Track or car design – what’s to blame for F1’s passing problem? (Poll)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Follow-my-leader at the Circuit de Catalunya
Follow-my-leader at the Circuit de Catalunya

Two F1 car designers have claimed F1 track designs need to be changed to increase overtaking – instead of making changes to the cars so they can follow each other more closely.

Do you think tracks need to be changed more to create overtaking opportunities? Or does the problem still lie with the cars?

What's to blame for poor racing in F1?

  • Car design (15%)
  • Mainly car design but partly track design (31%)
  • Car and track design equally (18%)
  • Mainly track design but partly car design (24%)
  • Track design (11%)
  • No opinion (1%)

Total Voters: 2,172

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Sam Michael, technical director for Williams, said:

If you look at somewhere like Abu Dhabi, there are some good aspects to the circuit, but there are fundamental mistakes. There wasn’t good enough racing there and the organisers need to rectify that before next year. You can’t keep blaming car design.
Sam Michael

Michael makes at least one point I agree with: the need to get rid of chicanes. It used to be that chicanes were something track designers used as a last resort when they had to slow the cars down before a dangerous section with little run-off area. When a track like Abu Dhabi is designed from scratch with a virtually unlimited budget it should not have chicanes in. They are unsightly and discourage overtaking.

McLaren engineering directors Paddy Lowe shared the same sentiment as Michael last month when he said:

If you go to a circuit and you ask a driver where he can overtake he will say, ??there?s only one place where I might be able to do it and it is here.? All the drivers will agree on that same corner. So if you follow the logic of that, we should be asking why all corners can?t have the features that drivers can so easily pinpoint to improve opportunities.
Paddy Lowe

I’m not entirely convinced. We’ve had 12 years of Hermann Tilke designing supposedly overtaking-friendly tracks and results have been mixed at best.

And when car designers start talking about adding even more slow corners to F1 circuits I have to put my fingers in my ears. Modern F1 track are already infested with slow, flat, uninteresting corners. F1 isn’t just about overtaking – it’s also about the spectacle of fast cars tackling the world’s great corners like Pouhon, Maggots, the Suzuka Esses and Istanbul’s Turn 8.

Michael blames “tracks like Barcelona where nobody overtakes” – but he’s forgetting that when the Circuit de Catalunya was first used in the early nineties it was considered good for racing. This was where Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell had their unforgettable wheel-to-wheel sprint down the start/finish straight. It was because the cars had much less downforce 18 years ago.

I think the chief problem is still the huge amounts of aerodynamic grip F1 cars generate. I don’t see how two technically savvy individuals can go to race weekends where lower-grip GP2 cars regularly put on better races than F1 cars on the same circuits, and then conclude the track are at fault.

The restrictions on car aerodynamics need to go further. But with none coming at present I don’t expect to see an improvement in 2010.

What do you think is to blame for poor racing in F1? Or do you think the amount of overtaking that happens is about right? Cast your vote above and have your say in the comments.

More on overtaking

120 comments on “Track or car design – what’s to blame for F1’s passing problem? (Poll)”

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  1. I think Clay got it right.
    We absolutely need to reduce downforce, with very drastic method, if needed. The comparison with GP2 is clear enough.
    About the tracks: they need to be technical, fast, difficult, with long straights. No more 90 degrees corners and slow hairpins, please. Among the newers I could save only Turkey and partly Sepang and Bahrein.
    What does Singapore, Valencia, Abu Dhabi has to say???

  2. I don’t think that the OWG failed with the 2009 rules.
    We should not forget that the OWG developed the 2009 regulations with the intention to allow overtaking when the car behind is at least 1 second faster than the one in front.
    The problem with this year was that the difference between the first and the last car has been minimal, oftentimes inferior to that crucial 1 second.

    This leads me to my second point, which is that the rules are too restrictive and cars end up being all the same.

    When I began watching F1 in 1989, there were V8s, V10s and V12s. Pirelli and Goodyear fought against each other and cars were visibly different. It was only natural that such diversity would produce often unpredictable races, as cars were differently suited according to the different tracks.

