The quest to improve overtaking in Open Wheel Racing
No such thing; in fact it was, apart from Vettel’s broken spark plug and a few incidents near the back of the field, almost the “perfect” Formula One race. That is, the hypothetically “perfect” Formula One Grand Prix.
In this event, the drivers will be the very best and most experienced; the cars will be designed to achieve 100% efficiency and reliability and the engineering and technical support will be at such a high level that everything on track will take place at perfect theoretical limits. Consequently the perfect Formula One race will see all participants performing at 100% levels of their driver‘s skill; their design teams’ talents, engineering excellence and team strategy. In qualifying the fastest combination of driver/team and car will win the pole; in the race will be fastest on every lap and will lead all the way, followed by a perfect progression of the rest of the field established by each team’s 100% application of their design/driver/skills. With absolutely no overtaking, and every car pulling away from the one behind on every lap by a distance defined by its individual, hypothetically perfect performance factor, this will be the perfectly engineered race …………. and the most boring spectacle for fans in racing history!
The hypothetically perfect F1 race may be theory at this stage, because human and environmental elements still impact every event, but the concept is far too real, and, like in Bahrain, has already come far too close for anyone involved in the business of racing to ignore the consequences of a future of racing with limited overtaking.
This hypothetically perfect Formula One race also identifies one of the root issues that must be addressed if we are to bring overtaking back into racing at Formula One level.
While Bahrain saw the world’s best drivers in action, and while the season has been hyped by the return of Michael Schumacher; Alonso’s move to Ferrari; Massa’s recovery; the World Championship twins at McLaren and the superstar who is Sebastian Vettel, what we really saw was amazingly engineered cars running in line astern, with no overtaking and, quite simply, no real chance of it ever breaking out.
So, is racing a venue for driver-to-driver competition, or is it primarily fastest-car-to-next-fastest-car competition?
Is Formula One about the driver as the prime focus for the fans (who sustain the tracks and make up the TV audiences), or is it the ability of one car to lap consistently faster than another that is the basic tenant of the sport? Or is the perfect Grand Prix the one where all cars have the equal ability to lap at precisely the same speeds, making the race a battle between drivers, and their ability to overtake the most import element of the race’s excitement and spectator interest?
The key point is whether technology, designer skills and the cars themselves are in racing to support the driver in his quest to win, or is it a car’s ultimate ability to win, without ever being overtaken, that is the main goal of the sport?
This is an argument that will continue beyond the boundaries of any discussion on the importance of overtaking, but is does color the opinions, goals and actions of people who are crucial to the ability to make the changes needed to improve passing. Progress will only be made if the skills that produce unbeatable race cars also address the pure sporting needs of racing, and that means finding a way to bring an improvement of passing opportunities into the rules, the designs of the cars and the tracks and to the structure of the sport.
Overtaking is the essence of racing, not just the speed or the technical excellence of the cars, or even the challenge of the race tracks. Because the driver makes the actual overtaking decision, based on his skill, bravery, ability to out- think his opponent or to take advantage of an error, the role of the technical teams, the cars, the designers and engineers is simply to put the driver in a car that has the capability to win the race, and if this means he has to overtake to do so, to make it technically possible for him to carry out the pass.
But today, the technical skills of the teams, car designers and engineers are such that the ability to overtake has been compromised by their ever increasing knowledge and experience. While this has resulted in cars racing at ever increasing speeds (subject of course to the prevailing technical rules), speed is simply a result of this technology and is not necessarily in itself the crucial factor in making racing more exciting for the fans.
Yes racing is about speed, but Dallas in 2001 showed that racing can be too fast. That’s when the ChampCar drivers found themselves lapping the Texas Speedway at speeds in excess of 235 miles per hour and then getting out of their cars so giddy they couldn’t see straight. So what if the car can do 250mph? The IRL has shown that racing at 200mph can be amazingly close and exciting.
Today, achieving speed, per se, is no longer the challenge. Rather it is the achievement of speed within the defined technical parameters imposed by the sanctioning bodies.
The problem we face with lack of overtaking is the result of a confluence of situations, trends, rules and knowledge that, while each in themselves are perhaps worthy for their own specific reasons, together have resulted in cars that make overtaking almost impossible when cars are even close to equal in performance to one another.
An Historical Perspective – An Evolving Situation
Over the past several decades overtaking in Formula One has become increasingly rare, and despite the closeness of modern F1 racing (as epitomized during the 2009 season where entire fields were able to qualify within a second or so), actual overtaking as opposed to driving close to another car at very high speeds appears to be even less prevalent than ever before. It is important to not as common as today, but that when cars did get together, overtaking was comparatively easier.
The essence of this perspective, therefore, is that, despite racing becoming closer, in terms of cars qualifying at similar speeds and having the potential to race in close company, the actual incidence of overtaking appears to be diminishing rather than increasing.
A Problem Bigger than Formula One.
The lack of overtaking is not just an issue facing Formula One racing. It affects the whole strata of racing. It has the potential to destroy the image of racing as a sport. Ultimately racing without overtaking will cripple racing by killing its major revenue base, its paying fans. Without fans in the seats, the tracks cannot survive. The first to go will be the national level tracks which depend on fans for their revenue. These tracks are already cutting back their promotion and now tend to focus on lower profit (but less risk) rental level events that do not need large spectator attendances. This trend will inevitably lead to less investment in facilities and fewer major events. This will result in fewer races in which drivers, teams, sponsors and engineers can learn their skills and develop the expertise to take them into Formula One. Most importantly the grass roots fan base for motorsports will wither, and ultimately, with it the support for Formula One.
