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. DaveW said on 27th April 2010, 14:35

    The real danger for the top teams is their apparent continuing obsession with getting the optimal time in Q1 and Q2, leading them to wait until it is too late to get even a decent time. The ideal strategy is to get out of the pits as soon as the track goes green. If you get in half a lap at your top speed, and half behind Petrov, you get through. If you are pinned behind Chandok most of the way, then abort the lap and do it again. McLaren’s habit of waiting until the track is empty, in the last possible segment of a session, to send out Hamilton is especially infuriating. By the time he comes around to start his lap, the track is lousy with Virgins and HRTs doing their warm up laps.

    One possible solution is the limit the total number of flying laps per session per car. Maybe this dimninishes the spectacle, but it will allow everyone a better idea of when the track will be free.

    • Mike said on 7th May 2010, 4:55

      Then we might as well go back to the old 60 minute session.

      The teams have to cope with it, anyway, they only do 10 or so laps at most don’t they???

  2. ajokay said on 27th April 2010, 15:35

    Traffic isn’t a problem anywhere aside from public roads.

    It’s a race track. If there’s a car in your way, and you want round it, get round it, it’s one of the points of racing. Best of luck to you front runners, I’m sure you’ll manage just fine.

  3. Bartholomew said on 27th April 2010, 15:57

    I´m bored ! In 2009 there was plenty of scandals and politics to keep us entertained in the weeks between races. Now we don´t have anything.
    We have no Flava organising crashes or Uncle Mo stirring controversy.

    Now that King Ron is retired from racing, we only have Lou, who never says anything interesting or worthwhile.

  4. PeterG said on 27th April 2010, 16:16

    Nice gap analysis for Monaco. But we have to take into accoutn that there is no 80-90 meters of clear in Moncao.
    And about 8 of 22 cars are slow but normally the difference is smaller.
    So the best way is to get in line just out of the dirty air behind Vettel, and he will pull you to Q2 and Q3.
    Only ten cars in Q3 bigger gaps but they must all be on edge all the time not be in each others way.
    Wasn’t there a penalty for driving slow on track?

  5. Very interesting analysis, but have to agree with ajokay!

  6. kapow said on 27th April 2010, 17:54

    I do hope the six new teams remember to race for position though. They have the best chance of points in Monaco, if cars spin or have to make extra stops. They have every right to defend from cars behind them, like Bernoldi’s Arrows keeping Coulthard at bay.

  7. MEmo said on 28th April 2010, 1:52

    How to improve the show? TRAFFIC! That´s going to spice things up on the next tracks. It´s great. Too bad one team is missing. Imagine Monaco with 4 slow newbies (8 cars!) and the BIG4 desperatly trying to get pass them! We´ll have to do with just 6! Lets hope noone parks his car on the track during qualifying, right? ;-)

    • wasiF1 said on 28th April 2010, 2:17

      Lets pray that the grid in Monaco be just like Malaysia where the big teams started from the rear.

    • James_mc said on 28th April 2010, 23:55

      What about Traffic Lights to “Improve the Show”? Roundabouts and parallel parking too! :-D

  8. Dr Jones said on 28th April 2010, 5:53

    How about a 1-flying lap qualifying on Q3? No reason fot the drivers to be impeded by other racers.

  9. JohnBt said on 28th April 2010, 7:23

    If you have watched Super GT (Japan series), there are only 2 cars spaced out for qualifying at a time. There’s no traffic for sure and allow drivers to conclude with a genuine flying lap time, then there will be no more excuses from drivers.

    For racing the blue flag should be kept as the backmarkers can ruin the leaders positions.

    Fans might want the blue flag removed as it will spice up the effects of catch up and make racing closer. Drivers will disagree.

    I’m just a fan, I do my best to enjoy and support F1.

    If only FIA members bother to read all the comments posted, it will help tremendously.

    • PJA said on 28th April 2010, 9:53

      A few years ago F1 experimented with single lap qualifying during the period when the qualifying format seemed to change each season and sometimes during the season.

      The advantages of single lap qualifying were that we saw every drivers qualifying lap and it guaranteed airtime for every team and their sponsors.

      Personally I didn’t like that format and I think the current knock out qualifying system is the best.

  10. GeeMac said on 28th April 2010, 9:06

    I’m expecting the HRT’s, Virgins and Lotuses to be lapped at least 5-7 times each, simply becuase they are going to loose heaps of time letting the tightly bunched field past!

  11. gaz said on 7th May 2010, 19:56

    no need for mr schumacher to park his mercedes on the track this year then

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