    Nowadays we have V8s only, control tyres, and terribly restrictive rules. KERS, although very controversial, at least allowed for some differentiation but we all know what’s happening with that.

    Now that Bridgestone has thrown in the towel, I believe there is a perfect opportunity to reverse the demented (i.e. Mosley) 1993 rules and go back to bigger tyres, so as to improve mechanical grip.

    That said, I agree with Sam Michael that tracks need to be modified, especially in terms of getting rid of the chicanes.
    But I am hoping for some more interesting technical challenges in the future: that is what F1 is all about.

    1. Completely agree.

      The field is very competitive and that makes it a lot harder to overtake too. The OWG can’t be blamed for that. They rightly said that overtaking should be a challenge.

      When cars are 3 seconds faster than others, then overtaking happens by the dozen. Look at what happened in Melbourne when drivers quickly ran down their supersofts.

  3. The problem of overtaking is for sure a problem with the cars and with the drivers. Track design should not be given this much attention as it is given recently, because 20 years ago there were much more fast tracks with high speed corners such as Imola, Ostereichring, Silverstone, Brands Hatch etc. and overtaking DID take place and they did not need those boring 1st and 2nd gear corners to do it.

    So to me it’s obvious that something is either wrong with the car and/or the drivers. I think it is completely crazy to ruin beautiful old style tracks where drivers are tested not only for skill but equally for courage, and to replace them with boring modern Tilke style tracks which are full of 1st gear and 2nd gear corners and have no character whatsoever.

    I don’t need to watch F1 to see cars doing 60 round a corner, I can just look out my bedroom window and watch cars coming by down the road. I watch F1 so I can feel my jaw drop as I see the best drivers rounding fast corners on beautiful tracks at a 150+.

    Second thing, overtaking still is possible, look at Button this year, and Hamilton, Kobayashi etc. So I think a lot of it is down to the driver too. But mostly it’s the cars, they rely so much on downforce and not so much on mechanical grip, so the solution is possibly to reduce downforce and increase mechanical grip (e.g. bigger grippier tires) so the cars don’t lose too much speed when following eachother. But please don’t touch the tracks, that’s ridiculous, we already have too much of those Bahrein and Shanghai boring look alikes.

    Last thing, refueling will not lessen overtaking, if anything it will increase it as those boring pit refueling strategies will be eliminated and overtaking will actually HAVE to find place on track rather than in the pits. I think anyone who doesn’t agree should watch a pre 1994 race.

    1. With regards to your point about drivers: It could well be that the ones who did overtake this year (Button, Kobayashi, as you point out) may have had cars that are more stable under dirty air. It’s very difficult to separate the two.

      We can however know that most drivers would have had to do a lot of overtaking in Karting and the junior series before making it to F1. So in my mind most of the drivers in F1 are all good overtakers and some are exceptional (trail braking).

      This eliminates drivers as a possibility.

  4. Maybe the present day drivers don’t have the guts(few exceptions of course) to perform overtaking maneuvers like Senna,Mansell & Hakkinen. They are too afraid to overtake cuz they are afraid they’ll get penalized. Look at what happened to Hamilton at spa 2008. Although I agree there are flaws in the OWG’s design, the drivers must also make a conscious effort to overtake. For example people like Nick Heidfield race only for statistics(he’s finished 50 odd races in a row I think)if it were Senna or Mansell or for that matter Montoya in his position, they wouldn’t give a damn to such a useless statistics. It is people like nick Heidfield, Nakajima,Fisi that make racing boring. If I’m right Nick Heidfield hasn’t won a race since the turn of the decade(1999 he won a f3 race, his last ever race win). So he doesn’t know what it takes to push for a victory. All he cares about is finishing all the races , so that people will remember him as the driver who finished the maximum races in a row. Who cares about such a statistic? No real racing driver would give a damn. Drivers like Nick Heidfied must be confined to testing & other activities. He’s certainly not a racer. We are in desperate need of some ballsy drivers. The last one was JPM.A day might come when the art of overtaking might well be forgotten. The sole purpose of racing according to me is overtaking, the rest including pitstop, refueling, managing tyres etc is all bull…
    Nowadays drivers are discouraged to overtake by their own teams! look at what happened in Brasil 2008. After Vettel had passed Hamilton with 3 laps remaining, Whithmarsh came on the radio & told Hamilton that he was racing Glock & not Vettel! Vettel was a few feet ahead of him & Glock was almost half-a-lap ahead!Now hamilton being a “well groomed” mclaren prodigy obeyed his godfather & decided to play it safe & thereby not pass Vettel. Now just imagine what if those extra drops of rain had not fallen at Juncao? Glock wouldn’t have lost grip & Hamilton would have never been kissed by nicole :P All that I’m trying to say is that would Senna,Mansell & JPM played it safe like Hamilton. With no disregards to Hamilton,no they would not have. They would have gone chasing Vettel, at least attempted to pass him even if it meant risking losing a championship. That is what we want. Not an old man sitting in front of a LCD screen looking at the GPS data, telling their their drivers who is where & asking them to play it safe. By doing this on a consistent & regular basis the teams themselves are directly discouraging their drivers from overtaking. Whats the fun?