It’s that serious.
Before we place the blame on anyone, let’s take a look at the several different factors which contribute to the lack of overtaking in Formula One today.
Tracks, and specifically modern Formula One courses, are considered by many to be a significant cause of limited overtaking because, quite simply, very little overtaking takes place.
When a men as respected for their skills as Adrian Newey and Sam Michaels say that the tracks are the reason for lack of passing, their views demand respect, but are they, in fact correct?
There are some twenty tracks that qualify as Formula One Grand Prix courses, with a total of around 220 corners. Yet, in all these tracks, there are probably no more than 20 corners that can be called “overtaking” corners. Does this mean that, if the tracks are largely to blame, they need to be torn up and remodeled? Is these even feasible? Even if the tracks are largely responsible, the impracticality of replacing or remodeling them all suggests that other solutions must also be found.
In fact, virtually every major race track that has been around for any length of time has already undergone major changes in recent years. Most often this has been to answer the call to improve safety and to reduce race speeds, but there have also been changes made with the specific goal of improving the “race-ability” of the track.
Yes, some tracks do contribute to the problem. Older tracks tend to be narrower than new ones and they tend to have been built in an era of smaller cars where long braking distances and lower corner speeds were the rule, and a smooth, drifting style of driving was the way to go fast. Older tracks tend to have more large-radius turns than sharp corners, which lead to single race lines for modern high speed cars, and they tend to have fewer very hard braking zones.
Despite these factors, racing in earlier eras did feature more overtaking than is the case with the same track but with newer cars, so what is it that these older tracks offer that allowed more overtaking? One factor could be that safety was not as well developed and the consequence of an accident was often severe, so while some drivers were perhaps more circumspect about being too brave or over-enthusiastic, drivers with more bravado or skill could be tempted to take a chance and make the racing move.
Tracks were generally less smooth, often in worse condition, and had more blind corners and crests than modern courses. These factors could have led to greater differentiation in driver skills, car handling and bravery than may occur on a modern, wide, and clinically level course. This is not to say that track design should regress, but that tracks, in changing to meet the needs of modern Formula One car technology and speeds, have unleashed some unintended consequences that do play a role in diminished overtaking.
Tracks certainly contribute, to some extent at least, for the lack of overtaking in modern racing, but there are some key issues that need to be considered when searching for solutions.
Cost. A modern Formula One track costs between $150,000,000 and $400,000,000 to build, and will very seldom, if ever, recover these costs from its Grand Prix events. Older tracks can sometimes be modified, but the ability to make significant changes may be limited by space availability, local bureaucracy and cost.
Priorities. Tracks are not cash cows for their owners, and most struggle to earn a fair return on their investment. Equally, the need to improve overtaking is just one call on the money available for improvements. Most tracks will find it more appropriate to improve safety and far more profitable to improve spectator services, add corporate facilities and invest in other revenue generating facilities such as driving schools and kart tracks.
Practicality. It is just not feasible to replace most existing tracks with new track so the opportunities to rebuild tracks to a more modern design are very limited. Very few tracks have the financial resources to undertake major course changes, especially when the benefits are likely to be marginal and when the authorities and teams call for new changes on a seemingly never-ending basis.
Multiple Use Requirements. A race track has to serve many masters. It has to be able to host motorcycles, single seater ground effect cars, production saloons and modified production based touring and GT cars, road cars and historic cars. It has to be designed to serve the needs of novices, experts, Formula One stars and the wealthy enthusiasts who drive their exotics off-track at every opportunity but dare not damage their million dollar masterpieces.
A modern race track has to be safe, clinically clean and challenging for the good driver but not intimidating for the average driver. It has to host corporate events and it has to showcase its races to both the enthusiast and to the racing illiterate. It has to be cost effective to build and profitable in its operation. It has to bring its competitors and fans back time and again, so it has to provide great entertainment or else they will all go to the beach to watch the boobs bounce by.
It would appear that the best solution is to build new tracks where these are financially feasible, in which case certain features should be incorporated, such as:
Width. Cars are bigger than ever before. They take up so much space that they hardly allow anyone to get around them, even when they are slow or badly driven. So the track has to be at least 15 meters wide and even wider in places like hard braking zones to encourage someone to overtake on an un-protectable piece of track. Conversely a track that is too wide simply increases corner radii and corner speeds and may make it less easy to overtake.
Complex Turn Sequences. If you can’t fool the car, fool the driver! A sequence of turns with designed-in challenges that tempt the driver into an error will result in chances for the better driver to find a way past. We’re not looking at an error that makes someone have an accident. We want a mental challenge that leads a driver into running just a little bit off-line; makes him rush a braking point, miss an apex or turn-in too early. One that allows the following driver to intimidate or harass him into an error and lets the challenger benefit from the leader’s mistake. A turn that allows a minor error to enable the passing driver to get ahead or to leave the corner at a speed or trajectory that gives him the advantage into the next corner.
