F1?s overtaking problem solved?

F1 cars seem able to follow each other more closely in 2009
F1 cars seem able to follow each other more closely in 2009

The first two races of 2009 are in the books, giving us our first chance to see if the radical new regulations designed to increase overtaking have had the desired effect.

So far the signs are good ?ǣ but will it last?

The Australian and Malaysian Grands Prix were quite unlike the kinds of F1 races we have grown used to over the years.

We?ve seen the return of wheel-to-wheel dices for position. At Melbourne, often an overtaking-free zone in recent years, we saw cars going past each other in places where we thought it wasn?t possible.

And at overtaking-friendly Sepang some drivers were passing and re-passing each other over and over again.

But with so many changes to the rules this year, how can we tell what has made the difference?

New aerodynamics

The restrictive new rules on the size and shape of wings has given us some very peculiar looking F1 cars.

But it has also achieved its goal of cutting downforce, allowing cars to follow each other more closely. That has an obviously beneficial effect on the race.

It has also made the cars visibly much more difficult to keep under control. As a result, we have seen more mistakes from drivers, opening up the opportunity for overtaking.

Slick tyres

Hand in hand with the reduced downforce is the long-awaited return to slick tyres. Already it seems the howls of disapproval when grooved tyres were imposed by the FIA were justified.

Now the balance of the cars’ performance has been shifted away from aerodynamics and towards tyre grip – as a result, they are able to get closer to each other.

It turns out there was a good reason why no other racing championship besides F1 was using grooved tyres after all…

Option tyre rule

Drivers are having a harder time managing the different tyre compounds this year
Drivers are having a harder time managing the different tyre compounds this year

We?ve had the ??option tyre rule?, which requires drivers to use each of the two different compounds of tyres during a Grand Prix, since 2007.

But for the first time this year Bridgestone has brought compounds that are two stages apart instead of one: soft and hard at Sepang instead of medium and hard, for example.

This had clear consequences for the race at Melbourne. Ferrari made brilliant use of their super-soft tyres to get in among the leaders at the start ?ǣ but once their performance degraded the F60s were easy pickings for their rivals.

It may have had a desirable effect on the racing, but the ??option tyre rule? is still controversial. Should F1, supposedly the pinnacle of motor racing, have rules such as this which handicap teams in an artificial manner to improve racing?

The counter-argument is that it forces even the drivers who have the best cars to demonstrate their skill with a compromised setup. But I suspect that cuts no ice with the purists.


Over the winter there was a lot of discussion over whether the extra six seconds of 80bhp over a lap would allow KERS-equipped cars to overtake their rivals more easily.

That debate has now been answered conclusively ?ǣ yes it does. Not only that, the KERS cars are also able to deploy their power boosts defensively to keep rivals behind.

It remains to be seen what will happen when all the cars on the grid have KERS. Will the improved racing it offers vanish? Or will we start to see drivers using KERS in different ways – at different parts of the circuit, or using their boost all at once to maximum effect?

Adjustable wings

It?s entirely possible that the new adjustable wings have had a greater impact on the quality of the racing than anything else.

But it?s doubtful, for in the first two races of their year we?ve hardly heard or seen any sign of them.

Moveable wings making any difference?

Will it stay this way?

Is that it, then? The overtaking problem is fixed, now we can move onto something else? Probably not, but I think the Overtaking Working Group who came up with many of the changes deserve a hearty pat on the back.

It will be especially fascinating to see what kind of racing we get at ‘overtaking-unfriendly- tracks like Catalunya, Monte-Carlo, Valencia and the Hungaroring.

The question now is, will have good racing again next year – and the year after that?

We are at the very beginning of a significant change in the rules which has produced a variety of different solutions. Inevitably the teams’ design philosophies will converge – with most teams probably taking their inspiration from the Brawn BGP001, perhaps with a thoughtful glance in the Red Bull RB5’s direction as well.

In the years to come as the cars become more similar, their lap times may become closer, but the varying strengths and weaknesses that has given us so much entertainment in the first few races of the season may disappear.

