The FIA looks at overtaking

While most of France was on holiday, remembering the Armistice at the end of World War I, the FIA was busy yesterday with an international seminar to examine the issue of overtaking in motor sport. The event was attended by FIA technical experts, circuit designers, technical directors, senior engineers and drivers from F1, NASCAR and IRL as well as other major championships. The aim of the seminar was to share the latest research and to examine recommendations to improve overtaking opportunities. Issues discussed included aerodynamic design solutions, circuit design and layout and potential new sporting regulations to create more opportunities.

The FIA will prepare a report based on the findings of the seminar and subsequent expert group discussions, which will be widely disseminated in a consultation with the international motor sport community.

We hear that among those present were Michael Schumacher, Gil de Ferran, Sam Michael, circuit designers Hermann Tilke and Clive Bowen.

36 thoughts on “The FIA looks at overtaking

  1. Based on the majority of his work in F1, I can imagine Tilke being ‘that guy’ at the seminar who turns up, enjoys all the free food and booze and sits at the back of the hall with dark glasses nursing a hangover and taking none of whats being said into consideration….

    …and why should he? He’s got Bernie signing his cheques years in advance of any proof that his latest design works!

  2. Interesting to find out

    (a) if any serious conclusions are arrived at
    (b) if they are taken on as “policy”

    You wonder how much can be done in a seminar though, but at least it represents an indication that the problem is being considered – especially on the track design side.

  3. Michael Schumacher and Hermann Tilke were present were they? Hopefully there were some people who knew a thing or two about on track overtaking too.

  4. Best of luck to them on this. They seemed to be edging toward improvement at this time last year, but ultimately the double diffuser undermined the benefits of the aero changes. The governing body apparently decided that driving a wedge between the teams by allowing that controversy to flourish was more important than overtaking. Let’s hope the agenda this time around is simpler.

  5. On the face of it, I would say the FIA is doing a great think here. That they have assembled a broad base of actual drivers and technical people from such a variety of series just seems very sensible.

    That they will share the results widely is also commendable.

  6. Do you know what has become of the Overtaking Working Group since its previous chair was banned for sins almost as grievous as not finding a solution to the overtaking crisis?

    I am still surprised by the outcome of the appeal against the double-decker diffusers. I feel sure the whole thing was political like everything else, but even if they had to be allowed for 2009, I can’t see why they weren’t banned for 2010.

    The idea was to reduce downforce and reduce the turbulence deliberately created to unsettle the car behind. Double decker diffusers cleverly exploited a loophole left unintentionally in the rules. Double decker diffusers make overtaking more difficult.

    So what was the argument against closing the loophole and making the rule do what it was supposed to do?

  7. Cant help wondering what Tilke paid for the exclusive rights to design F1 circuits.

    After so many arguably failed attempts there is no way he enjoys this relationship with Bernie on merit.

    As the years pass the new circuits get ever more expensive, ever more impressive in terms of facilities for the teams, fans and media but sadly none of his attempts generate decent racing.

    Look at the enjoyable races from the last few years: all either took place on the old “traditional” circuits or were affected by the weather: his attempts have been a complete failure.

    Its long past time for someone else to have a try …

  8. I gather the plan is that once Tilke is safely inside they lock the door and throw away the key. That should promote overtaking at future circuits…

  9. Tilke really doesn’t seem to garner much appreciation from fans does he!? Personally, I think that he must be breaking some anti-competition laws. Do new circuits have to go out to tender? If so how come nobody but Tilke ends up with the contracts? He can’t seriously be the cheapest and best at what he does?

    I thought we had a Overtaking Technical Working Group in F1 last season? I guess it didn’t achieve it’s aims.

  10. @D

    Why limit ourselves to one track designer for all F1 tracks? Variety and indeed flavour is the spice of life!

    I say Bernie should contract at least two companies to design tracks in the future and that way get some competition going between them!

    It’s a well used method with the contracting industry and ensures quality work output! Nothing like working for fear of losing your contract to the opposition!