Temptation. Create corner entries that tempt the late braker into trying to pass; where the consequences of overdoing it is not a head-on rush into the barriers but a wide, safe area where he will spend as much time cursing as he does getting back on track, just behind the guy who he passed into the corner but who cut back inside him as he went off!
Alternate Lines. Create turns that have multiple race lines, where some drivers will turn-in early while others find it faster to late apex; where hard braking might gain the initial advantage but smooth acceleration around a longer line gives the speed to overtake at the exit. Understand that the real race line is not the theoretically fast line, (that’s the “speed line”). The “racing” line is the line that allows the better driver to race, overtake and defend his position while still going as fast as possible. The most notable recent use of the “racing” line rather than the “speed Line” was Jacques Villeneuve’s famous oval style pass of Michael Schumacher. This was preplanned as an overtaking line, thoroughly analyzed and masterfully driven. Yet how many engineers follow that example when planning a race with their drivers today? In fact, do race engineers ever use the massive computer power available to them to analyze a course to help their driver understand and use overtaking tactics?
Cross Grades. Insert multiple radius multi-cambered corner sequences that provide alternate speed lanes so that cars can run side-by-side at equal speeds. Where these have large radii and therefore are fast turns some drivers may be more intimidated than others. Where the radius is tight and the corner steeply banked, the slow speed may encourage opportunity passing. Tarzan at Zandvoort was a great example of this type of turn.
Bumps and Uneven Surfaces. Even the smallest change in longitudinal grade can influence the race line. I don’t mean large bumps, just undulations that allow some cars to handle their braking and turning better than others. Remember that even modest undulations can change the aerodynamic effectiveness of the modern F1 car.
Hard Braking Zones. Yes, these are still the best places to overtake, but the track designer must not overdo it because of the variety of cars (Formula to Historic) that have to use the track. There has to be a limit on how many times the drivers have to use their brakes hard each lap. The braking zone at the end of a long straight must be designed to provide drama. Allow for mistakes, because they will happen, so make the safety zone as safe as possible and ensure that the car that does run off can get back into the race without damage or too much time wasted.
Asphalt Run-Off Areas. The introduction of asphalt run-off areas has had several beneficial effects. Primarily they allow a car which has left the track to recover control quickly and safely, and to return to the competition. The effect of this on overtaking is that it reduces the penalty for an overtaking attempt gone wrong, as the car is less likely to be damaged, stranded or otherwise severely penalized for the move. As long as the layout of the asphalt pad does not encourage its use as a racing surface it will serve a valuable role in encouraging the overtaking move. Conversely, the increased element of safety may allow the driver of a damaged or slower car to drive deep into the corner, knowing that the consequences of a mistake will not be too severe, in which case he makes overtaking by a better car behind him more difficult.
Track Surface Grip. There is far more overtaking on a wet track than a dry surface, but there is no way that the rules can require that all races be run under these conditions. Why does rain create overtaking? Because it widens the skill gap between drivers; allows for less perfection in design and compromised set-ups by the teams; provides constantly changing conditions and allows the unexpected to occur. Primarily, it lessens the cars grip on the road.
Does that mean that we need tracks with less grip?
In some respects, Yes.
It is relatively easy to provide a surface with very high grip levels (a race car engineer’s dream in his search for perfect performance). But the consequences in tire wear alone make this untenable. Tracks do not need any grip level higher than that of a typical public road. Race cars work so much better than road cars that even this level of grip may be unnecessary. Perhaps a new standard for grip can be developed that increases stopping distances and decreases cornering stability…… but then how many motorcycle riders will crash because the surface is too slippery, and, conversely, asphalt with too much grip can lead to high siding that can severely injure a rider and is certainly not the answer.
Long Straights. Again, these can provide overtaking, but they can also spoil a race if they allow cars with even slight speed differentials to separate. But if you do have a long straight make the entry turn crucially important to allow the good driver to get the advantage off the bend.
Limit the Long Sweepers and Sequences of Constant Radius Turns. They may be great to drive but they absolutely force cars into line astern. Entertaining for the driver but yawning boring for the fan.
Damn the Aerodynamics. The regulations that guide the Formula One track designer call for almost impossible standards of track surface smoothness because the car designers demand this and because they have so much influence on the sport. This is because they base their entire aerodynamic design on the need to keep the cars as level as possible to the surface at all times; but a track that meets this aerodynamic standard will help the engineers produce cars that cannot be overtaken.
Design Tracks for the Drivers. Above all, don’t design the tracks for the car. Design them for the drivers. Cars don’t overtake, their drivers do. Cars do not react to the challenge from another driver. Cars do not feel the pressure for success. Cars don’t have the “will-to-win”. Drivers’ race and cars are the tools they use.
THE TIRE FACTOR.
Tire Grip Levels. Today’s race tires have amazing grip. They shorten braking distances to a fraction of those of the old days; they increase corner speeds, they stabilize the car to the extreme. Their problem is that they shorten the braking distances, increase the corner speeds and stabilize the cars.
Tire Wear. Tires also wear out incredibly quickly. Not only does this add cost to the sport, it also means that drivers now spend much of the race conserving tires and therefore not racing as hard as they could. They follow a lead car for lap after lap to save their tires for one last minute fast lap or overtaking move, and this encourages the drivers to make few efforts to race hard during the bulk of the race.
