Is Lack Of Overtaking A Major Problem In Formula 1?
Why do you watch Formula 1? Seems like a simple question to most but as you dive into it it gets more and more complicated. Do you watch because these are the most technologically advanced machines in the motorsports universe? Do you watch because these are the greatest drivers in the world tackling the greatest racetracks on the planet? Do you watch for all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the mega event that is a Grand Prix?
Personally I watch to see all of it. But mostly I watch to see the best in the world do battle with one another in amazing machinery. I want to watch these drivers put it all on the line to win races and championships. But most of all I watch to see them try to pass one another. There is something beautiful about watching the best in the world try and pass each other. One driver do everything they can to prevent the pass while the other tries to overtake. This is what makes any motorsport great. Sprinkle in a historic track and other worldly machinery and this is what separates F1 from the rest.
Unfortunately 2017 saw a dramatic decline in overtaking. New wider cars with more complicated aero made for some blistering lap times but had the knock on effect of making passing more difficult. Wider cars obviously take up more physical space on the track but the aero has the additional effect of disturbing more air. Less clean air on the chasing car leads to less downforce and eventually less overtaking. Pirelli has been tracking overtaking for some time and their recent findings tell a troubling story for those of us who enjoy a good on track battle. in 2017 Pirelli recorded just 435 passes, down 49% from 2016.
The blocking car has undoubtedly been given a big advantage over the chasing car and this isn't sitting well with reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton. “On the racing side, I hope moving forwards, overtaking gets easier,. Not easier, but being able to follow each other is really what the sport needs. The more overtaking, the more fun it is for people to watch.”
Personally I agree with Mr. Hamilton, I am not saying we need NASCAR level of overtaking but F1 needs more. I wouldn't go as far as to call 2017 a parade on some of the tracks but it was damn close. Yes, an argument could be made that this puts a bigger priority on strategy. While important fans don't want to hear how clever a team was when what they want to see is the best of the best pitched in wheel to wheel combat.
On the other side of the argument is Sebastian Vettel. He is urging fans and F1 as a whole to relax, that lack of overtaking on some tracks is not a bad thing. “Some races are boring, so what? I don’t see the problem in that. I don’t think we need another record, another record every race, to have more overtaking and more overtaking. It’s true that overtaking sometimes, especially if you're behind and you're fast and you can’t get past for those reasons, it annoys you. But then again if you make the move there is a massive reward inside the car, sometimes out the car. What I want to say is that overtaking should be an achievement and not handed to you."
In a small way I can see Seb's point. Some tracks are difficult to pass on but that doesn't detract from the overall show. Monaco is the shining example of this. It has been difficult to pass there for decades and yet it is the crown jewel of the F1 calendar.
Lying somewhere in the middle of this debate is Red Bull Daniel Ricciardo. "I think Seb’s right in some ways, that’s just the way it is and that’s the way some tracks are laid out I think the wider cars and all that look great and they’ve given us more downforce and grip but when they take up more space on the track you have less clean air to try to find so it does make following harder - so that one is good and bad."
I guess it all boils down to what you want. Passing in Formula 1 has always been a difficult task. The complicated aero involved has made this issue a thorn in F1's side for years. However, when you notice a 49% decline in passing from one year to the next that is far too dramatic not to notice. So do you want cars that are faster by themselves or cars that can pass one another more easily? There is no easy answer to that question. Improve one side and the other side suffers. But what do you think? Faster cars or more passing?