Want more overtaking in Formula 1? Don’t send a committee to do a man’s job*

Overtaking: a rare beast? Picture by Darren Heath

Overtaking: a rare beast? Picture by Darren Heath

Yesterday I suggested that we ought to wait a few races – gather more data, if you like – before we start rushing to apply a ‘fix’ to Formula 1. It’s a touchy subject, and one that polarises opinion. I was struck by Mr C’s comment:

i think the issue is, the circumstances that unfolded in bahrain were entirely predictable by anyone with half a brain, 2 years ago, when the FIA said “we’re banning refuelling, but we aren’t changing nothing else”. or words to that effect.

The former president of the FIA often spoke about how difficult it is to effect change in F1, chiefly because of the intransigence of the stakeholders. It’s the same in many sports and industries; the more people involved in making a decision, the more diluted, compromised, ineffectual and utterly loathed the result.

In recent years the FIA formed the Overtaking Working Group with the aim of putting technical experts from various teams together to find ways of ‘improving the show’. They had some good ideas, but the package of new regulations they arrived at was fundamentally flawed, for it permitted the widely despised double diffuser – a concept used to great effect in 2009 by Brawn GP, whose team principal sat on the OWG.

I’m reminded of a wry joke told by the former Labour MP, Tony Benn, to satirise the British Broadcasting Corporation’s obsession with steering committees and working groups:

The BBC had a rowing competition with the Japanese and lost. So John Birt [former BBC Director General] set up a working party to try and find out why. They found that while the Japanese had eight people rowing and one steering, the BBC had one rowing and eight steering. The working party decided to employ consultants to devise a solution. They decided that what the BBC really needed was three steering managers, three deputy steering managers and a director of steering services. The rower, meanwhile, should be made to row harder. When they faced the Japanese and lost again, the director of steering services decided to sack the rower, sell the boat and give himself a pay rise.

If we’re to acknowledge that F1 has an overtaking problem, then the solutions we apply cannot be piecemeal, for that in itself is continuing the tradition of the ugly compromise. We must reject short-term fixes. ‘Edgier’ tyres? Sorry: no can do. Under no circumstances would Bridgestone willingly submit to a solution that guarantees bad PR for them; and in any case, it’s merely a sticking plaster. Reverse grids? Over my festering corpse, and those of everyone else who believes in the purity of motor racing.

A couple of years ago I interviewed some senior technical personnel from various teams for a ‘science of overtaking’ piece in F1 Racing magazine. The feedback on how to improve overtaking was very clear: it should be 50 per cent geared to changing the cars and 50 per cent towards changing the circuits. The cars should be rebalanced so that the majority of downforce is created by the underbody rather than the wings; and circuit designers should aim to create more than one ideal racing ‘groove’ through corners. The former is obviously more attainable than the latter, but it still requires an effort of will to push through.

This is usually the point at which otherwise intelligent people take leave of good sense and suggest that Hitler, while out of order on many points, at least got the trains running on time. I’ve never been able to understand why being a genocidal maniac was a prerequisite for adherence to a timetable. In F1 I’d settle for a disinterested (in the proper definition of the word, ie ‘unbiased by personal interest’) party with the technical expertise to envision a long-term regulatory framework and the clout to push it through against the sport’s torrent of vested interests. Any volunteers?

*Apologies for the gender-specific title. Of course a woman would be equally capable of performing the task – but ‘person’ makes for a weedy headline, don’t you think?

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  • Comments (15)
  1. There is a simple answer.

    There is currently an aerodynamic experiment that is about to enter its 6th year, which is being tested in front of millions of people. It’s called GP2 and it produces some quality racing, so surely the simple solution would be for the teams to adopt a GP2-esque aero package?

  2. For me the answer is quite simple. While banning refuelling has the potential for good racing, the current tyre regulations are hindering it, and teams need to be bolder with their tactics.

    I am glad to see refuelling banned – for me it just gave an incentive for drivers to do nothing, and only gave an illusion of excitement, while nothing actually changed from it. Cars were either light with worn tyres, or heavy with fresh tyres, which rarely made much of a performance difference.

    The strength of a refuelling ban is because cars have nearly the same fuel loads, there is much more potential for a difference in performance. Faster cars that have stopped end up behind slower cars which haven’t (possibly on harder tyres so needing less stops). The problem is with the requirement to use 2 compounds of tyre, teams will invariably choose the same strategy.

    I was mystified why the usually astute Brawn/Schuie combo didn’t see that they were going nowhere and make a stop for fresh tyres 10 laps from the end. They were running some 6 seconds a lap off qualifying pace so would have made up their 24 second stop in 4 laps, leaving 6 laps to overtake some cars with a massive performance advantage.

    It seems that everyone is so used to the running from the last fuel stop to the end of the race, they didn’t think to try something different.

    I think the tyre regulation should be freed up (how about letting them choose from all 4 compounds at each race?) and drivers be free to use the same tyres start to finish if they so wish.