That will be the next measure of success for the radical new rules.

78 comments on “F1?s overtaking problem solved?”

  1. At this point, I would like to heartily slap the back of the overtaking working group and wish them a roaring ‘Well Done!’.

    If we manage to get overtaking at Catalunya I will offer them my hand in marriage.

  2. from what we’ve seen so far this year I think it’s been all around a good improvement, definitely more overtaking, more errors through corners when drivers are under pressure and all round more entertaining event.

  3. I like this seasons racing. The overtaking group appears to have done its job. Now lets hope they don’t try to become too ambitious and keep working harder. Too much of a good thing is bad for you.

    One thing that I like is making the cars more difficult to drive. Or should I say more driver dependent. This has been going in the right direction with the ban on driver aids and now lower down force.

  4. So far so good, but let’s give the Small Freaky One and the Spanker some time Keith. They’ll come up with a sophisticated device to change the current situation, I can bet my house on it. Speed limiters would do just fine. Or winkers…

  5. I think it’s a little early to say, although the signs are good. Like Terry, I think we have to wait and see if the Spanish race provides much or any overtaking, especially if there is a faster car behind a slower one, although plenty of cars managed to pass Alonso, so perhaps there’s an indication in that.

    These cars aren’t so ugly now, are they?

  6. Great Analysis, but my beef lies with this tyre option rules.

    i like the idea that lessens the difference between cars. i dont want F1 to become a spec series like other Formulas, but i would like to see everyone rolling on the same Tyre. like in the old days. this soft, hard super mushy selection makes me want to puke.

    i read somewhere on F1 Fanatic that the difference between the two compounds amounted to about 3 seconds a lap? what is so cool in that? i think it ads to the cost, ads to the complication. if you want to make tactics more relavant in F1, i think they should limit the amount of fuel spent to make it more economical, make fuel tanks smaller to increase pit stops. and make the tyres last for the whole race.

    i know in the past refueling was not allowed, but think of the fun if tires are to last a whole race (making them more road car relevant) cars have to use a specific amount of fuel (making them more economical thus cheaper and road car relevant).

    and if that is too much, then limit to one wheel change a race to keep the pit stop show running, but do something to eradicate the multiple compound issue.

    there are better, more sustainable ways to keep tactics in F1 more alive.

    i see alot of suggestions on this site that makes a lot of sense. i think Keith should group them all up, we will vote on them, and then Keith will submit them to the FIA, FOA , FOTA shmota (Bernie’s words i presume) and to the ringmaster himself mister Ecclestone. and lets see if it works.

    but over and above, F1 was much duller before i go to know F1 fanatic, so that at least has to stay as it is….

    1. I don’t like the tyre differences, either. At first, it was nice to see the extra overtaking, but then I realised that it was usually a car on better tyres overtaking a car on lesser tyres.

    2. I agree about the tyres, its about time someone got the Bridgestone boys by the collar and demanded tyres that can last for the whole race, and an end to this false pit stop strategy we have to put up with.
      The teams should be able to decide on the tyre for racing during practice, and then live with their decision through Qualifying and the Race. To have the choice imposed on them by someone else is just SILLY.
      (oops I’m at it again).
      I also agree a little about the fueling – yes limit the amount of fuel the cars can carry, and encourage the manufacturers to make more efficient engines (which I think was one of the original specifications of the 50s), but only allow refueling under extreme conditions – ie when the tank is empty – and with FIA supervision – to ensure the cars all start with full tanks and don’t seek an advantage by being fuel light.

  7. have to agree keith we’ve all criticised the fia and everything plenty of times in the past..but the overtaking group seem to have done a good job…and i have to agree with terry fabulous if we see any overtaking at catalunya it will be an absolute miracle

    1. The OWG is comprised of a few key people from the teams. Rory Byrne (Ferrari), Paddy Lowe (McLaren)and Pat Symonds (Renault). So in reality,m the teams did a great job here. Maybe an indication that if the FIA should butt out and let the teams handle things themselves.