  11. Allan: I don’t think it has been done before. If you refer to the Overtaking Working Group, that was made up by a mere 3 Formula One engineers. This is something broader – the report on the findings of the seminar will be sent out for consultation to a lot of people in the motor sport community according to the post. I hope this spirit of constructive collective thinking will be a sign of fresh air at the FIA.

  12. I would argue that the designs of the cars in F1 are part of the problem too. Look at how the GP2 cars run nose to tail with passing moves being made. Why can’t F1 design the same way? There’s a number of things they could do to make F1 cars run the same way. And save the moaning about standardization. If it improves the show then do it. They already have standard parts on F1 cars anyway.

  13. Antony : my thoughts exactly.

    And isn’t it true, as I remember reading, that Ross Brawn warned the previous committee about the loophole, said that he intended to exploit it, and was ignored by people who thought they knew better ?

    Raises the question – are they really serious about this ?

  14. I wonder what the odds are that Schumacher said the easiest way to promote overtaking is to get Ross to find you an empty piece of track that no-one wants and drive 20 consecutive qualifying laps and when you make your final pit stop you will have gained 5 positions.

  15. Tilked: built or modified with more regard to aesthetics than function.

    Untilked: the return of something to an operational state

  16. Like I said recently, change qualifying so that the ability to overtake becomes the key to race victories, not the ability to run off and hide in the clean air at the front of the grid.

    Slippery, aerodynamic cars are great when running on their own (like in quali) but no damn good in the Trulli-train 😉

  17. F1 Overtaking Statistics & Analysis

    The reason for no passing has appeared clearly in the excellent study done by Cliptheapex. Here is all the data:

    Bottom line: the overtaking downhill trend started in 1984: thats when Gordon Murray introduced pitstops for tire change, allowing drivers to “pass in the pit lane”… Gordon has actually apologised to all F1 fans for having done that.

    So, the FIA doesn’t need to look that far to improve passing, but guess what? Pitstops for tire change will continue next year…

  18. It can’t be coincidence that with perhaps one exception, NONE of the great F1 circuits can be said to have been designed, so much as evolved or emerged from some other purpose.

    My understanding is that Tilkedromes are popular with bernie because they bunch the cars up so more sponsors are on view simultaneously, and the racing LOOKS close to the casual viewer.

  19. While far from being a Tilke defender, I seem to remember an article somewhere discussing Tilke tracks.
    The general theme was that it was not all his fault, as he is restricted by ‘FIA circuit regulation’, that restricts his use of gradient, camber and radii.
    How true this is, I cannot say.
    Maybe Joe has more info.

  20. Considering the best races this year for overtaking have been at Spa, Monza and Interlagos I’d say we need some of the old tracks back – simple as that. If only they hadn’t mutilated Hockenheim and Österreichring eh…

  21. M. Cahier,

    That is a mightily impressive set of analysis that he presents. However, be very careful about misreading the data. The data presented only starts in 1983, so saying that the precipitous fall from 1984 to 1996 was due to the introduction of pitstops is to draw a false correlation. You really need data from much further back to be able to see if that really was the trigger. He also homogenises the data to, for my taste, too great a degree. For example, he lumps in all the tracks together and ignores the effect of venue and circuit alterations. If your thesis regarding pitstops is correct, then why do the numbers of overtaking moves at Monza and Montreal hit an all time high in the three years AFTER 1983?

    At the long-standing, traditional circuits you could argue that there is no real, statistically significant decline in overtaking until 1994, when suddenly all of them show an enormous drop. I contend that the most significant cause of declining overtaking in the late 1980s was due to the elimination of difficult, old-fashioned tracks (Zandvoort, Brands, Österreichring, etc.) and the introduction of modern racing “facilities”. I’d need to spend more than ten minutes properly analysing the data to be able to say anything with confidence, though.

    There is an awful lot of hidden detail in the dataset and it needs a lot more thought and analysis before you can boil it down to soundbite statements.

