Circuits, not cars, need to change to improve overtaking


Staff Member
In an interview on the F1 site, Paddy Lowe, McLaren's Engineering Director suggests that it is the corners on the circuits that need to change and not the cars to improve overtaking opportunities.

"I personally think that the benefits will come by looking at circuits. We were talking about this only the other day with (McLaren team principal) Martin Whitmarsh, and he made quite an obvious statement that is also quite meaningful. 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."

Do you agree with this?

Looking at the overtaking figures for the last 25 years, it's clear that even with no changes to a circuit, overtaking has reduced.

I would say that marbles are one of the main problems when it comes to overtaking at corners, as discussed on FB's tyre thread.
If changing the circuits or corners doesn't remove or reduce the marbles and dirt off the racing line then I fail to see how anything will improve.

Link to the article on the F1 site: McLaren on beating Ferrari, overtaking, and the return of tyre-only pit stops
He's got a point, but cars change anyway, there'd be no circuits left if the suggestion was they fork out for changes to layout in addition to the CVC ransom money and all the other crap that the Small One demands.

Fact is, there is more likely to be overtaking at Hockenheim than Valencia, but its the "turbulent air" that screws up most of the chance of overtaking in F1.
Where Paddy Lowe's argument breaks down is GP2.

The GP2 races are held at a lot of the same circuits as F1 and they manage to overtake, even at Valencia.

What they need to do is remove a lot of the design restrictions and let the designers do their job.
Instead of making all the cars identical with the same shape, power, and everything else.

Or go back to the old days and introduce some ground effects (as GP2 has) to counteract the problems caused by turbulent air.
The GP2 races are held at a lot of the same circuits as F1 and they manage to overtake, even at Valencia.

What they need to do is remove a lot of the design restrictions and let the designers do their job.
Instead of making all the cars identical with the same shape, power, and everything else.

The funny thing is, as you say Bro, the GP2 cars can overtake on these self same circuits and the GP2 cars are identical. The thing is F1 needs to go one of two ways either all totaly identical cars or all free to design anything they like. This situation we are in at the moment where there is very little design room means that there is still enough space for one car to be faster than the next but not enough for a slow team to make up a huge gap in performance.

Identical cars would be rubbish as this is supposed to be the pinical of motorsport so freedom to design has to be the way.

The problem as I see it is not the tracks. The proof of that are the tracks that have remained unchanged over long periods. These have still seen a massive reduction in overtaking. I don't think it's the levels of grip off the line that are the difference either because that's always been an issue. Ever since I can remember watching F1 drivers talked about lining up on the dirty side of the grid and there being no grip off line.

I believe the problem is that F1 cars have reached a design dead end. The designer has done the perfect job in so much as the cars are almost bomb proof in their reliability, superb in grip and as quick as they've ever been. There is no unpredictability in design any more. Now that teams are using CFD, coupled with their own wind tunnels and driver simulator units they virtually know exactly how the car will handle without ever turning a wheel. That's another reason why a ban on testing has not effected the speed of the cars only the ability of the drivers to drive the things. Teams are already pretty certain how the car will handle before it even takes to the track.

Can all this be banned? Of course not. It's like asking NASA to go back to Apollo era technology because it made the space race a bit more interesting.

In the same way, going back to older style parts on the cars such as manual gear boxes and steel brakes would mean that teams would place even more faith in Aero design and we would end up in the same situation.

One thing that could make a difference is a return to turbos. Drop the stupid one engine to last a year rule and put some stress back on the driver and car to complete a race. The best way to control a drivers strategy seemed to be enough fuel to complete the race depending on how hard he pushed, a set of tyres that may or may not have lasted the distance so it could be quicker to drive a few 10ths off the limit to begin with or it may be quicker to driver like hell and pit and on top of all that an engine that you can turn up the boost on or drop as required. Turn it up and it could well blow up, don't turn it up and the guy behind you whizzes on past.

Formula one needs variation, it needs to be put back in the hands of the drivers and the drivers need to take some of the blame themselves. Sometimes you get the impression that they are far to content to sit back and play percentages than go for it. Button is going to be a world champion by doing just enough while Hamilton was vilified for having the audacity to push like a nutter in the last few laps of the Italian GP. Strange world isn't it?
I dun said it before and i'll say it again - get rid of qualifying!

20 cars tuned within ~1-2% of their peak performance and then they are asked to start in order of a speed test before the race, are we really that surprised there is no overtaking? I reckon going back in time cars were more greatly effected by their environment and changes in conditions whereby the margin of error was much greater than 1-2%.

Nowadays both driver and car are more insulated thanks to the improvements in technology as CAT has pointed out, so much so that I think it has had the largest bearing on the decrease in overtaking. I personally dont believe the removal of refueling is going to have any positive impact, time has moved on and things that worked 20 years ago are not automatically going to fit today.