      Before the season started, Mosley was actually preparing for the OWG to fail. He said that if overtaking was not improved he would disband the OWG and that FIA would take over again. I assumed that meant that he wanted to go for his split rear wing idea again.

      I’d say that the measures of the OWG surely work, cars can obviously follow each other much closer. On the other hand the “tyre lottery” probably has had the greatest effect. Cars lapping 4, 5 and even up to 10 seconds a lap slower will be overtaken. Is that something I’d like to see? No.

    2. Before the season started, Mosley was actually preparing for the OWG to fail. He said that if overtaking was not improved he would disband the OWG and that FIA would take over again. I assumed that meant that he wanted to go for his split rear wing idea again.

      Indeed – he was also talking about going further with the adjustable wings, which to me looks like the most questionable part of the package so far.

  8. Nothing has changed in my opinion. There was an Alonso train in Malaysia and drivers over 1sec faster than him (Barichello) had a hard time getting past. Even Kimi struggled and only managed when Alonso made a judgement error going into a corner.

    What about KERS? Definitely makes up places on the start and helps defend overtaking on the straights (Webber vs Hamilton) but if everyone has KERS it will not contribute to more overtaking. I think the best use of KERS would be to augment HP rather than to boost it over a short period.

  9. Bravo to the rulesmakers… overtaking has, for now, returned! And the fascinating shapes and designs of the cars produced from the new rules is a welcome side benefit.

    What’s needed now are incentives for other tyre manufacturers to be in the fray. They all have market share to gain.. why is there usually just a single supplier to F1 lately?

  10. i can’t remember the last time i saw this much action during the race! it’s fantastic how the cars vary the most in maybe decades, and still the gap from first to worst shrinks. this is a success for the rules makers as well as the teams, engineers and drivers. bernie doesn’t mind either.

    my opinions:
    2009 aero – good. i thought all of the barge boards, winglets, et certera were forbidden. seems they just shrunk and hid them from the camera. maybe next year they will be expressly banned.

    slicks – this should be obvious

    option tires – bad. refuelling is gone in 2010, and should thake this with it. 2009 is the worst yet, with teams making little more than a token effort on the softer tires, because they are inappropriate for the cicumstances. still, it sure mixes things up…

    kers – love it

    adj. wings – huge potential

    will it stay this way? – tough to say. even if it tapered off, it’s worlds better than the parades we are accustomed to.

    1. That’s dead on about the tyres. I hope next year they retain an option tyre, but don’t make it compulsory – so a driver could choose to have a tactical 10-lap blast on soft tyres during the race.

      Adjustable wings – maybe they should enlarge them, so they’re visible from the in-car camera.

  11. I’m not convinced yet. In Australia drivers were still unable to pass despite being 1.5 or even 2 seconds faster! So far, most overtaking was done due to the tyres.

  12. Well they had variation in the tyres last year and it didnt help overtaking. All of the factors have helped. Webber vs Hamilton just wouldnt have happened last year, Mclaren obviously have the KERS sorted, Red Bull have more downforce. cue brilliant duel.

    Some people on here are in danger of praising the FIA! ouch that must hurt.

    1. Last year they didn’t have the ridiculous variation they as they have this year.

      Maybe the tyre lottery was that apparent in Malaysia, but did you see the race in Melbourne?

  13. Racing this year has been great…we should bring back tyre wars to spice things up!!!

    Bring back Michelin, Goodyear, Pirelli..etc! That will be crazy!

  14. Antonyob,

    The tyre variation is this year much bigger than it was last year. In 2009 the difference is almost three seconds per lap but in 2008 it was no more than 0.3-0.8 seconds!

  15. One of the reasons people used to give why the Catalunya GP was a procession, apart from the circuit itself, was that teams did loads of testing there so they all had the perfect setup. So I wonder if the testing ban will have any affect, especially as teams will be bringing untried parts to races.

    The main argument for a single tyre manufacture is that it is easier to restrict performance, if we had a new tyre war we would see lap times tumble and the FIA would act to reduce speeds for the sake of safety.