Tire Weakness. Tires “flat spot” so easily that a driver is less likely to risk hard braking in order to overtake and they degrade so quickly if abused (as in “raced hard”) that tire conservation, especially with the new no refueling rules of the 2010 season, means less aggression and few overtaking attempts.
Rubber Build-Up Off-Line. Modern race tires wear out so fast that they spread their detritus around the outside of the race line to such an extent that, within a few laps it becomes impossible for one car to use the outside of a corner to attempt an overtaking maneuver. This alone negates any design elements in the race track that might otherwise allow an overtaking move.
Tires are Built for Speed. Most race tires are built for speed, even when endurance is a factor.
High Grip=Speed=Fast Wear. High tire grip is equal to speed, which comes from soft tires which wear out quickly. Drivers will always want the fastest tire because it helps them win but then they also have to race strategically to balance wear with performance over the length of the race.
Tire Debris is Inevitable. All types of existing race tire shred rubber along the edge of the race line.
Specify Grip Levels. Rules could be instituted that limit the amount of grip available from the tires allowed in the race. A standard test procedure could be developed. In a two tire series such as Formula One, all drivers have equal opportunities to use the tire of their choice, so there is no performance advantage or penalty inherent in mandating slower or more durable tires. The only issue would be preventing the drivers from complaining about the grip, to the public detriment of the tire provider!
Specify Wear Rates. Rules could be instituted for each race series that limit the rate of wear. A standard test procedure could be developed.
New Tire Compounds. Tire compounds should be developed to reduce the amount of rubber waste.
Limit Tire Use per Event. Tire use could be limited even more per race weekend to make the tire companies build harder, longer long lasting tires.
If race tires were limited in their grip (not to unsafe standards of course), but were restricted to much harder compounds than are used today; if their design precluded the build-up of “clag” off the race line, and if they did not have to be nursed through much of the race, they would significantly enhance the quality of the racing and go a long way towards improving the opportunities for overtaking.
Provide More Tires per Weekend. Conversely, allow the teams to use as many tires as they want, if this allows drivers to push as hard as they can every lap.
THE COMMUNICATIONS FACTOR
One of the most dramatic differences between modern racing and the past is the level of communication and information flow between the team and its driver and between the car and the engineers in pit lane.
This may just be the single most significant cause of the lack of overtaking in modern motor sport, and also the easiest solution to the problem.
a – The Problem:
High Tech Communications Reduce the Drivers Role in the Race. In the “old days” communication between team and driver was exclusively by pit board or verbally during pit stops. The limitations of both meant that the strategy for the race; the decisions on track; the driver’s knowledge of conditions and his competitive relationship to the rest of the field, and in most respects even his understanding of the condition of his car were the driver’s own responsibility.
As the driver, being human and in the emotional throes of competition and extreme effort, is the most variable element of a race team, the significance of the driver making the most important decisions cannot be overestimated. It is his skill, his mental condition, his physical condition, his emotions and his personal commitment to racing that, under the conditions of limited outside informational input, created the drama, excitement and uncertainty that made the sport so exciting in the past.
Pit-to-Car Information Transfer. Modern technology provides the engineers with unprecedented knowledge and understanding of the car’s performance during the race, and even gives the pit engineers the potential ability (subject to the sporting regulations) to change suspension set-up, braking efficiency, engine performance, fuel consumption, gearbox performance and aerodynamic efficiency while the car is on the track. If used to maximum potential this information flow can be used to ensure that the car will operate at maximum efficiency during the race. While this certainly has the benefits of recognizing potential danger and reliability issues with the car, it also reduces the benefits to racing and the potential for overtaking that will result from changes in the performance envelope of the car during the event.
b – The Issues:
Opposition from the Race Teams. Any suggestion to ban pit-to-driver-communication will undoubtedly be met by uproar from engineers, team managers, crew chiefs, safety proponents and even the drivers themselves. The engineers and teams enjoy their roles in the strategic management of racing, but does this role really add to the quality of excitement, emotion and drama that sells tickets?
Desire to Keep the Car Driver Fully Informed. The crew will demand the need to advise the driver of impending car problems; to advise him to slow down to save the engine; reduce fuel consumption or save tires and to keep him abreast of competitors’ positions and strategy changes.
Desire to Keep the Car Operating at Maximum Efficiency. Engineers want to be able to modify the set-up of the car during the event by monitoring all its on-board conditions through two-way telemetry to the pit garages (and even to home bases in other countries!) Their goal is to keep the car operating at maximum performance capability throughout the race.
These are the very factors that diminish the variety of performance conditions that develop among the cars in the race and which themselves contribute to the amount of overtaking potential. Today’s driver already has access to enormous amounts of on-board information. Let him use on-board information only to judge what his car is doing and make his own decisions as to how to meet the challenges.
c- The Solutions
Reduce The Dependence Of The Driver On The Team Once The Race Has Started. The roles of the team and the driver need to be separated once the race has begun. The team’s major role would be to present the car for qualifying and for the race in its most competitive state and to plan race strategy with the driver before the race starts. Once the race begins the driver should use the car he has been given to his best advantage and skill, resorting to the team for assistance in pit lane alone.
Limit the Amount of Information Provided to the Driver by the Team During the Race. The old fashioned pit board has served racing well over the years. It automatically reduces the amount of information available but still allows for limited messages to be passed to the driver. Make this the only method for transferring information from team to driver, other than during a pit stop.