    1. I agree, the last real racer with some steel balls was JPM

      1. Mp4..for once I agree with you.

        JPM is my favourite driver of all time for this reason. When he raced on Sunday, he actually raced, no strategy could hold him back. I recall Jackie Stewart mentioning sometime last year that the last real racers in F1 were Jacques Villenueve, Montoya and Eddie Irvine…incidentaly, these were my favourite drivers of the last 12 years or so.

        We can blame the car, the tracks which have a part to play, but I think the drivers themselves are too pampered these days. If think about it, its all Michael Schumacher’s fault. His well calculated strategies, winning races from the pits over all those years have caused this.

        Call me daft, but if we’re blaming downforce as the culprit, how there were so many great races during the ground effects era of the 80’s?

    2. Apart from Spa 2000, Hakkinen was rubbish at overtaking. DC was much better than him in that respect.

  5. Mainly car design but partly track design

    The double diffuser is an issue but other cars can overtake on tracks like Barcelona and Turkey.

    Some tracks though seem to produce great races no matter the cars are like, Spa, Montreal, Melbourne, Interlagos.

  6. I’m picking something that isn’t on the list – Drivers. In my opinion, the only current drivers able to overtake are Hamilton, Alonso, Raikonnen. Kobayashi too from the little we’ve seen. These are the guys that risk it all to lunge round the outside, when most would just chill out and wait for the pit stops.

    We need braver drivers and less pussys like Kovalienen.

    1. Wow AA, we’ve suggested the same thing exactly at 10:24 AM. Absolutely correct! Half the problem is with the drivers.

    2. It’s about balancing the compromise: if you’re faster than the guy in front but he’s pitting in a few laps, is it worth lunging into a corner and risk smashing up your car or getting a penalty? And if the driver in front is a rookie, how do you know how he will react?

      The problem is NOT drivers. If car and track issues were solved, we’d see fast drivers working their way up the field because they drive quicker, not because they risk it all for one corner in a 60 lap race. I applaud the drivers who can cleverly find their performance advantage at a particular corner and exploit it though. Some statistics on overtake attempts versus successful overtakes would be interesting here.

      1. The problem is NOT drivers. If car and track issues were solved, we’d see fast drivers working their way up the field

        and in reality we see some drivers who work their way up the field and some who don’t. So … then it IS partly caused by the drivers.

    3. In my opinion, the only current drivers able to overtake are Hamilton, Alonso, Raikonnen

      So no overtaking from Button then?
      That’s pretty much what won him the title.

  7. I voted 50/50 on the poll. I agree that the massive aerodynamic grip is the main cause of less overtaking in races today, but you must remember that the more modern tracks (ie. Tilke-designed circuits) have been designed with the current aero performance in mind. It’s a vicious circle: clever engineers find increases in downforce, circuits have slow corners added to nullify downforce to create overtaking spots… we end up with even more boring races.