My view: 20 cars, 20 tracks, draw the grid from a hat, everyone starts from 1-20 at some point in the season, and if its a track not conducive to overtaking, well thats luck of the draw - far more unfair things in F1 than that.
As usual I read the original post and think "aha I have a cogent point here" then CaT goes and answers it far better than I ever could - bahhhh pesky kids ;)

I was going to say "GP2 balh blah identical blah blah, aero, design blah"

But I'll just shut up instead.
gav1ndav1d said:
20 cars tuned within ~1-2% of their peak performance and then they are asked to start in order of a speed test before the race, are we really that surprised there is no overtaking?

I was going to say pretty much the same thing. Usually the only time we see any overtaking is when somebody is out of place on the grid (e.g. engine/gear box penalty, etc) and has to come through the pack to get close to the place he'd normally finish in. The rest of the time, the cars are so close on performance that any slight advantage one has over another is usually wiped out by being stuck in the wake of the car in front.

I don't think radical design changes are the answer either, since you'll probably end up with one or two cars that are the class of the field and will be on the first couple of rows on the grid anyway.

So if the cars are that close together in terms of performance and it's impossible to "unlearn" everything then surely the only possible solution is to bring back (limited) ground effects?

That will then enable cars to slipstream and pass on straights and corners.

Or get rid of rear wings so the cars are no longer aero dependant.
Reduce wing area and increase tyre widths and allow more grippy compounds.

Allow more than one tyre supplier (like there used to be), and allow these companies a free reign in tyre design.
give the driver back control over his own car.

get a real gear stick in there for starters and throw out all the technical driver support. telemetry? who needs that! F1 is all way too robotic. who needs the pits to tell a driver to slow down or to speed up?

the only real difference in F1 to me are the drivers and their talents. like in another thread, f1 cars are all the same. we need to move backwards.
Surely the drivers need to be a bit more imaginative in where they think they can overtake? I seem to recall drivers going round the outside of Tarzan at Zandvoort and the Peraltada in Mexico and everyone going WOW. If they start a race thinking there is only one place to overtake then they will be stuck in that mind set and not try and pass anywhere else. It also makes it easy for the driver being challeneged to know when the move is coming and defend against it.

The best drivers of years gone by used to be able to get past in the strangest of places, it's almost as if today's grid have given up and just leave it to the team to sort it out at the pit stops Roll on next season and the ban on fuel stops!
Two things would improve the spectacle, and neither require modifying the circuits or the cars.

1. Coverage Production/Direction.
Modern F1 is viewed by long range shot, zoom up to the car on the corner, focus (on the sponsor logos) as it turns, zoom out as it exits the bend. This focus on a single car means that any actual 'racing' isn't in view, you are mostly watching one car at a time, and not a group or pair of cars, and not seeing how the gap extends and closes around the lap.
Watch the videos of GP's gone by, and the camera shots were longer range, and more static, so you saw car v car, rather than car v track.
No, this change won't actually improve overtaking, but it would give a better perception of the racing itself.

2. Gradient
Brazil was a cracking race, and why? Could cars follow closer because the long straights were preceded by bends with gradient, both uphill and downhill? It seems to me that this elevation change reduced the turbulence effect on the following car, or at least reduced it relative to the 2nd car's grip level, and allowed them to gain on corner exit.
More please. (See also Spa, A1/Osterreichring, Brands Hatch, Dijon, etc)
Adrian Newey and Sam Michael have joined Paddy Lowe in saying that it's the circuits which need to change to improve overtaking.

“Fundamentally, I think the circuits are probably the biggest influence,” Newey told Racecar Engineering magazine.

“Everybody keeps conveniently forgetting about that, as it is deemed to be easier to change the cars than change the circuits.”

Michael reckons the switch to slick tyres and lower aerodynamic downforce in ’09 had some positive effects, and says the disparity in the amount of overtaking at different circuits highlighted the nature of the problem.

“One thing that hasn’t really been addressed at all so far is circuit design,” he said.
How does this stance tally with the fact that other series using the same circuits (including GP2) are able to overtake?
I think it's misleading to blame it all on the circuits.

Full article here: F1 designers call for track changes
Have to say I'm with you on this one, Brogan. There are plenty of other Formulae that offer overtaking on the same tracks. This smacks of people trying to shift the blame. Whilst I feel that Tilke produces boring circuits, I think that the fundamental design of the cars and their dependency on aerodynamic grip over mechanical grip prevents overtaking. I think they need to look at the designs of the cars of the 70's and 80's and what produced good overtaking there and look at how this can be incorporated into the modern cars, while still meeting modern safety demands.
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