Thought the Valencia race was rubbish? Don’t blame the track, blame the rules

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

The cars did get close during the Valencia race - but only on the formation lap
The cars did get close during the Valencia race - but only on the formation lap

Valencia’s first F1 race was not a classic. Looking at the rate the race poll it seems most people thought it was as boring as the Bahrain, Spanish and French Grands Prix.

But let’s not jump to conclusions about the track. Circuit designer Hermann Tilke is not to blame for the paucity of action in yesterday’s race. F1 car design and the sporting regulations are responsible.

The GP2 races showed that single seater cars with less downforce and slick tyres were capable of racing wheel-to-wheel on the circuit. The sprint race featured some excellent, genuine battles for position.

F1 has been stuck with the same problem for years: the cars have become so dependent on their wings to generate downforce and grip they become hyper-sensitive to disturbed air from cars in front of them, and cannot get close enough to each other through corners.

The refuelling rules make matters worse, by encouraging the field to spread apart. As anyone who qualifies 11th or worse can use whatever fuel load they choose, all these cars tend to run with high fuel loads in the hope that a safety car deployment will play into their hands – as it did for Piquet Jnr at Hockenheim.

The top ten drivers qualify with their race fuel loads and board and – what do you know? – the cars with less fuel end up nearer the front. So when the race starts the lighter cars drive away from the heavier ones.

We end up with the field spreading apart because of the refuelling rules, and when cars do get close enough to each other they usually can’t pass each other because they are too aerodynamically sensitive.

This is why we fans approach every F1 weekend hoping for rain. It disrupts the grip levels, allows the cars to get close to each other, and can make refuelling strategies less important.

Next year the aerodynamics regulations are going to change, with wings being cut in size and slick tyres brought back. This looks like being a step in the right direction. (Driver-adjustable wings, as we’ve discussed, does not. And Vee’s got misgivings about what KERS will do to the competitivity of some teams).

However refuelling and race-fuel qualifying are set to say, which is a real shame, because they do nothing to make the racing more exciting and usually make it worse.

For years F1 has been looking to revised track design to encourage better racing. Has it really worked? I’d say not – the Bahrain Grand Prix this year was rubbish.

Blame the tracks for bad races? No. Blame the rules.

F1 2009 season

49 comments on “Thought the Valencia race was rubbish? Don’t blame the track, blame the rules”

Jump to comment page: 1 2 3
  1. Shahriar Ahsan
    25th August 2008, 8:03

    Hmm… interesting facts…
    But why did the lighter cars cud not compete each other? They were on the same weight load! Thats a question to be asked…
    But yeah, i agree GP2 race was better than the F1

  2. Keith

    We need also not to blame the engineers car designers, but blame the rules!

    Here in the blog discussions it became clear that the front wing is to high (by law) and hence to sensible to turbulence.(Turbulence remain ever very high in a f1 car, because it is an open wheel spider)

    The wider and lower front wing, that will be allowed next year will have more ground effect and break the hyper sensibility to turbulence that is only due, I suspect only to the FIA regulations and not to a perfect body aerodynamic

  3. very interesting observation about the effect of the refuelling strategy…

    personally, i find the fuel strategies very confusing..if somebody is faster than his team mate considerably..we don’t know whether its skill or just the fuel loads making the difference and hence sometimes we dont give credit where it is due…

    how about having all the cars qualify with race fuel load..right from q3…

  4. keith

    have you noticed the boring races ferrari seem to win.
    Again F1 has become so boring on few occaions due to turbulance and refuelling that us true f1 fans have to look for incentives like ‘Rain’ and ‘safety cars’ to make the race entertaining.

    An interesting fact. The last driver to get pole position before refuelling came in was Ayrton Senna Adelaide 1993.

  5. And the first guy to get pole with refuelling in it was Ayrton Senna Interlagos 1994.

    What should be more relevant is:

    The last guy to get pole position before race-fuel quali was Michael Schumacher Suzuka 2002.

    The first guy to get pole position with race-fuel quali was Michael Schumacher Melbourne 2003.

  6. I’m actually annoyed that the use of winglets etc has been banned as I quite looked forward to seeing what developments/tweaks each team brought to each race. However, I fully understand that this area holds no/little interest for others.

    As for quali-with-race-fuel, I agree that it should be scrapped, but I feel that in-race refuelling adds an extra strategic dimension that I find quite fascinating.

  7. If they aren’t going to ban race refuelling – then at least ban race fuel qualifying!

    Unless rain occurs, or next year’s rules – watch GP2 or Formula BMW for guaranteed action…

  8. I have an honest question that is not intended as flame bait – What makes a race with no refueling better? I admit to being new enough to F1 to have never seen a race without refueling. Having never seen one, my reaction is that banning refueling would make for more boring races than we have now. With no chance for strategy to shuffle things up, what prevents it from being even more of a procession than it is right now?

