Atlas F1

Overtaking: The Problems & Solutions

Vijaye Jayanath, Malaysia

Formula One, the pinnacle of motorsport, has been in a bit of a dilemma of how to increase overtaking for some years now. The new rules for 1998 are being implemented with the intention of resolving this problem. However, these rules and the FIA have come under fire from the drivers and constructors alike. Apparently, the new rules have not addressed the problems surrounding overtaking from their viewpoint.

Let's look at two basic types of overtaking manoeuvres, drafting and out-braking A drafting manoeuvre is difficult unless there is a long straight, such as the pit straight in Barcelona. Even then, it can only be achieved by getting out onto the straight quick, and, if the car in front is running more wing or a less powerful engine. Out-braking is more common in F1. It requires steel nerves to brake as late as possible along with a good drive onto the straight as well.

These two manoeuvre are hampered in the current F1 cars by the turbulence caused by the rear wings of the car in front. Turbulence negates the chances of overtaking because it prevents the pursuing car from following closely in corners (this is due to a loss of frontal downforce of the pursuing car).

The most recent suggestion is to remove wings all together and bring back underbody downforce which does not create turbulence. This seems to be a viable option, but teams might be against it due to the loss of all important advertising space. The FIA might also be concerned about cornering speeds that rose considerably during the ground effect era (1978- 83).

The circuits cause overtaking difficulties too. Looking through this year's calendar, most circuits offer no more than two overtaking opportunities in a lap, the notable exceptions being Spa and Monza. I am not saying that circuits such as Monaco and Hungaroring should be dropped in favour of more high speed tracks. Retaining a variety of circuits is a must.

There are some general improvements that would help increase overtaking opportunities. Widening the circuits is an obvious route as it creates more space allowing cars to run further apart and avoiding collisions. This improvement is particularly important on the approach to chicanes and hairpins -- not to mention the hairpins themselves -- as to allow more than one car through the corner at the same time.

Curbs at tracks need to be looked at as well. Low wide curbs on the outside of corners leading onto long straights would allow drivers to get the power on early and close the gap to the car in front. This in combination with wider grass verges preceding gravel traps would promote more aggressive driving, which would be more exciting to watch but no less safe.

While these improvements will keep traditional circuits on the calendar, new circuits should not only be safe but be wide, possess straights of reasonable length, and implement well designed chicanes and hairpins that allow overtaking.

All these changes might bring an improvement, but changes to cars should be kept to a minimum so that the smaller teams can maintain or reduce the gap to the larger outfits as they are currently doing. Safety must not take a backseat as no one would want to go through Imola '94 all over again. However, the FIA must not go overboard.

Ultimately though it is down to the drivers as the determine ones will always get ahead somehow, be there changes or no changes.

Vijaye Jayanath
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