    1. Plus tyres end up having too much of an impact on pace — we watch F1 to see drivers and constructors battling it out, not tyre manufacturers! (though sometimes the upsets are exciting to watch, as when Damon Hill almost won in Hungary in 1997)

    2. Good Point. It is said to be one of the harder circuits to get your set up right, hence their enthusiasm to test their adnuseum (can’t spell).

      Maybe with less testing we will see a more mixed up race (fingers crossed.)

  16. Lapcharts for Australia appear to show that Hamilton made a positive overtaking move on some 19 occasions but I submit to the experts on this blog for checking that. Some of that may be down to KERS some to tyre degradation but surely some must have been down to the OWG and even skill (if this heinous criminal condemned for life without the option of parole can be so permitted)

  17. OWG Have done a great job. The thing is, it isn’t just the car that overtakes the other cars its the driver. Jenson Button got past Alonso no problem, so Barrichello should have done so in the same car as well. And Lewis Hamilton, i’m certain, has overtaken more cars than anybody so far this season. With KERS and the new aero regs, dull races where people settle for postions are a thing of the past! NO need for bloody medals or whatever system the FIA want to introduce next season!

    1. @ djdaveyp

      Jenson Button got past Alonso no problem, so Barrichello should have done so in the same car as well.

      – Did you account for the fuel load factor on Alonso’s car when JB overtook him. FA and NH were two fuel tankers loaded to brim that evening( or twilight should I say). FA was not even getting his breaking points right when Button was behind him. FA’s fuel load must have obviously become more manageable for him to control the car when RB was at his tail.

  18. Great Article, Keith.

    I honestly think is too early to see if overtaking is easier than in previous year, because there are some other not planned variables arround:

    Cars with double diffuser are 0,5-1,0 Sec faster than the rest.

    Kers / Non Kers: everybody was thinking that almost every team were going to use it, and now there is a mixed grid.

    In any case, keeping in mind what we’ve seen in those two races, it seems there are more overtakes than in previous years.

    Would be great if some of your expert contributors, could give us a technical view of their thoughts about the new aeropackage.

    We cannot be sure if what we have seen is just due to the other factors and not because the new aeropackage that was specified to facilitate overtaking.

    1. I don’t think anyone expect all the teams to be running KERS at the beginning of the season. And of the teams not using it yet, most appear to be convinced of its benefits — Brawn might be the only team not ending up with KERS:

      – Williams is developing their own kinetic system
      – RBR will be using Renault’s
      – FIndia will be using McLaren’s
      – Toyota: ? (they could presumably collaborate with Williams; AFAIK they licensed Williams’ transmission in exchange for engines)
      – STR: Ferrari?

      Brawn probably cannot use McLaren’s, both for competitive reasons and because they use their own gearbox.

  19. Whilst we have seen more overtaking i think it is to early to call. The new regs have made a difference but the overtaking we have seen is artifical because one car is impeded in one way or another. Kers give advantages to some teams on the straights, while the diffuser three have more downforce therefore better cars and the option tyre rules create more drama then anything and i personally dont like. Last year the cars were much closer in performance over a race distance therefore more difficult to overtake. Reducing aero was a great move and mechanical grip is the best thing for overtaking. Personally i think the cars look awful and i dont understand why they couldn’t adopt simlar wings to indy car. That series has so much overtaking and the cars follow eachother centimetres apart. You will find the cars will eventually become fairly even and overtaking will become more difficult. The difference the regs will make will be driver errors will now be penalised as the cars can pounce much faster on a car running wide. There will still be tracks were overtaking will be minimal like hungry, barcelona, monaco, valencia…

    1. The question is whether IRL cars can produce more overtaking compared to F1 cars when racing on the same track. In 2008, most likely; in 2009, who knows?

      But I agree that Hungary and Valencia ought to be replaced. Bring back the classic tracks!

  20. The OWG does deserve a lot of credit for their work. But a lot of the good racing we’ve seen is due to the cars being so close in performance, which the rules somehow have managed.

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