    The driver does have an effect on overtaking of course, and this is all about confidence in grip into the braking zones, and maintaining a line through the corner to get good traction. This confidence is affected by car performance and corner design, and of course we see some drivers more confident than others, but if they were all gunning for it then we’d see more entertaining racing overall.

  8. I’d say mostly cars but tracks like Singapore, Hungaroring, Valencia don’t help with overtaking either.

  9. I’d like to see a test sessions at any circuit where the cars have all the wings removed. Let’s see if the cars can follow eachother through corners. If so, ban wings altogether. If not, increase the width of tyres.

    1. That would be very interesting indeed. I think OWG’s biggest blunder was to use simulation data to frame the current regulations. Why did they do that? They could have designed different car variations and asked drivers(like Kimi, who do anything for huge sums) to have a go at each other at Barcelona(same track was used for OWG’s simulations). Then they could have concluded as to which variation was best for overtaking. Simulation is simulation. Just ask what aicraft pilots think of Microsoft’s FSX.

      I think all is not lost, they can do the same for 2013 before all of them commit to the Concord agreement.

      1. its rather acuarate.. its good for getting a good understanding for what the dials mean and do however you cant get a fell for how a plane moves in real life

  10. I believe the tracks could have wider curves with plenty of safe space of asphalt if one makes mistakes, so encouraging the drivers to take chances, besides, design alternatives on how to make those curves, or maybe, alternative paths in the same circuit. A driver could choose one or another. Sounds crazy, but I’m sure it would be exciting, just thinking what is the driver going to do…

  11. Totally car design for me. When you watch old races drivers can pass on corners that wouldn’t even be overtaking options with current cars.

  12. To sum up the idea on a track that I point it out earlier, heres’s the image that I’ve created minutes ago.

    1. There’s still only one racing line. I’m not sure of the safety implications of splitting the track?

      It reminds me a bit of Queensland?

  13. Notice that the curves are very wide, making possible to a driver pick a right point to brake and turn depending on the situation, even making it possible to X-pass on the curves. Another point that I believe it could be nice and safe is that at a point, the track could be devided in alternative equal paths (mirror)… what do you guys think? Is that too crazy?!

  14. When a track like Abu Dhabi is designed from scratch with a virtually unlimited budget it should not have chicanes in. They are unsightly and discourage overtaking.

    Maybe they had to correct an error that was made during the design? Or they decided to add a grandstand or hotel in the spot where a runoff area was planned?

    Did they really put that chicane in there on purpose?

    On the other hand, I used to love the chicanes in Germany with their super slo motion camera’s. It just looks amazing to see an F1 car make it’s way over the kerbs of a chicane. So maybe they did do it on purpose.

    And when car designers start talking about adding even more slow corners to F1 circuits I have to put my fingers in my ears. Modern F1 track are already infested with slow, flat, uninteresting corners. F1 isn’t just about overtaking – it’s also about the spectacle of fast cars tackling the world’s great corners like Pouhon, Maggots, the Suzuka Esses and Istanbul’s Turn 8.

    Well some people like both. I went to Magny Cours (2000) and sat near the hairpin. I saw a huge amount of overtaking action. A lot more than was ever shown on tv.

    That’s fun to watch. See drivers fighting hard in and out of that corner (coulthard even fliped Schumacher the bird) and see Schumacher retire (although that could have happened anywhere I guess)

    I also sat at Pouhon several times. To be honest I like the fighting in hairpins beter. You just don’t get the sense of speed looking at a car from a distance.

    From on-board the fast bends are cool though.

    Why can’t a track have both a slow hairpin and a few high speed bends?

    I think the chief problem is still the huge amounts of aerodynamic grip F1 cars generate. I don’t see how two technically savvy individuals can go to race weekends where lower-grip GP2 cars regularly put on better races than F1 cars on the same circuits, and then conclude the track are at fault.

    Because it’s a combination of both. F1 cars are designed so they have to be 1 sec faster to be able to overtake. Probably even more than a sec at the end of the season even. That situation just doesn’t occur a lot.

    GP2 cars probably require less difference.

    A slow hairpin after a longh straight makes overtaking easier. In those cases less than a second lap time difference is needed.

