- Dan Knutson
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The people have spoken, but will they get what they want?
Of the 96,000 people who responded to a FIA/AMD poll researching what course Formula One should take in the future, 94 percent of them say that they want to see more passing on the track. But that's easier said than done.
"It would be nice to have cars where it is easier to overtake and easier to
follow each other, and then you would see much more overtaking," says
McLaren Mercedes driver Kimi Raikkonen, "but it is not very easy to change the rules to make the cars like that."
Pat Symonds, Renault's executive director of engineering, says there is no simple solution to create more passing.
"It's such a difficult question to answer," he says. "If we knew the
answer, I'm sure we would have applied elements of it already."
Still, everyone involved in F1 has a perfect chance to give the people what they want in 2008. The Concorde Agreement that rules and binds F1 together expires at the end of 2007, so in effect F1 can look at 2008 with a "clean sheet of paper" approach.
Of course, it's the battle for control of F1 in the post 2008 era that is
causing so much political turmoil.
Still, it's generally agreed that, for car design, three things need to be
"If you want more overtaking you have to reduce downforce and have more mechanical grip, plus bigger tires," says McLaren's reserve driver Pedro de la Rosa.
Symonds says that a huge amount of aerodynamic research goes on within F1, but it's almost solely aimed at improving the performance of the car rather than the fundamental work that's needed to look at the effects of following cars.
For the drivers, it's the same old story; when they get within 80 yards
of the car in front, their own car starts to lose aerodynamic downforce.
They can't get close enough to pass.
"Moving towards more mechanical grip and less aerodynamic grip seems to be a logical because we've been going the other way for the last few years and demonstrated that we don't encourage overtaking," says Ferrari's technical director Ross Brawn.
One suggestion is to have an independent company study aerodynamics to see what will create more overtaking.
"The only real way to do it would be for an independent group to be
commissioned to look at it in great detail, as it is such a complicated
problem," says McLaren's technical director Adrian Newey. "Certainly its not easy because unless you have access to some of the teams' simulation programs, for instance, then they're probably not going to get anywhere very quickly."
"I think also that we have to be careful not to make it too easy for cars
to overtake," Newey adds. "If a faster car slips straight past without too
much difficulty, then you have a second of excitement. So there's also a
compromise to be considered there."
Track design plays a major role in whether cars can pass or not.
"The best two examples are Barcelona [Spain] being the worst and probably
Hockenheim [Germany] being the best," Williams BMWs technical director Sam Michael explains. "If you look at Hockenheim from turn two down to turn
three it's a 40 mph corner followed by a long straight and at the end of it
is another slow speed corner with a lot of tarmac run-off.
"Barcelona by contrast is almost the same length straight but you come on to it a 150 mph and come off it at 80 and you don't see any overtaking at all. At Hockenheim if you come out of turn two with any kind of trouble then someone will be all over you at run three."
Michael wants all new and redesigned tracks to have a slow corner followed by a long straight going into another slow corner. Aerodynamics don't play as great a role in slow corners and thus the cars can run closer together.
Plus, he adds, if you have a wide tarmac runoff area the drivers will risk
more to pass because they know they can get back in the race if they make a mistake and go off.
Ross Brawn, Ferrari's technical director, would like to see more overtaking in F1, but not to the point where cars are passing and re-passing every lap.
"It's like the soccer and basketball situation," he explains. "I get fed
up with the number of points they score in basketball but I quite like a
few goals in soccer. There is something wrong with F1. At Imola we were
two seconds faster than Fernando [Alonso] but he was able to drive in a way that didn't allow us to overtake."
McLaren director Ron Dennis says that the technical rules should be left
alone for long periods of time so that all the cars will become closer
"Having cars that are all the same will create overtaking because that
means that one driver can pressure another into a mistake," he says.
"We have a [qualifying] formula that I don't think we should change that
puts the fastest car at the front and the slowest car at the back," Dennis
adds. "We have circuits that pretty much dictate that even if you have a
performance advantage of 1.5 seconds it is still not sufficient for you to
overtake. And if you look at the drag and horsepower differentials that
you need to perform a clean overtaking maneuver they are significant."
"This [overtaking] utopia that people talk about has never existed in F1,
and it is not the nature of F1," Dennis says.
Mike Gascoyne, Toyota's technical director, doesn't want anything introduced to create more passing that would ruin the purity of F1.
"You can do artificial things like reverse the grid, but is that what you
want to do in F1?" he asks.
"There's no easy solution," Gascoyne says.
True, it's not a simple problem to solve, but the people have spoken and
it's up to the brilliant technical minds in F1 to give the people what they
Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
Fans want to see more passing, and F1 would like to oblige. The problem is no one knows for sure where to begin.