Communications to Drivers from Race Control. Teams and officials will say that direct communication to the drivers can warn them of accident and track conditions better than the corner workers, so reducing potential accidents. This has some merit, but the answer is simple. The only radio communication that the driver should receive should come from race control and all race control communications should be available to all drivers, teams, fans, the media and television.
I consider this to be a very significant issue.
Race control should be the only voice or other electronic contact medium from which the driver should receive out-of-car information. A team could request that a message be sent to the driver by race control, for example a warning that a team car has suffered a particular type of problem or that he has an unsafe condition with his car, but this information would be available to everyone, and other teams could react accordingly. Communication could be two way between a driver and a race control official, in order to report safety issues, but rules would be set to limit the subjects of such communication.
Put racing back in the hands and heads of the driver. Let the teams do everything they can before the race, to develop the cars, plan strategy, support the driver, but then allow the driver to get on with the race.
THE RACE FORMAT FACTOR.
a – The Problem:
Race Length: The Attention Deficit Problem. Today’s spectator and TV viewers have been shown to want their entertainment in short duration, high intensity format. Consequently events that are based on strategy have less appeal than those with high levels of drama and excitement. In almost all F1 racing most of the action takes place in the first few laps when cars are still close together, emotions are high and spectator interest is at its peak; and again through the last few laps where the race to the finish can become intense. So why make spectators and TV viewers sit through long periods of boredom between these two?
Artificial Racing: Many forms of racing have tried to spice up the action by using elements such as compulsory pit stops, reverse grids and other features to add the excitement that has been lost with the reduction of overtaking on track. Formula One has a strong tradition and artificial means of spicing the action should be avoided as much as possible.
Strategic Racing: While strategy has always been an important part of Formula One racing, today it has become the most dominant factor in a race. Team instructions to drivers to “Relax, take it easy, save the car, save fuel, we can overtake during the pit stop, it’s OK to just get points … no need for heroics” lie at the core of the boredom that so many Formula One races provide.. This is the antithesis of competition and does little to encourage the driver to try to overtake on track. A major issue with the dominance of strategy is that this is extremely difficult for track side fans to understand and appreciate. While TV announcers have access to vast streams of information and in depth knowledge, and can project strategy to watching viewers, the track-side fan has little ability to understand what is going on when cars are simply running around the track without trying to race aggressively and overtake. And remember, the paying fan is crucial to the ability of any race track to survive as a business.
b - The Issues:
Made for TV. TV plays a huge part in the way races are formatted, with the need to package the race into pre-race, start grid, race finish and post race segments, all fitting within a specific two hour window. This has resulted in the100-110 minute races that have become the standard length of an F1 GP. It is very difficult to sustain high intensity levels of competition and spectator interest for this length of time.
Artificial Racing: The use of elements such as compulsory pit stops, requirements for some cars to start on their qualifying tires while others have free choice (and now perhaps “passing lanes”) have become necessary in F1 because of the lack of overtaking.
c- The Solutions:
Two Shorter Races. Should Formula One be changed to a two race format? This would go against all traditions, but two separate points paying races might well spice up the action and allow cars which have suffered some form of disadvantage to be competitive in a second race.
Shorter Races Force Overtaking. Because these races are shorter the need for drivers to overtake becomes more imperative; tire wear becomes less of an issue and strategy is set aside. Racing becomes simply the need to finish in front of the car behind and the urgency created by lack of time adds to the need to overtake.
Reduce the Need for Strategy. Critics will say that strategy is part of the essence of racing. Strategy is essential to chess …… but does that make it exciting to watch?
The focus on strategy in shorter races (and including Formula One) is because there is so little overtaking and close racing. Strategy has become the prime talking point for announcers and TV pundits because they have to create excitement even when there is little real action on the track. Bring back the action….. Let’s stop the need to talk about tire wear, fuel saving and driver patience!
THE BUREAUCRACY FACTOR
a – The Problem:
Rules - Far Too Many Rules. F1 racing has become a very bureaucratic sport with new rules being added on an ever increasing basis. This has led to restrictions being imposed on features that were in the past considered to be basic elements in racing. For example, rules that practically force lapped or slower drivers to give up their track position to enable faster cars to pass. In the past the art of overtaking included that of overtaking slower cars and better drivers were able to take advantage of lapping slower cars to out-think and out-race other drivers. Perhaps, if this single rule change was mandated, the engineers who are the heart of designing cars that cannot be overtaken, would press for rules changes to make them more susceptible to being passed!
Confusing Rules. We have seen instances recently in F1 where misunderstandings and confusion as to the exact meaning of rules has led to drivers becoming unwilling to take chances when overtaking.
Inconsistent Application of Rules. Inconsistent application of rules by different race officials has led to hesitancy on the part of drivers to overtake and to confusion as to why penalties have been imposed in an inconsistent manner.
b – The Issues:
There have been many cases where the persons given the responsibility to judge racing incidents are unqualified. In some cases these positions have been filled on a race-by-race basis by inexperienced officials, or worse, officials granted their authority for political reasons. Certainly few have actually competed at the level and under the intense conditions that exists during an F1 race.
