Traffic a greater challenge in next races

Traffic will be a bigger problem for drivers at Barcelona and Monte-Carlo

Traffic will be a bigger problem for drivers at Barcelona and Monte-Carlo

Expect to hear a lot more drivers complaining about being stuck in traffic in the next rounds of the championship.

The next four tracks on the calendar are on average 1.2km shorter than the first four. They include Monaco, the shortest and narrowest track in F1, where traffic will prove a major headache in qualifying and the race.

Track lengths

2010 F1 track lengths

2010 F1 track lengths (click to enlarge)

With four more cars on the track than last year, and six of them lapping considerably slower than the rest, F1’s front runners are having to cope with traffic much more than they used to.

Three of the next four circuits are less than 5km long and that means we’re going to hear a lot more about traffic in the next few races.

Qualifying

It’s a particular concern in qualifying. Vitantonio Liuzzi has repeatedly blamed traffic for his poor performances in qualifying. The Force India driver has been out-qualified four-nil by team mate Adrian Sutil so far this year.

With the entire field trying to set a quick time in a 20-minute segment in Q1, mostly at the end of the session when the track is at its quickest, the teams and drivers both have roles to play in making sure their car has clean air to lap in.

The teams carefully choose when to send their cars out on track based on who’s already out and when they’re likely to come in. Have a look at McLaren’s commentary during qualifying on their website to see this in action.

For the fastest cars this means having enough space in front of them so that they won’t catch another car. For the likes of HRT it means having enough space behind them that they won’t be caught.

To get an idea of just how difficult this is, let’s crunch the numbers for Monaco.

The Monte-Carlo circuit measures 3.34km long. Virgin say their car is 5.5 metres long, so let’s assume that’s typical for the grid. Therefore if all 24 cars are out on track nose-to-tail that leaves 3.208km of ‘clean air’ to race in.

If we space out all the cars evenly that leaves just 134m between each car. As we saw last week the HRTs are at best 6% slower than the Red Bulls. So if Sebastian Vettel starts his flying lap behind Karun Chandhok he’ll gain 189m on the HRT driver over the course of his lap.

On top of that remember drivers need to keep out of the ‘dirty air’ of the car in front. Expect them to need at least 100m for that. When Fernando Alonso was penalised for holding up Felipe Massa in qualifying at Monza four years ago the gap between the cars was around 80-90m.

Given that, it’ll be a surprise if we get through Saturday at Monte-Carlo without at least one grid penalty for impeding.

Race

At least in qualifying drivers can get out of the way on their out- or -in-laps. In the race they won’t want to lose too much time letting the leaders by. Fortunately for the front runners F1 has strict blue flag rules which force backmarkers to get out of the way quickly.

Even so, leaders can still lose time behind lapped cars and getting by them quickly is important – especially if the leader has a rival on their tail. Here the track layout plays a big role. Some circuits offer more convenient places to get by lapped cars than others.

If Alonso is leading at home in Spain and he catches Lucas di Grassi on the Circuit de Catalunya’s long main straight the Ferrari driver can breeze past without a worry.

But he won’t want to catch the Virgin driver in the final sector where the corners come thick and fast with little in the way of straights. Worst of all would be to get held up at the chicane, allowing a chasing rival onto his tail on that main straight.

That’s racing

With traffic set to be such a concern in the next few races no wonder the FIA wanted to make sure the drivers have wing mirrors they can actually see out of. This is the correct approach – the onus on getting past slower cars should fall to the drivers.

Traffic isn’t a ‘problem’ that needs to be ‘solved’ with longer, wider tracks. Nor do we need even tighter blue flag rules – they already make life rather too easy for the leading drivers.

Finding a clear spot for a qualifying lap and getting through traffic in the race is part of the challenge of being an F1 driver. Keep that in mind if we hear a chorus of whingeing about traffic in the coming weeks.

Read more: Should blue flags be banned? (Poll)

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51 comments on Traffic a greater challenge in next races

  1. steph said on 27th April 2010, 10:53

    I’m in two minds about this- I want to see drivers at their best and not be held up with but they’re F1 drivers so should just deal with this sort of thing. There have been years where there have been many more cars on the grids and they coped.