    So if you want more overtaking then either increase the number of locations where overtaking is made easier or change the cars so the lose even more downforce and less difference is needed.

    The latter also has the effect that cars get slower overall. That might have good or bad side effects. For instance, fast bends might become “slow corners” and kill the spectacle or it might just lower the speed from flat out to “on the edge” and increase the excitement for the bend.

  15. For those who only blame car design –

    There are two kinds of corners that provenly make overtaking easier REGARDLESS of car design.

    1. High speed (but not full throttle) corners

    With slow corners, it’s just getting your braking right, and most drivers can do it, fine thanks. At the other end of the spectrum, with full speed corners it’s almost just a question of neck strength.

    However, when you have a very fast but tricky corner (Eau Rouge, Parabólica etc.), the chance of making a slight mistake is always there. In such cases, the car will be vulnerable to being overtaken in (or at the end of) the following straight.

    2. Slow, but not extremely slow corners with several lines to take

    Just look at a track many people love to hate: Hungaroring. It has that first corner providing beautiful overtaking maneuvers (Piquet-Senna, Massa-Hamilton) or at least drivers coming out of the pits being promptly overtaken, wobbling on their new tires.

    It’s because wide plus semi-slow corners always provide room for cars going side by side, having a go at the other one from both the outside or the inside.

    Paddy Lowe is perfectly right.

    If one can pinpoint corners that give us overtaking year after year, what the hell prevents track designers from studying such corners, understanding what makes them special, and then creating corners with similar characteristics?

  16. i believe a couple people already said it but…. steel brakes, steel brakes, steel brakes. Combined with current aero, problem solved.

  17. It’s the cars design for me. I’d ideally like to see OWG make a recommendation that the aero levels need to be reduced to those of the early 90’s, but that’s never going to happen. The teams have become so dependant on aero that they can’t go back. Take this year as an example, they dramatically reduced the downforce the cars produce, but by the end of the season I heard someone (could have been Brundle during one of the races) saying the team have already clawed back a significant portion of what they lost.

    Another thing that isn’t on the list that does play a role in my mind is the fact that the “smaller teams” have gotten better. In the “good old days” when a fast car like a Williams, McLaren or a Benneton fell back down the pack for some reason (tripping over someone and losing the front wing etc), they would be able to carve through a field of useless Footwork’s, Larrouse’s, March’s, Minardi’s, Dallara’s, Simteks, Forti’s, Lotuses, Brabhams and Tyrrell’s (in the later years) and salvage a point or two. The fact of the matter is that the field is much more evenly matched now than it ever was.

    1. you do know Benneton was a back marker for quite some years….
      As was Ferrari…a podium was a MASSIVE deal, and a win a dream

      1. And when was it when a podium for Ferrari was a massive deal?

        1. Ehhh….pretty much the few years leading up to Schumi’s arrival, as well as all of 2005….

  18. Another option should be the regulations.

    The aero group did all this work trying to sort out the car design but missed a trick. The regulations should define the effect on the air that leaves the car and not restrict what can be done with the car itself.

    Require cars to leave the air in a useful state and that resolves the problem, no matter how much downforce is generated.

  19. There are three main factors:


    Track design does influence overtaking, i.e. Hockenheim, but if aero dependency were reduced, more overtaking would be achieved where it should be possible – Monza, Silverstone etc.


    No doubt about it, the car’s aero is the main factor. In the wet, when the car has half of it’s downforce, it’s no surprise the cars can overtake.

    [b]Incentive to Overtske[/b]

    A lot of the time there is no incentive to overtake – they should have based the championship on the number of wins.

    The problem with modern circuits is that off line the track is so dirty, e.g. Abu Dhabi, Bahrain – compare that it with Magny Cours, the straight before the hairpin is conducive to overtaking.

    To increase overtaking the cars need to have the same downforce in the dry as they do in the wet – simple. Also, if the braking distances are reduced – by using less powerful, standardised brakes, then overtaking will be on the up.

  20. Get rid of double diffusers and increase braking distance!!

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