When this is the case there is the chance that decisions will be made, debated or otherwise not acted on immediately and correctly, which will affect the progress of the race. When this situation pervades a series, the drivers will be hesitant to take chances in overtaking that may result in rulings that affect their results.
c – The Solutions:
Clarify the Rules, particularly those relating to close racing, baulking and overtaking. It is crucial that the rules that define legitimate and safe overtaking be refined and redefined.
Appoint Qualified Permanent Race Officials. Every important official role should be filled by appropriately qualified, experienced, consistent and above all, high respected, persons who can be trusted to apply rulings that are fair, consistent and in accordance to the written rules. Regulation of a race should not be a political benefit. It is a serious and important commitment that has to be made by fully trained, responsible and respected specialists.
Racing is a Competitive Sport. In production based racing, body contact and car-to-car incidents are part of the nature of the sport. As long as body contact is not a strategy and is the result of hard, fair competition, it should be accepted without penalty. In F1 the situation is made complex because the consequences can be much more severe, especially when wheels interlock or ride on each other; while the driver has less protection from impact. Here the rules do need to be better defined and enforced.
Racing has always been a drivers sport, and drivers will make mistakes. Unless the error is blatant, dangerous or repeated, drivers should be given the benefit of the doubt for trying and penalties for trying to race hard should be very carefully assessed before they are applied. Every driver knows that racing incidents happen and that if he is at the losing end of one, he may equally gain from others.
THE BLUE FLAG FACTOR
a - The Problem:
In the past overtaking was enhanced when fast cars came up to slower cars and either found their way past or allowed cars behind them to catch up and try to overtake. Current rules call for slow cars to immediately get out of the way of an approaching faster car, so lessening this opportunity to create an overtaking situation.
b- The Situation:
For the very reason that overtaking has become so difficult, the faster drivers and leading teams have called for rules that require slower cars to get out of their way; this despite the fact the slower driver may in fact be driving exceptionally well in an inherently slower, or damaged car, or may be involved in his own race for position with other cars.
c - The Solution:
If cars were less difficult to overtake, the driver with the skill to make the pass will have a competitive advantage over s when overtaking opportunities arise as they try to pass slower cars.
THE VISIBILITY FACTOR.
a – The Problem:
Perhaps the best way to both reduce the incidence of car-to-car impact in F1 during an overtaking attempt and to open the door to more overtaking is to improve driver visibility.
The modern F1 car has high cockpit surrounds leaving drivers with very limited peripheral vision made worse by limited ability to move around in the cockpit thanks to tight fitting seats and seat belts.
The consequence is that it becoming increasingly difficult for the driver to see what is happening behind and to the sides of his car, especially as mirrors are so small due to aerodynamic needs and rear wheels and wings are so obtrusive.
b – The Issues:
If visibility can be improved, the driver being overtaken may well be able to position himself so as not to be overtaken, but he will also recognize the last minute out-braking move that he cannot defend. Instead of becoming involved in an accident that may well take him out of the race, he may choose to open the door, so to speak, and avoid the impact. By being more aware of the overtaking move, he will also be better prepared to respond with a counter move through the exit of the turn.
c – The Solutions:
I suggest that rear and side views be improved by the simple procedure of requiring that the seated driver be able see a full 180˚ to the rear and sides of his car, through the plane of his steering wheel. This may mean the end of old style mirrors but surely some system can be developed to provide the driver with the ability to see around him by using cameras and a video screen or other technology.
THE DRIVER FACTOR.
a – The Problem
Drivers make the overtaking move. Not cars. While many drivers have the same levels of determination, courage and foolhardiness of their older counterparts, many others are influenced by the political correctness of the modern world. Sponsor image, the need to be a consistent finisher, fear of media criticism … all these and many other factors influence some driver’s willingness to make the hard charging overtaking maneuver. Drivers are often judged by their outright speed, their smoothness and their style, while the old Innes
And some drivers whine too much!
“He wouldn’t let me through”… “He stuck to the inside of the corner and I couldn’t get past”….. “I was trying to lap him and he wouldn’t move over”. “He wasn’t watching the flags or using his mirrors”.
In modern racing the idiom “He’s only as good as his last race” holds very true and many drivers may choose not to take an unnecessary chance with an overtaking move if the result could be failure to finish and a lost drive. “First finish” has become more important than “win or crash”.
b – The Issues:
Everyone hears the complaints, but there is a simple fact that is often overlooked. Overtaking is a skill, and some drivers do it better than others.
If they are really competitive they will either try very hard; (to the crowd’s excitement), succeed or fail trying. Any of these are better than maintaining station and waiting for a pit stop to create the opportunity to make up a place.
c – The Solutions:
If the urge to overtake alone is not enough, consider changing the points or prize money structure so that points are awarded at, say, four stages of the race. This would create continuing incentive to be ahead of the driver in front. Modern timing and scoring systems are so sophisticated that they can update point scores instantaneously and make them available to teams, TV and the fans.
a – The Problem
Technology Has Changed the Performance Balance between Driver and Car. Although racing has always been a technical exercise as well as a competition between drivers, the level of technology that has been applied to race cars in recent years is of such a high standard that it has changed the balance between the skill of the driver and the capability of the car, to an extent that, while a great car can win with an average (average in terms of Formula One drivers, that is) driver it is unlikely that an average car can win even with the very best driver. In other words, while, in the past a F1 driver’s skill may have been 60% of the performance package, today his input may only equate to, say, 25% of the mix. (At tracks like
Technology Has Less Spectator Appeal Than Driver Performance. Advanced technology puts the performance of the car predominantly in the hands of very highly qualified engineers and computer driven technology which may offer benefits to the supporting industry, to the engineers and to the manufacturers, but which does not relate nearly as much to the emotional attraction that competitive racing with multiple overtaking has to the fans.