  9. I thought the race was great , especially enjoyed seeing Massa edging away from Hamilton , a few tenths a lap at a time , great stuff (but as Hamilton said , he had a cold and a sore neck , shame , poor guy , hope it just was not an excuse) . Has to be said , though , Massa and Ham. seem to be in a class of their own at the moment. While some truth exists in the fact that F1 cars are difficult to overtake another , it’s certainly not impossible , and we don’t want to get to a point where they overtake too much like in other series. Another thing to remember is that blocking is also a tactic and done deliberately – like Heikki was doing to Kimi for a long part of the race. It won’t work on all the tracks , but certainly did at Valencia . What I’m saying is , Heikki would slow slightly , then as Kimi got close , he would pull out a gap , thereby spoiling Kimi’s rhythm completely , all to keep Kimi from a chance of catching Hamilton later in the race.

  10. The oddest thing about Q3 fuel level, is that the teams need to made a “Sophia Choice” for wich car will go with less fuel,make the pole and probaly win the race. This is all that no one wants including the FIA laws…

    That is an over-interference inside the teams and drivers… “I believe we shot ourselves in both feet”. Jackie Stewart

  11. Absolutely agree Keith – get rid of race fuel qualy, aero winglets and then what about the engine freeze and rev limit? These 2 things are killing overtaking IMO. So many times on long straights you can hear them bouncing off the limiter while trying to slipstream another car.

    I think this new track is brilliant, but has been nutered by the pathetic technical regs we have in F1.

  12. “What makes a race with no refueling better?”

    It means that drivers all qualify and race with the same fuel level so everything is more even. It means that pole position means something. Watching Senna going out for a final qualifying lap was incredible because you knew that nothing could be done to the car to make it faster. It did not have an engine that had to be used for the race let alone the next race. It had no more fuel than it needed and he did not get pole because his group of statisticians guessed better than someone else’s group of statiticians what the optimum fuel load was.

    Once the race starts you get rid of all this nonsense about waiting for pit stops and finding an empty piece of track. If you are fourth and want to be third you have to go and take it from the guy in that position. It also gives you all sorts of different races. Look back at Gilles Villeneuve at Jarama in 1981. He had a Ferrari that was incredibly powerful but utter rubbish on the corners but he managed to win with four or five cars on his tail for the whole race. This was long before the Schumacher one blocking move was introduced. Nowadays in the same position he would be fifth at the first stop and disappear after that.

    The opposite example was Schumacher at Imola. I can’t remember the year but he went from 12th to 2nd and overtook one car on the road. That is not motor racing.

    Keith is right that the main problem that stops cars racing is the technical regs and despite the bull from the FIA this is a long way from being a new problem. Gilles Villeneuve used to complain about exactly the same thing. I guarantee next years ididotic regulations don’t make the huge difference that could be made. It is worth reading Gary Anderson’s assessment of them in the last issue of Autosport. Unimpressed is an understatement.

    However I think Valencia has problems. It has too many corners, too few memorable sections of track and the pit lane is a joke because of its width, its surface etc. Given all the hype it received I was expecting massively better than a non-descript track in an industrial estate which delivered a boring race. I watched around 6 hours of video over the course of the weekend and I doubt if I could identify more than four corners and two of them were the bridge. The last corner has the pit entry and then there is the blend line at the pit exit identifying a corner. Even Alonso said on Friday that he made a mistake because he was not on the section of track he thought he was.

  13. Although I totally agree with the “ban the race-fuel qualy”, I don’t agree with the “ban the refueling” thing. My suspicious is that baning refueling/changing tyres would end up in races where drivers take care of the tyres and fuel consumption more than anything, while by refueling and changing tyres they can go full-speed all the race if they want to. As a plus you get the extra spice of different strategies suiting different drivers: I don’t see Nick doing a four-pit stop strategy as Michel did in France, but I can see him wining with a one-stop and consistent race. So you are actually expanding the range of possible winers, not only those who can take care of the car’s health (not that that is not important, but it shouldn’t be all at every race).

    Actually if you look to the old CART, non-oval racing had a good deal of overtaking (not too much, not too little), even at street tracks very similar to Valencia. They had refueling, tyres changes, and (you guessed it) slick tires and very bad aerodynamical grip…

  14. If the new-for-2009 rules can’t fix the overtaking problems we might as well shut the damn series down.

    It’s one thing not being able to pass, but it’s quite another not being able to get within a second and a half of the guy in front.

    Banning refuelling would help, in terms of decreasing the field spread as Keith rightly points out. It’s arguable that it wouldn’t neccessarily improve anything – the drivers might want to try to pass, might try harder, probably more collisions – but if they’re still hampered by physics then there’s not much they can do.

