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. 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…

  2. 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.

    1. Nice idea, not so sure about the standard floor, but other than that this gets my thumbs up.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. I consider Webber’s safety stance a bit weird


  5. 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 :(

  6. I agree with all your comments although I feel a lot of the problem is the tracks… take a look at Abu Dhabi for instance… when I first started racing that track on rFactor the chicane was missing after turn 4… there was no better feeling than getting turn 2,3 and 4 right at full throttle and having that straight… my first thought was great place to grab a tow and pass…( and it worked well in the game :)… but then the race comes around and they throw a chicane in there… passing spot eliminated… so some thought has to be put in the area of track lay out..

  7. HounslowBusGarage
    10th November 2009, 15:59

    And I want to add another factor to the equation.
    I think one of the contributors to lack of overtaking is . . . TYRES.
    The modern F1 tyre offers superb grip levels, but it also sheds quite a lot of ‘marbles’ around the track. These marbles get thrown onto areas outside the optimum racing line. But it’s these very areas of track that a driver will have to use in an overtaking manoevre, but he can’t get the same amount of grip off line and on top of the marbles. So he can’t overtake.
    Over the seasons we’ve all heard commentators and drivers say that a track is very slippery off line due to the rubber debris, and it’s become easier for a defending driver to stay on the racing line secure in the knowledge that his persuer cannot go off line to pass because there’s no grip out there.
    Maybe that why wet races are often more exciting. In the wet, it’s sometimes quicker to follow a ‘karting’ line around the outside of the corner, and marbles don’t seem to matter as much.

    1. very good point.

  8. Simple – Ban Aerodynamics

  9. I agree with Wesley and PJA…it is car design, particularly the double diffuser. I am suprised the FIA did not close the loophole. The original regs were designed to aid overtaking ( as was KERS).

  10. Agree with most the comments here, Car design.

    I think they should lower the grip on the front and back in good proportions and then increase engine power. Mistakes like power slides etc really help pick out the good drivers from the bad. More power is more dangerous but the safety of the cars has come a long way but the power hasnt.

  11. Yes. It seems worse than ever, I hoped the return of slicks would help but I guess they lay more rubber down than before, so there’s a greater difference in grip between the racing line and off-line.

    Also we have more and more races in the desert or at dusty purpose-built tracks that are only used once a year. And would more support races help?

    It would be great if the new tyre supplier could create something for 2011 that grips better on all parts of the track.

    Failing that, the new Portimao track has a sprinkler system…

    1. Dammit, was aiming to reply to HounslowBusGarage and missed.

  12. I voted both but I’m beginning to think the car is more to blame after reading some of the wonderfully knowledgeable comments on this site.
    However I would say…fix both and then we won’t have this argument :P
    And stewards stop interfering so much! Drivers need to want to attack more too.

  13. Not the cars. It’s the tracks. Tilke needs to put a map of Interlagos on his wall and meditate on it for one hour every day.

    Whatever the rules do for body design, the hard core luddites here won’t be satisfied until drivers have to hand-crank their cars on the grid. Clutches? Why not make every driver complete 3 Soduku games per race while he is driving? Driving the cars is plenty hard now, thanks. Ask Giancarlo Fisichella.

    And replacing the grid with a spec GP2 chassis won’t improve racing. What made the cigars-with-wheels cars better for overtaking was not the lack of aero, but their horrendous performance—times, poor braking, crappy tires, dynamic instability. And as for GP2, it has been duly explained above that rank hackery is great for passing, but not a worthy aim of for F1.

    The bottom line is that it is damned hard to pass a car that can go from 200 to 50 MPH in 100 meters. And so it should be. This the pinnacle of motorsport, not the pinnacle of motorsport spectacle.

    But we have seen cars than car race side by side and follow closely haven’t we? What Interlagos can teach us:
    –It’s wide. Even the slow bits allow you to jump inside. See Bico de Pato
    –It has straights that begin with multiple fast or medium corners and end in medium corners–you can’t be close to car coming ot of hairpin because one car can accelerate while the other is still rounding the bend. Multiple bends allow a traction advantage to accumulate before the straight.
    —Ending a long straight in hairpin is stupid. The following car cannot compromise his entry and exit angle to decrease his braking distance to make a pass, or avoid a wreck. See, turns 1 and 4 at Interlagos. Yes, the hairpin theory is that it increases the time under brakes but its a dumb theory because passing requires differential braking times not longer ones per se.
    —You need multi-apex corners to allow a following car to compromise his line in favor of braking or exit speed. See Ferradura.

    Of course changes can be made to the cars. I’ve advocated steel brakes and downforce tunnels, both of which would help and would not turn the sport into museum of past automotive technology. I’d bring back TC and up the engine power again—allowing a superior car to apply its grip advantage off the corner will aid passing also.

  14. carl f1 genius
    10th November 2009, 19:05

    sit every car in the official fia wind tunnel and pass them only their turbulence is less than a set amount. also ride heights should be set to a minimum ground clearance so that we dont get the debacle of aqua plaining cars on heavy rain days, its a joke.

  15. Can someone tell me exactly when there was more overtaking? I’m asking because I watched the 1982 Austrian GP and the 1986 Belgian GP on YouTube, and in terms of entertainment they didn’t seem that much better or worse than a modern GP.

    Also, what if the FIA banned diffusers and raised nosecones?

    1. Agreed. Many comments are based on false nostalgia and excessive review of historic passing moves on YouTube. I awoke many a dawn over the years to sit through many processions. This golden age of passing never was.

      If diffusers were banned cars would become more dependent on less efficient and higher turbulence-producing wings. Remember that we have diffusers now because proper tunnels were banned in the interest of slowing the cars—without any thought to the effect of wing-turbulence. Going further in that direction would not be a step forward in my view.

  16. Does anyone from the FIA ever read these comments Keith? We’re giving them all the answers right here! When will they listen to the fans?

  17. I would like another option to vote for which is that drivers today do not have balls the size of Nigel Mansell’s.
    Or maybe that drivers are a bit too afraid to crash the car so do not try “Dan Dare” maneouvres as much as they used to.
    The tracks and cars have always had this problem. It will get tougher to overtake if the lap time between two cars is relatively small, as we have seen this year. Didn’t stop Jenson though did it?

  18. Mike "the bike" Schumacher
    10th November 2009, 22:39

    Does anyone remember the britsih gp 2003 barrichello overtook loads of cars to win, likewise coming from behind in germany 2000, Schumacher in his last race in brazil 2006, Schumacher,Raikkonen, Alonso, Japan 2006, Raikkonen Bahrain 2006 and even Button in Brazil this year.
    he might need a slightly faster car also.

  19. 100% cars (aero)… get standard front and rear wings, no winglets in the bodywork and ban double diffusers.. then we will have overtaking

  20. Car design does have a big effect but why did we had good racing in Brazil & Belgium but not in Bahrain & Turkey.
    Yes downforce needs to be shredded but they also need to come up with good circuit design which despite the downforce will help to have good racing.

    Yes I agree with you Keith that in GP2 we have better overtaking than in F1.

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