Technology Reduces the Potential for Driver Error. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that this technology does not just make the car go faster. It has been developed so that, unless specifically forbidden by the rules, it can limit the driver’s ability to make mistakes under braking (movable aerodynamics); to lose control through cornering (stability control); to miss a gear (engine management and gearbox technology), and to lose control under hard acceleration (traction control). Technology can, and does, now reduce or prevent the type of mistakes that in the past created the opportunity for overtaking.
Technology Dominates the Sport. Technology has become the golden grail of Formula One racing. Sure, we live in a truly technological era, but should engineers really dominate the sport?
Aerodynamics. In Formula One, the art of aerodynamics has become the science of aerodynamics, and the better the design the less the opportunity for any overtaking. Left alone to design their ultimate car the designers will eventually ensure that the cars will be so good that overtaking will be virtually impossible. The most aerodynamic race car has proved to be the most difficult to overtake and therefore aerodynamics themselves lie at the core of the problem of lack of overtaking.
The Future. Technology will continue to improve the speed, handling, braking, engine, gearbox and aerodynamics of race cars until cars will be able to operate at levels beyond the capability of drivers to race them effectively. We have almost reached the point where the car can be made to go around a track more quickly and more consistently without a driver than with. This might be a great technical achievement but would be a body blow to the sport of racing.
b – The Issues
Regulation of Technical Development. Racing is undoubtedly the most technical sport in the world, and technology cannot be cast aside. It is the control of the costs of technology and the areas in which technology can play its role that needs to be clearly defined by the sanctioning bodies and rule makers.
Technology Justifies Financial Support for Racing. The situation becomes much more complicated at higher levels of the sport. Much of the financial support for top level racing comes from companies who use racing to develop their marketable technologies. The need to win is vital in order to satisfy sponsors. This has resulted in increasing costs for racing as well as the development of the technologies that, themselves, contribute to the reduction of overtaking. Technology even justifies non-industrial support, as companies such as Red Bull have to seek advanced technical expertise in order to display their marketing programs.
Aerodynamics. Unrestricted aerodynamic development will ultimately ensure that will be no overtaking in Formula One, so car design itself has to be defined, by regulation, to reduce the non-overtaking consequences of efficient aerodynamic design. The days of freedom of design have passed, thanks to the reality that engineering expertise is approaching the theoretical limits of performance for racing within the practicalities of safety, cost management and entertainment value. The secret is not to impose spec racing but to allow for different approaches to the design and engineering challenges; and to change the rules to create new challenges when the theoretical limits of existing regulations are close to being reached.
Relation to Practical Use in the Real World. Aerodynamics has become the biggest single factor in race car design, but is it of any real relevance to road car technology? Certainly the advanced aerodynamics of front and rear wings and underbody design may make a single seater or prototype sports car go faster, but is this really relevant to racing? If aerodynamic goals were refocused to generate benefits for road car development, the results could well be very positive for racing.
The Future. Unlimited aerodynamic development will further decrease the driver’s role in the race. Can racing afford this?
c – The Solutions
Make F1 cars relevant. The first Concorde supersonic airliner flew In March 1969, the result of amazing ingenuity and engineering expertise that continued to refine and develop it until its final flight in November 2003. At the time of its last flight it was still the world’s most advanced airliner and would have remained so for decades had it continued to fly. But it is now history, because it is no longer relevant. The need for ultimate speed is gone; instead new aircraft have to be cost efficient to run, be capable of years of high intensity service and have to handle many more passengers.
Has the current Formula One car reached its own zenith and is it relevant today?
I suggest the design model of the current F1 car has reached its peak and that the current F1 car is no longer relevant.
Today’s F1 car design represents the antithesis of driver-to-driver completion. While today’s F1 car is an amazing piece of engineering and construction, it no longer provides racing with its most important single element, the thrill of overtaking; and each year the single minded focus of hundreds of brilliant engineers skills work to lessen the potential for these cars to race side-by-side.
When asked to draw up the basic shape of a car that would encourage overtaking a leading engineer in the World of Formula One simply stated, “Maximum drag and maximum power” and then commented wryly that that is what Formula One cars had when overtaking was plentiful!
Change the Basic Shape of Racing Cars. The solution to the current reliance of aerodynamics may therefore be to drastically change the design of modern Formula One cars to create more drag, less down force and more power.
Reduce the Importance of Aerodynamics in the Overall Racing Package. New car regulations could therefore be drawn up that significantly limit the effectiveness of current aerodynamic designs, but not with small limitations on barge boards, added aerodynamic appendages or wing designs, but by making drastic changes to the entire Formula One package..
Think Out of the Box. Why does the Formula car have to have the long, narrow, ungainly and awkward look that we see on the track today? If the extreme vulnerability of aerodynamic nose structures contributes to the difficulty of making a clean pass; if the turbulence created by the rear wing makes it impossible for two cars to run close together through a fast corner and if the aerodynamic flows affect the ability for two cars to race effectively and yet none of these has any practical relevance to real life, why are they necessary?