    As for Liuzzi, Sutil probably would have beaten him anyway so at least he has an excuse. I understand it’s incredibly frustrating for him, it may have been a mega lap but he and the team should time going out better. Liuzzi may have been caught out with it but it’s an issue every driver has to deal with and most of the grid got their timing right while he didn’t. I hate comparing to past F1 drivers but Senna pretty much always managed to get that good lap in qualifying because he had speed but crucially he was able to tell when was the best time to go on track (speaking of, he also hit Nakajima in ’90 at Brazil I think and that cost him the win so it could make things more exciting).

    Thanks Keith for a great article esp with the numbers it helps make sense of the issue and I really enjoyed the example you gave of the Cat circuit and where that will hurt drivers.

    For Monaco I’m imagining Seb being held up at the hairpin for Alonso/Massa to close up and overtake through the tunnel or at the chicance for the win! :D

  2. BasCB said on 27th April 2010, 10:59

    I allways hate drivers talking about having their laps impeded by others.
    Let us hope they will be lenient on the grid penalties, pentalties for the 4 new teams don’t make a lot of sens anyhow, as they will be starting at the end of the grid.
    Drivers falling down miles on the grid because of this is very annoying, with the penalty for Alonso in Monza being one of the worst examples of misjudged penalties ruining a race or even championship.

    • So you wouldn’t complain if you were an F1 driver being held up in Q3 during your only flying lap, driving a Red Bull in Monaco and having to start from behind where overtaking is impossible?

      • BasCB said on 27th April 2010, 12:54

        I suppose i would complain when directly after the qualifying. But not after the race or repeatedly during the weekend.
        And if this happened to me more often i would have a look at my team to improve our planning and timing.
        But to be held up in Q3 is nonsense, there are only 10 cars in the mix at that time. This is more of a concern for the Q1 where all cars are on track during 20 minutes.

        As Steph points out, Senna was really good in getting the timing of his run right. Vettel mostly does it as well. So this is part of being a world class driver, getting the timing right.

    • I agree. Finding enough space for a clear run is part of the challenge of qualifying. In many cases drivers have been penalised, essentially because they were driving a slower car than someone running behind them.

  3. Macca said on 27th April 2010, 11:00

    Great stats about the gaps between cars at Monaco.

  4. Bleu said on 27th April 2010, 11:55

    Interesting to see what happens. To be honest, I am a bit disappointed to see that track lengths are also close to each other. A total of seven circuits between 5,3 and 5,7 kilometres. Remembering days when we had long tracks at Spa (still is) and Hockenheim, then medium length tracks like Silverstone and Imola, then even ultra-short tracks like Monaco (still is) but also Adelaide and Aida. Even Hungaroring was way shorter before.

    Also one thing to take account is that Istanbul is fast track. Räikkönen’s lap record is 1.26,5 and with that speed the cars have average time distance of 3,6 seconds. In fact, in terms of average speed it’s second fastest of the season when it happens (after Melbourne). But then many late-season tracks go ahead: Monza, Spa, Suzuka, Silverstone and Hockenheim.

  5. rampante said on 27th April 2010, 11:55

    The slower cars will be 5 min down on the leaders and with a race lap at Monaco about 1.17 that is 4.2 laps down at the end. I can see a lot of complaints and excuses at Monte Carlo.

    • all the teams are bringing updates to the next few races, and i think the slow teams will make some big gains; the initial few races were just about getting to the finish, so now they’ll be looking to do some actual racing :)

      also aero isn’t as important at monaco, so i wouldn’t be surprised if one of the new teams catch up to the back of the midfield :D

      • Mike said on 7th May 2010, 4:03

        I also think they will improve, but I doubt they will catch the established teams just eyt.

        But you are right, I think Monaco is an opportunity for them.

  6. sumedh said on 27th April 2010, 12:07

    Baharain authorities added the now-infamous extra 1km of track length to counter this problem of traffic. And look what happened!!

    I say, better have traffic problem than that of a boring race track due to a hastily-added track length

  7. wasiF1 said on 27th April 2010, 12:15

    The race in Monaco will be the one to watch as the slower car will struggle in that twisty circuit & then the front runner will struggle to get pass them in quick time.

  8. Ned Flanders said on 27th April 2010, 12:35

    I’m changing the subject here a bit, but the article mentions di Grassi so I’m going to go for it… does anyone else feel Lucas di Grassi has been a major disapointment this year?

    So far he’s done nothing of note, he’s going to have to get way closer to Glock’s pace in the next few races. If not I doubt he has a long term F1 future

    • Well, with a car that is unbalanced like the Virgin, the gap between a rookie and an experienced driver is bigger than in a well balanced car, so I think we need to give him a bit more time. But sure, he hasn’t impressed in his 4 first races.

