Debate: Are some starting grids unfair?

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

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?