Debate: Are some starting grids unfair?

Felipe Massa,  Lewis Hamilton, Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen, Istanbul, 2008, 470150

Nik left an interesting comment in the Turkish Grand Prix Facts and Stats article about how much of an advantage the drivers who started on the clean side of the grid had at Istanbul:

Hamilton (third) overtook Kovalainen (second)
Kubica (fifth) overtook Raikkonen (fourth) and Kovalainen (second)
Alonso (seventh) overtook Webber (sixth) and Raikkonen (fourth)
Heidfeld (ninth) overtook Trulli (tenth)
Rosberg (eleventh) overtook Trulli (eighth) and Couthard (tenth)

The rules prevent drivers from being allowed to clean the piece of track they start from. But should that rule should be changed to lessen the disadvantage of starting off-line, particularly at tracks like Istanbul where it is a big problem?

The sporting regulations state:

30.3 b) Other than by driving on the track, Competitors are not permitted to attempt to alter the grip of any part of the track surface.

However it is clear that some circuits lend a massive advantage to drivers who start on the clean side. This is because at circuits like Istanbul and the Hungaroring the racing line passes straight along the grid hatching for the drivers behind the pole sitter.

That combined with how infrequently those circuits are used makes an off-line starting position a major disadvantage. So should something be done about it in the interest of fairness?

Allowing the teams to prepare the surface as they wish might be one solution. But I expect if that were allowed we would quickly see teams applying some kind of grip-enhancing chemical to their starting positions to improve their getaways!

A simpler option might just be to allow the track organisers to clean the surface. This is often seen in Indy Racing during caution periods to allow drivers to use the higher line on ovals for overtaking.

Another solution would be to use a rolling start at these races, which would lessen the disadvantafe of having to start off-line as the car would already be moving. A proper two-by-two one as seen in Indy Cars would be rest, rather than the one-by-one rolling starts occasionally seen in F1 when it’s very wet (like at Fuji last year).

I think that would be a welcome addition to the spectacle that would add some variety and require the drivers to show another element of their race craft.

Do you think something should be done? Or is it not a problem that needs solving?

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44 comments on Debate: Are some starting grids unfair?

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  1. I do think that the start often brings us the only overtakes of the whole race. Lessening their impact seems a bad idea. The difficult start here is a big part of what brought us such a great race. We should be making that kind of thing more commonplace not less.

    The simplest thing would be to allow drivers to opt to go down a place if they wanted to. I bet no driver would take it.

  2. 420 said on 12th May 2008, 20:19

    maybe have the grid spaces in line instead of staggered like they usually are on dirty tracks?

  3. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 12th May 2008, 20:29

    I see your point Alex but what we have at the moment is a lottery where if one of the drivers lands on an even-numbered position on the grid (which has nothing to do with the quality of their qualifying performance) they’re at an automatic disadvantage at some tracks.

    I think the problem of overtaking in Formula 1 is a different matter (one we’ve covered a couple of times! Here and here for example).

  4. Scootin159 said on 12th May 2008, 20:48

    F1 is one of the last major forms of motor sport with a standing start…. and I think it should stay that way. I’m actually quite disappointed that we don’t have standing starts for restarts (even when under the safety car).

  5. MJohnHurt said on 12th May 2008, 21:02

    I grew up watching american open wheel and stock car racing, all of which had “flying” starts. The standing starts in F1 were breathtaking when I first saw them, and still are, and had a lot to do with my initial interest in the sport. I think moving to flying starts would be a mistake.

  6. Maybe have the organisers scub down both sides of the grid before the race? Remove all the built up rubber, and make both sides equally low grip.

  7. Dan M said on 12th May 2008, 21:13

    Maybe you could give the teams a 30min practice, using test drivers on Sunday but freeze changes to the “race” cars. This would allow teams who qualified on the dirty side to clean up with a few passes off line.

    Better yet give them two warm up laps prior to the start, this would allow the drivers to go down the straight prior to lining up. The issue here is P1 could simply drive extremely slow down the straight to minimize the effect of running off line.

  8. This also explains why every Turkish Grand Prix has been won from pole

    If you watch the start of yesterdays race, you will see that Massa, Hamilton and Kubica (starting from 1st, 3rd, 5th) get away perfectly and much faster than Kovalainen, Raikkonen and Webber (2nd, 4th, 6th). In fact, Massa/Hamilton/Kubica form a perfect procession to take 1st/2nd/3rd into the first corner.

    The advantage of the clean side of the grid at Istanbul is huge.

    I don’t think its because the track is only used once a year, because there are plenty of street circuits that don’t have such an extreme difference (eg. Albert Park).

    There shouldn’t be any major changes to make the starts more fair, they should just adjust the grid positions, or clean the track, to compensate. If you simply switched the grid over and had pole position on the left-hand side (dirty side, but with a head start) you would even it out a lot

  9. Rohan said on 12th May 2008, 22:31

    Rolling starts should be nowhere near an F1 race – they are the very definition of a lower category single seater race.

  10. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 12th May 2008, 22:41

    OK, why do you think that Rohan?

  11. Wesley said on 12th May 2008, 22:48

    The standing start helps make the race,I couldn’t imagine a rolling start.I would even say that is the most exciting part of the race for me.

  12. Diacho said on 12th May 2008, 22:58

    Nik, somehow I guess Alain Prost has bad memories concerning your idea…

  13. Well I would much rather see a cleaner track than a rolling start. I don’t know why I feel this other than a standing start seems, to me, to be a very F1 proposition.

  14. Brett M said on 13th May 2008, 2:01

    Keep away from the rolling start….
    The grid start works well – why not clean the whole grid area on sunday before the race then no advanntage to anyone – few guys with presure cleaners would do the job

  15. I agree there should be something done about that and I also agree that the rolling start is not really the way to go.

    Maybe going back in time and adopting the start where all cars are parked at 45 angles, one next to another.

    But I guess that complicates things with the warming lap..

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