    What we need is more people doing a LAST 10 LAP NEW TYRES MANSELL CHARGE ™ instead of holding position.

    • Stuart C
    • March 16th, 2010

    @Michael Roberts
    Fair point in terms of how the cars make their downforce; but you also have to factor in the – how to say this without causing offence? – wider spread of driving ability in GP2.

  3. @David S

    The concern may be if they can pull off the pass considering the dirty air in the cars’ wake.

  4. @Stuart C
    True but you do get overtaking throughout the field suggesting it’s not just because the guy in front braked 100m too early for the corner.

    • Steven Roy
    • March 17th, 2010

    The OWG was destined to fail as the technical directors of the teams not only had to look for ways to make overtaking easier but had to look after their own competitive advantage and not do something that would upset their team management.

    If the FIA have no-one capable of doing the job and history suggests they have no-one capable of doing anything I suggest they hire Gary Anderson and let him do it.

    • Stuart C
    • March 17th, 2010

    Gary hasn’t been afraid to use the pages of AUTOSPORT to air his views on the state of the technical regs, and he talks a lot of sense…

    • Steven Roy
    • March 17th, 2010

    I much prefered Anderson’s version of what the OWG should have done to their version. The real trouble is we need someone in power with enough bottle to ask for a serious downforce cut and not 25%.

    • Aaron James
    • March 18th, 2010

    I totally agree with your sentiments here Stuart. However didn’t much of the past angst come about because Mosley thought he knew best and tried to force through change, to the stubborn resistance of teams, engineers and indeed fans?

    You know, what I think is needed is more power and less grip. I miss the V10s, the V12s. We ended up with these awful V8s that helped the aerodynamics so much because Mosley wanted to cut speeds and costs, teams wouldn’t buy into it and so we ended up with a bastardised middle road.

    I bet if you stuck 1000 bhp v12s into current f1 cars they would, peversely, be quite a bit slower. The weight, size, fuel requirements, would do the job aero regulations can’t.

    Indeed perhaps the best way to see overtaking return is to free up powertrain development and restrict aero development.

    • Stuart C
    • March 19th, 2010

    You know, what I think is needed is more power and less grip… Indeed perhaps the best way to see overtaking return is to free up powertrain development and restrict aero development.

    Utterly. While there are some practical obstructions to having less grip (what tyre company in its right mind would willingly wish to supply a product that offered less than ideal grip and wear characteristics?), powertrain development needs a rethink. If you look at Ford’s forthcoming range of Ecotec road car engines, they are both more powerful and more efficient than their predecessors. This is where F1 needs to lead if it’s to stay relevant over the next couple of decades. To my mind KERS was a missed opportunity because the performance advantages they were permitted to offer didn’t sufficiently outweigh the disadvantages.

    However didn’t much of the past angst come about because Mosley thought he knew best and tried to force through change, to the stubborn resistance of teams, engineers and indeed fans?

    He did, but was thwarted at almost every turn by the stubborn resistance you mention – so many of his proposals were nixed outright or diluted.

  5. I think changing to the cars to improve overtaking can be accomplished in 2 very easy steps:

    1) Overtaking is done in the braking zones right? Well it doesn’t have to be. Introduce the handford device (http://scarbsf1.com/HANDFORD.jpg) and get a mega slipstream. Cars currently pick up a tow on the straights only when they’re virtually on top of the car. A handford wing would make this start much further back.

    2) Reintroduce KERS with complete freedom. No limited power per lap. This would stimulate development of the technologies and give more variance to the cars at different points of the lap.

    There are probably a few flaws in these ideas, but I can’t see them at the moment :)

    • Steven Roy
    • March 26th, 2010

    I would love to see the aero rules changed and something has to be done to make it easier for one car to follow another. Given that the cars have equal performance the overtaking is going to happen in the braking zone with a Handford device.

    KERS is fine in principle so long as it doesn’t have a push to pass button. I don’t want to see drivers gaining positions becuase they are better at pushing a button than another driver.

  6. Amusingly, Gordon Kirby at Motorosport magazine just posted an article suggesting the Handford wing but rememebr you heard it here first! :)


    I can’t see the objection to a push to pass button for KERS (currently we have a move your leg to pass device in the McLaren!). The defending driver can always push his button to defend (much like the Turbo days with overboost). It becomes a paper-scissors-stone scenario where drivers don’t know how much or where the other driver is using their button.

    The key thing for me would be to make it related to the performance of the car/driver and kers recovery system, not some artificial rev boost for a prescribed period of time.

    • Steven Roy
    • March 30th, 2010

    My objection to push to pass is very simple. Setting a driver up through a series of corners to get your car in the right position to make a pass is a skill that differentiates drivers. Pressing a button gives the worst driver the same skill as the best. There is no skill whatever in pressing a button.

    • Stuart C
    • March 31st, 2010

    There is no skill whatever in pressing a button.

    Only in not pressing the wrong one by mistake!

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