How to improve overtaking?

How to improve overtaking?

According to the results of the recent FIA survey 94% of fans want to see more overtaking in Formula One, but how can this be achieved? It's not an easy question to answer but there have been suggestions, some ideas on the technical side and...

According to the results of the recent FIA survey 94% of fans want to see more overtaking in Formula One, but how can this be achieved? It's not an easy question to answer but there have been suggestions, some ideas on the technical side and others such as changing the layout of circuits.

Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The current rules have made overtaking harder according to McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen, who lost time in the British Grand Prix when unable to pass the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher. "With these new regulations it's slightly more difficult than it was last year," said the Finn.

"I couldn't get any grip when I got close to him, so when I did get very close, the car got very loose and I couldn't follow him so that was the main problem really. It's so hard to follow the cars in high speed corners."

We've often heard commentators talk about a driver being stuck in 'dirty air' behind another car and this aerodynamic effect is not fully understood and needs more investigation, according to Renault's engineering chief Pat Symonds.

"Aerodynamics obviously have a pretty major effect on it (overtaking) but while there is a huge amount of aerodynamic research goes on within Formula One, it's almost solely aimed at improving the performance of your vehicle, rather than the fundamental work that's needed to look at the effects of following cars," he explained.

There have been suggestions such as reversing the grid, so faster cars start at the back, a situation which should, in theory, produce more overtaking as a quicker driver works his way through the field. However, deliberately creating that type of scenario is considered by some as 'artificial'.

Toyota's Mike Gascoyne prefers to consider technical solutions. "We're looking at things that may help both the FIA proposals and the team proposals," he said. "Changing the ratio of mechanical grip to aerodynamic grip and reducing the effect of air increasing the aerodynamic grip."

Ferrari's Ross Brawn concurred: "I think that generally moving towards more mechanical grip and less aerodynamic grip seems to be a logical move because we've been going the other way for the last few years and demonstrated that we don't encourage overtaking… What are the correct levels is something to be established."

The FIA survey revealed that Monaco, Spa and Silverstone are the top three favourite circuits and equally there are tracks that are considered boring. It may seem ironic that Monaco was voted the favourite, considering it's notoriously hard to overtake at, but the atmosphere and glamour of Monte Carlo are hard to beat and the street circuit is a challenge to master.

Williams' technical director Sam Michael thinks circuit design is one of the most important factors regarding increased overtaking. "There's definitely a lot that can be done with circuit design," he remarked.

"Especially if you are designing all these new circuits at the moment, you still have to have special sections like the esses at Suzuka or Eau Rouge at Spa, and almost all the new circuits should have some sort of point with one or two slow corners followed by this longer straight followed by another slow corner. I think that could help significantly."

FIA president Max Mosley has proposed the idea of a 'boost button', an energy retention system which would give drivers an extra burst of horsepower for short periods, which could assist in overtaking. This technology is already used in some other racing series but the idea of employing it in F1 has met with mixed reactions.

McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh reportedly thinks it would be a technical challenge that the teams would be interested in working on, but others see it as the kind of technology that detracts from the drivers. In the FIA survey, 74% of opinion wanted more emphasis on driver skills and less on driver aids.

It may become necessary to slow the cars down to produce more overtaking, which is arguably something of a contradiction when speed is obviously a major factor of racing. Can a balance be found? "We should find a good compromise for the drivers' point of view," said Renault's Fernando Alonso.

"Of course we would like to drive the fastest car possible. We are in Formula One and we are already racing in many other categories and when you arrive here you want maximum technology and maximum car performance. But for sure you can have something in the middle."

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Ross Brawn , Mike Gascoyne , Martin Whitmarsh
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams