Motor racing: Grand design turns circuits into sideshows
David Tremayne considers why Sunday's events on the track in Montreal typified exactly what is wrong with Formula One
Tuesday 09 June 1998
On the first effort five cars were involved in an accident as Alexander Wurz's Benetton rolled over Jean Alesi's Sauber; in the second, Jarno Trulli's Prost had a coming together with Alesi's car.
"The problem is that too many young drivers get greedy," Alesi said. "When you make a good start there comes a point when you have to be satisfied with the progress you have made, otherwise you cannot get round the corner. There is no point to try and pass everyone, it just doesn't work."
Such is the difficulty in overtaking in F1 these days, however, that the start and the pitstops represent the best opportunities. The rest is often follow-my-leader. Ricardo Rosset has scarcely set the road alight this season, yet a driver of Johnny Herbert's calibre lacked the straightline speed to pass his Tyrrell and struggled for several laps before finally squeezing ahead.
Jacques Villeneuve, whose own effort to pass Giancarlo Fisichella ended with an embarrassing trip across the gravel bed and the incident that lost him his Williams' rear wing, said: "Part of the problem is the attitude in grand prix racing. When I arrived here the only thing that people could tell me was that overtaking was impossible, and that you shouldn't even bother to try. If you go into a race in that spirit, all you think of is when to make the next pit stop, to give yourself a chance of overtaking someone.
"Often you can even see another driver thinking about passing someone, then in the middle of it he thinks: 'Oh, I shouldn't be doing this'. It's as if it's in his mind not to do it, so he never tries it. If you end up banging wheels and crashing, the criticism that follows will outweigh the positive reaction that should come from your having tried to pass someone. It's almost as if it's better not to try."
Formula One is criticised for its lack of overtaking, particularly in comparison with the American ChampCar series in which pitstops play just as significant a role, yet the on-track action is often spectacular.
The FIA, the sport's governing body, is investigating how to improve the possibilities for overtaking in F1, and one suggestion has been to abandon the flat-bottomed cars used since 1983, and to revert to those with shaped ground-effect undersides similar to ChampCars.
A higher minimum weight and reversion to steel, rather than carbon, brakes have also been mooted. The reigning ChampCar champion, Alex Zanardi, a former F1 driver, said: "There is more that you can do with the car, and it does not suffer so much from the aerodynamic turbulence that prevents other drivers following you closely enough to try overtaking."
On the oval tracks that comprise a significant part of the FedEx ChampCar series, the cars regularly run inches apart at more than 200mph, whereas F1 cars lose a sizeable amount of downforce the moment they get too close to one another. Patrick Head, the technical director of Williams, reports that their telemetry indicates an appreciable reduction in downforce when one car gets within 50 metres of another.
"There are two issues here," Ron Dennis, the McLaren chief, suggests. "Close racing and overtaking. If you want close racing you must have stable regulations which remain unchanged for long periods."
Villeneuve said: "As long as we remain so dependent on downforce, the more difficult it is going to be to follow people around corners. The cars are now so aerodynamically efficient, even on the straight, that you cannot slipstream any more."
The underlying problem is that the designers are too clever. Historically, any attempt to limit downforce, since the late Colin Chapman taught his rivals how to harness it effectively in the Seventies, has always been circumvented by the ingenuity of the designers.
The answer is thus far more complex than it might first seem. Until a satisfactory compromise is reached, races will tend to be processional, or else irresistible forces will continue to meet immovable forces to the detriment of the world's most highly developed race cars.
Latest in Sport
- 1 Florida man sentenced to two-and-a-half years for having sex on the beach in front of a child
- 2 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 3 Nick Kyrgios calls former Olympian Dawn Fraser a 'blatant racist' after she tells Wimbledon star to 'go back where their parents came from'
- 4 World learns of app that shows you who unfriended you on Facebook, app promptly crashes
- 5 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts
Greece debt crisis: Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande issue Athens with 24-hour ultimatum to avoid crashing out of the euro
Greece crisis: Referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its lack of genuine legitimacy
£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...
£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...
£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...