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

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.

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

  1. DanThorn said on 10th November 2009, 11:05

    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.

  2. To sum up the idea on a track that I point it out earlier, heres’s the image that I’ve created minutes ago.
    http://www.procamp.com.br/track.png

  3. 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?!

  4. Patrickl said on 10th November 2009, 12:15

    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.

  5. 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?

  6. spawinte said on 10th November 2009, 12:36

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

  7. GeeMac said on 10th November 2009, 12:57

    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.

  8. 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.

  9. A Singh said on 10th November 2009, 13:35

    There are three main factors:

    [b]Track[/b]

    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.

    [b]Car[/b]

    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.

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

  11. Ronman said on 10th November 2009, 13:39

    in essence it is the car design and the huge aerodynamic grip that is at fault…. but…

    Today, GP2 races are funner on the same tracks as F1… hummm not so interesting.. if F1 wants to become as action packed as GP2, i think they need to design better tracks if they want F1 cars to remain as they are aerodynamically, but then if that is to change, what would the difference be between GP2 and F1? ok then, lets dump F1 and produce GT1… essentially GT2 designs with F1 engines…. that could solve the problem…

  12. Racin Rob said on 10th November 2009, 14:00

    Like I’ve said before,

    Give the cars a standard aero floor a la champcar.

    Limit the number of wing elements allowed.

    give them BIG fat slicks in the rear like the early 90s.

    Take away carbon brakes.

    Allow the cars more horsepower.

    You’d be left with more mechanically dependent cars that would be faster on the straights but slower in the corners. Creating longer braking zones that allow the drivers better opportunites to pass…..while also allowing the cars to follow each other closer becasue they are less aero dependent.

    The tracks could use a little tweaking also…chicanes are a waste of asphalt.

    Just my thoughts on it anyway.

  13. Icthyes said on 10th November 2009, 14:21

    Mainly cars, sometimes track (like the modification to Barcelona’s final sector; that chicane ruined any chance of overtaking there).

    Call my cynical, but I’m not surprised it’s the guys working on the cars who claim it isn’t the cars’ fault. They want open aero regulations to show off their talent and make themselves indispensable to the team, and command big salaries.

    Reduce the aero from the bodywork, have simply wings (we can even go back to pre-2009 style wings when this is done), open up the underneath for limited, safe development. Do this to the effect of lowering overall downforce, and then increase the size of the tyres to bring it back up again. Or the other way around, so the drivers aren’t so dependant on tyre peformance!

    It is also partly the drivers. How many times have we heard Kimi say “I waited until the first stop to pass”? Vettel too seems shy of overtaking. The likes of Hamilton, Button, and Kobayashi should be rewarded for having a go.

  14. I’d like to add something else – Keith has mentioned this previously.

    The ability of F1 drivers to simply drive people off the road and force them to back off is a classic example. Per example Webber’s “robust” defending of his line in Brazil should not have been allowed. Same for Kobayashi in Brazil on Nakajima. If you actually give the drivers a chance to get alongside then we’ll see more happening.

    I consider Webber’s safety stance a bit weird as his “robust” defending against Rakkionen resulted in Sutil, Trulli & Alonso all crashing.

  15. I voted 50/50 however I feel that the interference by the stewards also makes a difference. As so many overtakes result in a penalty now that it may deter some drivers from attempting an overtake and just hope they can jump them in the pits or force them into a mistake :(

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