    • I can’t say I have analysed his performances that much, but considering he is a rookie in a new team I didn’t have very high expectations for him before the season began so it was virtually impossible for me to be disappointed in Di Grassi.

      • steph said on 27th April 2010, 16:47

        Agree with PJA but I’m not expecting much from di Grassi anyway. I know GP2 doesn’t always mean much when it comes to F1 but he really should have taken that title for the amount of time he spent there. I think he has potential but maybe lacks a little something

    • David A said on 27th April 2010, 15:19

      The highlight of his season was racing with Michael Schumacher in Melbourne! :P

      But with one of the backmarker teams, it is easy to say he’s been dissapointing, but we’ll have to see if he is closer to Glock later on in the season or whether the car can improve enough to let him show his true ability.

  9. Bigbadderboom said on 27th April 2010, 12:49

    It will be interesting to see if the new stewarding system will continue to have a more relaxed attitude towards the interpretation for impeading during qualifying. It will take many keen and educated eyes to watch out for every instance, especially at Monaco, with drivers slowing more now on in laps I agree with Keith that this may become a major problem.

  10. Robert McKay said on 27th April 2010, 12:54

    Shanghai, Bahrain and Sepang are also pretty wide compared to some of the older European races, which is another factor.

    But I agree it’s a skill the drivers and teams should just get on and deal with.

  11. Icthyes said on 27th April 2010, 13:18

    One advantage with the short laps is that the lap times are actually a lot closer, since there is less distance for the fastest cars to show their superiority. Swings and roundabouts, as my mother says.

    The best we can hope for is that drivers on an out-lap or in-lap pay close attention to their mirrors.

    As an aside, I’ve wondered why Monaco can’t have a new configuration, say like this: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=3677125 I think it would create two new overtaking opportunities, much needed as Sainte Devote is no longer the opportunity it used to be, and the Nouvelle Chicane is difficult to line up for because of the curved tunnel. I guess there’s probably safety reasons.

    • Icthyes said on 27th April 2010, 13:21

      Ignore the mile counter as well, that’s the site doing something weird when you make it “there and back”

  12. The Genuine Jim said on 27th April 2010, 13:59

    The thing is, if penalties for impeding in qualli are pretty much a given for the next few circuits, and drivers won’t necessarily be able to get out the way in time (for what ever reason), is it reasonable that they get penalised for blocking?
    I know rules are rules, but when it comes to it I hope the stewards use their heads.

  13. Bullfrog said on 27th April 2010, 14:00

    Who are the stewards for these races? Sounds like they’ll be kept busy.

    How about René Arnoux? He’s an expert on traffic…

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th April 2010, 14:09

      Now there’s a driver who it didn’t matter where his mirrors were – he never looked in them…

      • rampante said on 27th April 2010, 16:46

        I liked him before he went to Ferrari. He was good at Renault. As far as French drivers go of that era I did like Peroni.

        • DanThorn said on 27th April 2010, 16:58

          Haha, if Arnoux isn’t available then perhaps Grouillard or De Cesaris would be available.

        • Bullfrog said on 27th April 2010, 17:14

          Ready for a beer, rampante? :)

          What on earth happened to Arnoux at Ferrari? I’ve never been able to find out why he left suddenly.

          • rampante said on 27th April 2010, 17:52

            He went in a huff when Michele Alboreto continued to out perform him and left.

        • steph said on 27th April 2010, 17:23

          I liked Arnoux too. He kept Gilles on his toes at Dijon in 79, the pair at the moment were magnificent in my opinion. Red Andy once wrote a very, very good piece on him too which made me appreciate the driver even more. He was rubbish when he was the traffic though…

  14. Harry said on 27th April 2010, 14:22

    No one has mentioned Todt’s 107% rule so I’ll bring it up.

    The FIA/FOM allow new teams in but dont allow them extensive testing to get their cars right. Which is unimaginably hard to do for the most seasoned veterans let alone a brand new team.

    Can the new teams, with minimal testing, honestly be expected to be keep up, let alone be competitive?

    Should the FIA require teams to prove that they can meet a minimum speed over the course of a weekend before they’re allowed to take the grid?

    How slow is too slow?

    • Mike said on 7th May 2010, 4:51

      I could be wrong, but as I understand it, the 107% rule won’t affect the new teams this year.

      Yes they are 3-5 seconds off the pace, but when the 107% rule was in place, that was considered to be competitive.

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