A Modest Proposal to Create More Overtaking In Formula 1

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A Modest Proposal to Create More Overtaking In Formula 1

It would hardly be fair to judge the results of the overtaking working group solely on the outcome of the Spanish Grand Prix. After all, every team and every driver knows every inch of every corner of the circuit.

Traditionally, overtaking in Barcelona occurs as frequently as excitement in the voice of Kimi Raikkonen. Still, Barcelona's status as Formula 1's annual parade through the Spanish countryside gives us an excellent opportunity to ponder the OWG's effectiveness and many other ideas.

Judging by only the number of overtaking moves caught by the camera, the OWG was an utter failure. Spain once again brought us a procession, despite the shenanigans in the Brawn garage. 

But wait, what do I know about overtaking?  Especially compared to the engineering minds of 70% of Formula 1? Very little, I would suspect.

The technological innovations which lead to the rule changes were arrived at with the utmost care. The results from the earlier races, where overtaking was already somewhat possible, seemed to indicate that the changes were working. In fact, the excitement of the relatively frequent passing was noted by seemingly everyone.

So what happened in Spain?

Well, nothing. 

What Mr. Ecclestone and company seem to not understand is that the very nature of F1 precludes a large amount of overtaking. And there's nothing wrong with that.  Allow me to explain further.

The world's best drivers, designers, and engineers have all come up with solutions to the same problem: getting around a track in the shortest amount of time possible. The order in which the cars finish is largely determined by what happens before the race, not during it.

The 300 km contested by the teams on Sunday is the final act in a play comprised of thousands upon thousands of kilometers on test tracks, during practice and qualifying, and hours and hours of wind tunnel and simulation time, and which started with pen on paper in the design phase. The relatively short time on track cannot hope to compare with all of this.

I've got no problem with this. Every corner of every lap of man and machine working together towards the common goal of immense speed and dexterity is exciting enough for me. 

Still, I am human, and I like seeing overtaking as much as anyone.  So how do we make this happen if not by changing the technical regulations?

The only way we can, by changing the sporting regulations.

Currently, Formula 1 cars cannot be modified in any significant way between qualifying Saturday and racing on Sunday. I say scrap that silly rule, and let the engineers have at the car. Use technical feedback from drivers developed by observation of Saturday's action to spend a madcap 24 hours doing whatever you can to the car to make it faster. 

The current rules restrict innovation, and innovation is what F1 is supposed to be all about. By allowing the engineers to optimize the car for qualifying and for racing, a window will be open to shake things up on Sunday. It's the solution to the overtaking dilemma.

Still not sure?  I'll leave you with one last example: The 1989 Grand Prix of Hungary. After qualifying 12th on a track notorious for it's lack of overtaking opportunities, it would have seemed that Nigel Mansell was not going to have a good weekend. A little less than a day later, he stood on the top step of the podium after a daring move on Ayrton Senna himself. How did he do it?

In Mansell's own words, he worked tirelessly with his engineer making modifications to the car until it was "half a second a lap faster." The overtaking was bound to follow. Untying the engineers' hands will bring back that kind of racing much more quickly than oddly shaped rear wings or slick tires ever will.

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