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)

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  1. macahan said on 11th November 2009, 3:19

    I strongly believe that it’s mostly car design but there are some track that are at partial blame to. When you can see close wheel to wheel racing and lot of overtaking attempts and maneuvers in GP2 on the same race track the F1 cars cannot or barely manage to overtake. Todays F1 cars rely way to much on down force but are not allowed to utilize down force features as skirts (allowed in GP2), their lap times are only around 10% slower it seems then F1 cars so their overall down force isn’t that bad and yet they have no problems laying close behind another car ..

  2. quick_kill said on 11th November 2009, 7:55

    why not limit the buttons of the steering wheel.

  3. Harv's said on 11th November 2009, 9:22

    the reason long straights dont work with these car is the restrictions on the engines, many of times this year have we heard of the cars bounding on the limiters on the engines and the drivers complaining about it.

    in a slip stream the car buhind experiences a lesser downforce effect and thus the car appears less heavy for the engine so it makes higher speeds reachable while in a slip stream (i hope we all know that). if a car is in a slip stream and is benifiting from it, the affect of the aero is reduced and the engine can rev higher becuase of the lesser aero weight that would usually restrict it if it was driving along in a non turbulent air pocket. if you have gone racing or have played racing sim games you will notice that this affect occurs, when the engine will get up to heigher revs than normal behind another car.

    so there shouldnt be restrictions on the rev limits for the engines, especially when drivers are complaining about bouncing of the limiter even when the are not even behind another car.

    this is another reason for KERS failiure because the driver could not use it when bouncing on the limiter while at top speed because the engine would not turn faster with the extra 80 bhp being applied

  4. Vinnie said on 11th November 2009, 16:17

    Isn’t it just the drivers that are driving too carefully?

  5. I also chalk most of it up to car designs. In MotoGP I see some of the same circuits used by F1 producing great races with fantastic overtaking. Now I know kikes and cars are different animals, but still, it can’t be all that different.

  6. m0tion said on 12th November 2009, 6:06

    I must be sounding like a broken record on this but … F1 needs a standard wake performance test with a rig that must be able to be fitted temporarily to the back of each car. Other aero restrictions could even be relaxed a bit because a clean wake is not easy to do whereas now the incentive is to create as dirty a wake as possible.

  7. The name Tilke makes my blood bubble so I’ll say no more…

  8. pSynrg said on 13th November 2009, 19:20

    I had to tick ‘No Opinion’ as there was no option for “I don’t think there’s a problem.”

    Overtaking in F1 should be rare and exceptional. All the drivers have rare talent and exceptional skills, every now and then an overtake will occur. It’s rarity is what makes it special!

    F1 has never been any different. Show me any era of F1 when people were overtaking willy nilly.

  9. Steve said on 15th January 2010, 15:12

    brakes and aero-efficiency…
    double the braking distances (smaller carbon brakes or steel brakes)

    and limit the front and rear wing elements to 1 (and 2 for monaco and hungary)

    the cars are generating between 200-300% more aero than 15 years ago… they go very fast by themselves but lose significant tenths when behind another car…

    simplify the front wing and rear wing massively, have no limit as to how low the front wing can be and limit the height of the rear wing

  10. Gary said on 12th July 2010, 4:36

    I would say it is about 70% track design, and 30% car design.

    Regarding track design, I think it is a very major part of the problem. To overtake, you need a good corner design to provide best opportunities for drivers to do it more frequently. With a good corner design, I’m talking about suitable corner angle & speed, wide braking area, grip, and harmonic relationship with the previous and next corners.

    At some circuits, we can see some corners are just blatantly meaningless, as if it’s just for a corner’s sake. To make a race as exciting as possible, that is in one way increase the number of overtaking, we have to make as many corners as possible meet the requirements of a good corner design.

    Car design also contribute some to this problem. Fundamentally, F1 cars are extremely dependent of aerodynamic downforce, which make them a lot slower at medium to high-speed corners when a car is racing right behind another car. The ironic part is it’s the situation where the cars are before they overtake. With the current design, it is highly difficult for them to overtake on those corners.

    With a more overtaking-friendly design, such as splitting the rear wing into two parts and putting them right behind the rear wheels, it will increase the downforce available to cars right behind, thus increasing the probability of overtaking.

    I’m no engineer. I’m just an F1 fan, waiting for more exciting races.

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