  22. One of the things I love about this blog is that it attracts normal F1 fans and people like Paul-Henri Cahier.

    I think it is an unfair conclusion from cliptheapex’s data to say that the problem began in 1984 since the data only starts in 1983. There is no doubt pit stops are a big contributor to the lack of overtaking and I have argued for years that they should be banned. This could be done by only allowing one mechanic to change tyres on each side of the car and only allowing mechanics and jackmen out of the garage after the car stops and only letting the car go after they have returned. That would prevent the situation we had when McLaren did not want to risk pitting Raikkonen at the Nurburgring a few years ago.

    I would love to see the data start from 1950 because I am sure that would highlight all sorts of contributory factors. I am sure that slick tyres are a contributor as before that there were probably no marbles problem. Through the 70s I am sure they would show aerodynamics becoming a problem.

  23. Well, besides the technical aspects one should not forget that the drivers are not really encouraged to take risks.

    The cars are expensive to built, and the teams cannot produce an unlimited amount of chassis without starting to get into trouble.

    It might be an extreme case but read somewhere Brawn would have been in deep trouble this year if JB or RB destroyed one the cars early this year.

    Apart from building the car, you also have to get it to the track. No problem if Silverstone is the next race, but what happens if both drivers damage their chassis irreparably on back to back overseas races?

    The teams also get money even if they finish out of the points, so the more dependent on Bernies money the teams are, the less racing we will see.

    The last three aspects do not bode well for the next season, I fear. Small teams, likely to depend on Bernie’s money and more overseas races.

    Then the cars are comparatively fragile. Small damage to a front wing could have a big impact on the overall performance of the car, and those large front wings this year surely have not helped.

    Look at the Toyota stand-in for Timo Glock. He had a fast enough car, nothing to lose as he had no drive for next season and in case he destroyed the car, well Toyota could have coped with the loss, and maybe the team leaders were more aware of the teams precocious situation than they let on and decided to let both drivers risk it all.

    There are always drivers, some even sponsored, waiting in the wings to get a seat in F1. Therefore, it is probably safer to drive defensively and blame the poor results on the car (or preferably, the tyres) than to risk it all and crash.

    Just look at Sutil, a more reckless driver who took more risks and all he got was rather negativ press and now says himself he might have to change his driving style.

    So far the lack of overtaking does not really seem to hurt the sport that much, so maybe if viewer numbers dropped considerably, we really might see a change.

  24. To John Chapman (and F1 Troll, and Steven Roy)

    Of course, Gordon Murray tested his innovative strategy in 1982, and reaped the efforts in 1983; my point is that it was in 1984 that pitstops for tires became generalized.

    The cliptheapex data of course is just that, data. Yes, the data begins in 1983, so we don’t know what happened before. Does that mean we should discard the data from the past 25 years because it is insufficient, really? Facts are, the average number of passes per race went from 42 in 1984 to 12 in 1996. That’s a 3.5X factor. Statistically very significant. And between 1996 and 2009, we see a little move up and down, with a result of 13 average passes in 2009. Stable.

    So, what happened? Anyone who’s seen a F1 GP knows that nearly all the “passing” happens in the pits, and not on track. Why? For different reasons:
    -it’s less risky (the most important factor in F1 has become “safety”…);
    -the emergence of new tracks, with a strong accent on… safety (listen to Webber in Abu Dhabi “It’s always difficult to make a track with lots and lots of quick corners because obviously you need a lot of run-off, so I can understand it’s easier in terms of space to have a lot more slower speed corners”. So we cannot have high speed corners anymore, because they are so dangerous that they would require huge run-off areas in order to achieve the desirable “no risk” level; that’s why Tilke designs Tilkedromes. Third gear corners and chicanes do not favor passing… cliptheapex shows us that in 1994 the average overtake per race went down to 18, a reduction of 7 on the previous year and the biggest single drop in the year-on-year average to date. And we all remember that after Imola 1994 chicanes were flourishing on race tracks like mushrooms after the rain.
    -Correlation: the disappearance of “old tracks” (everybody wants more Spa, Monza, Suzuka or Interlagos, fast tracks with more passing opportunities)
    -overall grip: more grip, less passing, less grip, more passing (look at wet races).

