SportF1All about overtaking in F1: rules, preparation, statistics...

All about overtaking in F1: rules, preparation, statistics…

Gaining a position in Formula 1 is the equivalent of scoring a goal in football and, like putting the ball in the goal, it is necessary to carry out a set of techniques perfected over the years of practice up to the elite .

Although modern single-seaters do not make overtaking easy, the talents of the Great Circus still have what it takes to make magic, but how does it all happen?

What is the trace?

This is the fastest route around a corner, and usually consists of a wide approach and attacking the apex – the midpoint of a corner – to cut as much as possible. The car then swerves to the outside to take advantage of the width of the track and gain tractive power.

This line is usually visible on the track because every time the cars pass, pieces of rubber accumulate and break off the surface of the tires. As the laps go by, this rubber creates a line that is faster and creates an advantage if you drive around.

In the wet, this is even more apparent, as the wheel grooves quickly evacuate the water from the surface, and it runs sideways. In fact, when the track is drying out, drivers with worn wet tires veer off the line into wet areas to cool down their compounds.

What are marbles (pieces of rubber)?

When a car takes a curve, in addition to leaving rubber on the asphalt, it also spits out small pieces of that rubber, some the size of a pea, and they are called marbles. These come off the tire and end up on the outside of corners, making those parts more slippery.

Max Verstappen y Lewis Hamilton

Start at the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Why is slipstream good but dirty air bad?

The complex aerodynamics of Formula 1 are designed to generate high levels of downforce, which works best with clean airflow. This provides more aerodynamic grip and allows maximum grip to be squeezed out of the tyres, helping to corner faster.

When air flows over surfaces, it creates eddies of air, called turbulence, at the rear of the car. This ‘dirty air’ creates a pressure ‘hole’ behind the rear wing, causing the following car to slow down in corners.

However, on a straightaway, the rider can get close enough and receive a sort of boost from an absorption-like effect. This effect is huge, and if the straight is long enough for that slipstream to work, it will be easier to overtake. This happens a lot at Monza, where the teams use their two cars to achieve this effect and set better lap times.

This is fine on the straight, where you don’t need downforce and a boost in power is always welcome, but in the corners it’s very different, because following in the wake of another car is not a good thing.

Dirty air severely affects the airflow over the front wing, the endplates and the front of the car, causing it to spread to the rest of the flow over the car. That dramatically reduces downforce and changes balance.

As the two cars go through the corners, the one behind has less load and therefore less grip, so the one in front can gain an advantage in twisty sections. That makes it much more complex to find a way to overtake.

The latest generation of Formula 1 cars caused a lot of turbulence in the air, despite attempts to reduce it. The 2022 regulations are specifically designed to lessen this effect, which should make overtaking easier again… if all goes well.

Antonio Giovinazzi y Fernando Alonso

Antonio Giovinazzi and Fernando Alonso

How do drivers plan overtaking?

To overtake on the track, drivers need to either have a big performance advantage in the car or be very smart. In most overtaking they are prepared well in advance, some even laps before doing them.

By following another car, drivers can easily see the weak points of their rivals and can plan how to pounce on them. Detecting the points where a car loses traction, brakes before or locks the wheels are signs of possible places of overtaking.

Similarly, sensing how a driver adapts over the laps – such as with tire degradation, fuel management or dealing with car damage – will indicate when it’s worth attempting an overtake.

How can a pilot perform a move and make it stick?

When a driver enters a corner, in order to follow the line as fast as possible, he has to hit the brakes at a specific point and slow down enough to make the turn.

If a driver brakes too late, he will go too fast to get the car in, and go wide, or if he brakes too hard, he will lock the wheels and also go wide. Drivers will need to brake earlier as their tire condition worsens, as those with the fresher tires can brake later, and this is where an option to overtake may appear.

The braking point puts the precision of Formula 1 drivers into perspective. At 320 km/h, a tenth of a second too late will see the car overshoot the braking reference by two car lengths, and doing so a tenth sooner will cause stop too soon.

To overtake in a corner, a driver has to go off the line at the entrance of the corner, and if they do it right, it can prevent the driver from being able to take the line cleanly and have an optimal exit from the corner.