    But what refuelling IS doing is to a certain extent masking the huge problem the aerodynamics face. People see that the positions change a bit, there’s a minor variable about when the leaders are all going to pit relative to each other, there’s a bit of drama with a botched stop, and they think they’ve seen a race, when really they haven’t. If we didn’t have refuelling then even if it didn’t automatically fix the problem, it would certainly highlight it much more clearly and make it much more of a priority for the FIA to get it fixed.

  15. The problem seems to be when all the things remain equal.

    We want variety. To see diferents things with equal chances for racers.

    If everybody have to make the refueling, thats the same problemn that if everybody dont´t make the refueling, That is boring. But we wil pay attebtion if the driver can choose or not, and thus suprise the others (or not).

    The boring thing is when evrything looks the same like Valencia corners as Steven Roy (12) said.

  16. This is the only Herman Tilke design I’ve ever liked. All of his other designs and “updates” of tracks are rubbish. He’s taken a great historic track in Hockenheim and ripped the bullocks right from under it.

    Herman Tilke should be banished from motorsport permanently. Period. The only reason he is still is because he’s BFFs with Bernie.

  17. Sorry Page.To tell you the truth I thing that Hockenheim was the only “amputation” that achieved a good result.

    The races there are good. Old Hockh was the easiest circuit. And there was not to much sense in those to long straights and chicanes. The older one with no chicanes, oK! that was really nice and classic, but the time perhaps made it obsolete,

  18. MarathonMan801
    25th August 2008, 21:19

    “The GP2 races showed that single seater cars with less downforce and slick tyres were capable of racing wheel-to-wheel on the circuit. The sprint race featured some excellent, genuine battles for position.”

    Well yes okay, Keith. But the main race was less than enthralling, wasn’t it? On the same track with the same conditions

  19. I think we all agree that the current spec F1 cars make overtaking a lot more difficult than for a GP2 car, or indeed just about any other class of vehicle. Personally don’t think that removal of winglets and re-addition of slicks next year is going to magically fix the problem.

    Firstly the winglets are not the main cause of the disturbed air flow produced behind an F1 car. The diffuser is the main source of the dirty air. But the diffuser is what allows the F1 cars to suck down onto the track at speed. They already took away ground effects quite rightly, imagine the speed of cornering in a modern F1 car if that was still there. But removing the diffuser would make them look like Formula Ford.

    Secondly the re-introduction of slicks is a mixed blessing. Most overtaking in F1 is executed in the braking zone, not by slip streaming at high speed. The slicks are going to reduce the braking distance of the cars, so reducing the window for drivers to out brake each other.

    As for KERS, well the big budget boys are going to make it work. The smaller ones won’t. One team will really nail it and romp home all season. Will this tell us who is the best driver though? Nah! Will we hate it? Yep!

    So what has changed? Well, F1 cars are a lot better at accelerating and braking these days, tyres are a lot stickier, and yes, the airflow behind them is turbulent. As the cars have got faster, the circuits haven’t grown to accomodate them. If you have a nice long straight followed by slow corner, you can generally expect to have a chance of some overtaking, but it has to be a straight long enough for a modern F1 car to get close inspite of the turbulence, so no 30° bends half way down them like Herman just put in the middle of Valencia’s start/finish straight, or the following car will lose grip and fall off the pace.

    Circuits that are blessed with long straights (a very slightly long sweeping curve will still work) with a following tight corner will work then. Much as I loved the uniqueness of the old Hockenheim, the first third of the new circuit is great because of the hairpin at the end of the long parabolika. Spa works; Les Combes at the end of Kemmel (which actually works as an even longer straight than it is due to the uphill gradient). Monza works; the long run from parabolica to variante rettifilio. You get the general idea.

    If you want more overtaking, no tyre changes. A much harder compound would be required for the 200 miles required of them. This would also in turn reduce the marbling of the track off the racing line for a longer proportion of the race – I agree that in this instance slicks would be a better option, as the grooved tyres have more edges to degrade over their lifespan.

    Steel brakes. Used in other single seater series where plenty of overtaking still happens. Increases the braking zone, thus the window of opportunity for underbraking.

    Just my thoughts, but Tilke really should be looking at what works in a circuit for modern F1 cars – he did a good job with Malaysia and Hockenheim. Valencia is a great location and works fine for other series, but he was meant to be designing it for F1, or perhaps I misunderstood that.

  20. I think that F1 cars overtaking is so difficult in most of the circuits but nothing compared with Valencia street one.
    It was chossen because of comercial reasons, but many of F1 fanatics just want to see car races!!

Jump to comment page: 1 2 3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated. See the Comment Policy and FAQ for more.