Why are underbody aerodynamics of such importance? Sure, they are crucial to the modern F1 car, but not to anyone else. Why can’t the focus of Formula One aerodynamics have benefits on the shape of modern road cars, where fuel economy could well benefit from developments in race car shapes?
What is the point of the high rear wing? We are told that teams do not want to eliminate the rear wing because it makes a great sponsor sign board, even though it is a major contributor to the lack of close racing and overtaking. But a wing can be specified that will eliminate air from passing under its surface, making it an integral part of the rear bodywork. In fact a wing could then be even bigger, though lower, and the turbulence may be significantly decreased, especially if bodywork was required between and behind the rear wheels that connected to this wing and which was designed to create drag (and act as an impact attenuation feature). Certainly cars would look a lot different but the aerodynamic research that would follow could have very real application to road car development.
Why are needle noses necessary? Has anyone taken a look at the height of nose of the many current F1 cars? Their hard, sharp points are almost at shoulder height to the drivers of other cars, so what would happen if one of these cars T-boned another car at speed? Were Alex Zanardi’s ChampCar injuries that cost him his legs not a result of the sharp nose of the other car penetrating his chassis? And today’s noses are so large, so far forward (and so ugly!) that they make drivers hesitant to run close to the car in front or to try to overtake down the inside of a turn, because these vulnerable structures are so easily dislodged or damaged. Why can’t the Formula Car’s nose be equal to the width between the center of the front wheels and its cross sectional height in front of the wheels be at least half the height of the tires, with a defined maximum under-nose ground clearance at the front edge that would reduce the aerodynamic forces under and around the car and make the over body flows much more important? A car with this design could have a greatly improved crushable nose structure and the car would be much less likely to plow between tires in the safety barrier as has happened in many recent accidents. While the cars would be significantly shorter there would be greatly increased sponsor placement space available!
What is so important about the “coke-bottle” shape? Modern single seaters have bodywork that allows another car’s wheels to get between its front and rear tires, so adding to the potential of a major accident. There is nothing new here, but does this have an effect on the driver’s willingness to try to overtake? If the side pods extended further out towards the edge of the tires and closed the gap between them more effectively, cars would be less likely to crash seriously in an inadvertent impact during an overtaking move and driver safety would be greatly enhanced. Remember the Williams FW07? (What is so wrong with a little side-to-side impact when it’s in the process of an overtaking move?)
Why do cars have to have such ugly arses? The rear end of a modern F1 car is a mess of structures, pipes, gearbox, axles, suspension, wing mounts and diffusers that together mess up the airflow and kill overtaking. If the rear end of a Formula One car was required to be fully enclosed in bodywork the ran from a few inches above the ground, to about the height of the rear wheel, and was required to run back behind the wheels and to extend sideways to at cover most of the wheel width, then the aerodynamicists would be able to craft really good looking and much more effective shapes that could be defined, by regulation, to create specified levels of drag.
Why can’t we take the opportunity to make radical changes to the shape of the modern Formula One car? These changes may be radical, and they would change the shape of a Formula car, but why should they not be acceptable? We would still end up with open wheels and an open cockpit but would have a much safer car; perhaps a slower car, (although adding power would get the speeds back)but one that would not, by its nature, make overtaking almost impossible. There would also be much more advertising space to pay for the car!
Why can’t cars be more powerful? The FIA seems to be consistently slowing the cars down, mainly by restricting engine size, rev per minute and therefore reducing power. The purpose would appear to be to reduce lap times and to address safety concerns. But most tracks are now relatively safe; cars are much stronger than in the past, and we have already lived through an era of 1000 bhp cars. Increased power can be achieved relatively inexpensively. Engine size, turbo chargers and fewer restrictions can make more power easily achievable. So why more power? To make cars faster in a straight line to balance any slower corner speeds created by diminishing aerodynamics. More top speed; slower corner speeds and an inevitable increase in braking distance. Presto! More overtaking!
Racing without overtaking is unsustainable. The claim that F1 can get away with a limited number of overtaking moves per race, because of the strategic nature of the sport; the “chess factor”, are simply a cover-up of the real issue that racing is attractive to fans because it is exciting, dramatic and emotional. There are several factors that contribute to the problem, almost all of which are the result of evolution over a period of time; from old methods, skills and technologies into finely focused expertise that has reached near perfection in racing’s current format, but which has moved the sport away from that drama, emotion and excitement that is its essence.
The solution to the lack of overtaking lies partly in making relatively small changes in different elements of the sport and to a far more significant extent, by changing the shape of the cars that race today.
The shape and aerodynamic dominance of today’s Formula One cars, is, like Concorde, brilliantly executed but totally irrelevant. They no longer meet the basic needs of motor racing – drama, excitement and emotional appeal.
It is time to completely revamp the basic shape of the Formula One single seater; to reduce the importance of ground effects type aerodynamics and to focus on aero attributes that have more relevance to the future of road going cars; to bring back body shapes that encourage overtaking and to offset any performance loss by increasing power.
Ultimately the only effective and practical answer is to mandate a new shape for F1 cars that will set the brilliant engineers of Formula One along a new multiple year path of development and technology. Technology that will have relevance to the needs of future road car development and which will put the racing back in racing!
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