The success of the maneuver depends on what comes next.

If it’s a straightaway, as long as the exit speed is good, the job is done. If the next corner is in the same direction, the one in front has the advantage, but the defender could hold on the outside. If the next corner is in the opposite direction and the defender has more traction, he has the advantage.

Max Verstappen y Lewis Hamilton

Max Verstappen y Lewis Hamilton

What is fair and what is not?

Overtaking is governed by the ‘right to space’, and the guidelines are clearly explained in the sporting regulations. The problem is that there is often no clear resolution and it can always be debated.

The ‘right to space’ was under scrutiny in the latter part of the 2021 season, when Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton had some exciting wheel-to-wheel battles and knocked each other, or both, off the track.

In fights on the straight, the drivers must respect each other’s space, which means that they must guarantee a place for the other car, and if this is not considered so, the stewards can take action.

This rule has been pushed to the limit on many occasions, most notably at the 1991 Spanish Grand Prix when Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell rubbed their tires while sparking on the finish straight, or in Hungary in 2010 when Michael Schumacher was about to make Rubens Barrichello crash into the wall.

Drivers often flounder in the braking zone, but changing direction on the straight is forbidden, and anything too aggressive is almost certain to be investigated by the stewards.

To overtake on the inside of the corner, it is enough for a driver to have his front wheel in front of the rear of the car he is defending for it to be considered a clean move. Outside, the cars must be parallel.

Pilots can defend their position, but can only move once. If they do it more than once, it’s illegal. The gray area of the regulations is that if a driver moves twice to prepare for the next corner, it is allowed, but only if he leaves room for the other driver.

Mecánico de Red Bull comprobando la distancia de apertura en el DRS del RB16B

Red Bull mechanic checking the opening distance on the DRS of the RB16B

What is DRS and how does it help overtaking?

DRS, which stands for Drag Reduction System, is a device that allows the driver to change the angle of the rear wing at certain points in the lap, reducing aerodynamic drag and providing an extra boost at top speed to catch up with the car. ahead on the straight.

It works with a pivot in the upper section of the rear wing, lifting an element of the wing itself, creating a kind of slot through which air can flow without being obstructed.

It must be activated manually by the pilot and returns to its position automatically when the brakes are applied. For safety, it cannot be activated until the third lap after the start, during safety car periods or when visibility is poor.

Introduced in 2011, it was designed to improve the lack of overtaking caused by dirty air, and can only be used in certain areas of the track, usually the longest straights, and if a driver is less than a second away from the starting point. detection of the car in front.

The system has worked well, with the fourth race of the season setting the record for overtaking in a Grand Prix. Now a large percentage of overtaking occurs at the end of a DRS zone.

When can’t you overtake?

Overtaking on the formation lap is prohibited, obviously, because the race hasn’t started yet. If a car is going slower than normal, the rest can pass it, but that car can regain its position during that turn before the lights.

You also cannot overtake for a period with the safety car, unless the teams know that all lapped cars can overtake, in which case you can make up the lost lap and go at an “appropriate speed” to join the rest of the field before of the resumption.

What are the overtaking records in Formula 1?

The highest number of overtaking in a dry race was 161 during the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix , in which several drivers with competitive cars went to the back of the grid. The greatest number of overtaking for the lead was at Monza in 1965 , when the slipstream allowed to see 41 driver changes in the lead.

Jackie Stewart y Graham Hill

Jackie Stewart y Graham Hill

In five races there has been no overtaking, all of them in this century. They occurred in Monaco , in 2003 and 2021 (although it is still debated if there was any overtaking), in the United States in 2005 (where only six cars participated), in Valencia in 2009 , and in Belgium in 2021 (but in that race only six cars took part). one lap behind the safety car).

It is a difficult question, and it depends a lot on the perspective of each one, in addition to the time, because some periods have had regulations that encouraged overtaking more than others.

Nigel Mansell is credited with many of the greatest stunts of all time. He overtook Gerhard Berger at the Peraltada, one of Formula 1’s most challenging corners, in 1991. He also passed his Williams teammate Nelson Piquet at Silverstone in 1987, using his natural instinct to overtake Ayrton Senna in Hungary in 1989.

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