight or not.

  4. Good point, Qwerty – on some circuits the long straight is right after a slow corner and it does indeed become a drag race in which the car behind is at an enormous disadvantage. But my point remains that it’s the circuit design we need to be attending to, not the cars. Now that downforce has been invented, you can’t un-invent it and so we will always have the situation where the following car loses some of its aerodynamic efficiency. The drivers cope with that and still manage to overtake.

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