    So, am I misreading the data? Yes and no.
    Yes, because there is no single reason for the drop in overtaking.
    No, because the only significant factor during the breadth of thz 1984-1996 period is the appearance and generalization of the pitsop for tires strategy, a huge incentive for passing in the pitlane instead of old fashion, risky but thrilling passing your opponent on the race track, late braking or even from the outside! (Villeneuve, Estoril 1996…). Plus, it allowed the usage of softer, higher grip tires… which makes passing more difficult.

  25. Kirk

    I’ve never been to Hockenheim but had the very good fortune to go to Österreichring five times. I am encouraged that you mention Österreichring rather than A1-Ring, not the same thing at all.

  26. @Paul-Henri Cahier

    I am not suggesting the data should be discarded. I agree with the conclusion that pit stops are a disaster as far as overtaking is concerned. However had the data gone further back other factors would be obvious. For example Gilles Villeneuve used to complain about the difficulty in overtaking caused by the rapid advance in aerodynamics and he died the year before this data starts.

    My point is simply that if overtaking is to be seriously examined by the FIA, 1983 levels of overtaking is not a particularly high target to aim at as at that time people thought there was nowhere near enough overtaking already.

  27. The big drop in passing was in 1994, and which year were fuel stops brought in? 1994. Tyres should be a bit harder and less grippy next year too. There’s still hope.

  28. M. Cahier,

    You state that “Facts are, the average number of passes per race went from 42 in 1984 to 12 in 1996. That’s a 3.5X factor. Statistically very significant.” While the fact that you state is true, without context and analysis you most certainly can’t pin it on Gordon Murray.

    For example, if you only look at those tracks that have at least six dry races in the period 1983 to 1993 the story is very different. I only spent a lunchtime playing with this, so I’ll still throw in lots of caveats about the assumptions and simplifications I made (e.g. I haven’t normalised for numbers of drivers or race distance), and I’ll put money on a proper statistician having a heart attack at my method. Nevertheless, in short, to properly allow for track-to-track bias I normalised each set of track data to its own mean for the period and then combined the normalised data. This allows us to see through the fog of the Tilkedrome mess. Thus, variation in this analysis can only be due to car technology, tactics, rules and track modifications. I’m sorry I don’t have a page to dump the spreadsheet on but it’s here if you want it.

    In summary, what my playing shows is that in no year between 1983 and 1993 did the number of passes exceed one standard deviation from the mean (i.e. well within the natural variability of the data). In this period overtaking peaked between 1984 and 1986 (+0.54, 0.87 and 0.66 sd, respectively), with negative dips in 1988 and 1992 (-0.56 and -0.76, respectively). In all other years the mean number of overtaking moves made was well within 0.3 sd of the period mean, a very stable pattern. The big excursion happens in 1994, with a sudden drop to -1.03 sd below. This trend continues in 1995 and 1996 (-2.02 and -2.78 sd) before settling down to between -2.5 and -3.0 sd below the 1983-93 mean.

    The peak in the mid-1980s might be skewing the data, but without seeing data for pre-1983 it is impossible to tell (with numbers, anyway!) whether this high reflects the tail of a much greater degree of overtaking in the late ’70s (and so 1983 would be an anomalous low) or a small upward excursion from a stable value.

    The take home message, as far as I can make out, should be that the FIA must undo whatever they did in 1994 (i.e. chicanes and stops for fuel). There is no large deviation after the introduction of tyre pit stops, and in fact the shift in the period 1983-1986 is toward more overtaking at the traditional tracks! I understand the rationale you present, but it is based on the total data which is strongly biased due to changing venues.

    Based on that lunchtime of number crunching I am very interested to see what happens next year, with the re-banning of fuel stops. I know many in the media have fretted that it may reduce overtaking chances, but the statistics suggest that it may actually help. Fingers crossed…

  29. p.s. Just in case anyone is wondering whether the OWG had any effect: passing moves made at the 2009 tracks in my analysis (Monza, Monaco, Spa, Hungary and Silverstone) was -3.35 standard deviations below the ’83-93 mean. An all-time low.

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