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The Overtaking Problem - Circuit design 
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Circuit design.

Several of our readers have suggested that race track design may have a lot to do with the overtaking problem. This is undoubtedly true as the length of the straight has a huge effect on the ease of overtaking.

The problem is that on the few tracks that we have seen overtaking (when it is dry) we have also seen an alarming increase in speed with a corresponding increase in the danger to drivers and even spectators. I suspect that organisers are very aware of this and are planning chicanes which will make it safer but kill any opportunity for overtaking.

Is it possible to design a circuit so that overtaking is possible without an unreasonable increase in risk?

Which tracks work? Why?

Which tracks should be abandoned? Or could they be changed?

Let me know what you think..

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Jorge B from South Africa adds, 

I firmly believe that race track design and development is what needs to be addressed. Having said this, why should F1 teams and the FIA who spend hundreds of millions in the sport not contribute financially toward keeping tracks up to spec, inline with the developments of the sport?.
I find this an oddity which can only be described as being short sighted, to draw an analogy - it's like the UK premier league soccer teams investing in players equipment etc. and ignoring their stadia. The FIA who have the responsibility for managing and controlling F1, seem to place all their focus on limiting the technical developments of teams and changes to tracks in the hope of slowing down cars to more or less manageable levels i.e. totally reactive process which keeps catching up with them. Surely the technical development of teams is what really creates interest in and drives the sport, so why not encourage it ? Naturally this would have to be done in context, i.e. with the assistance of track developments in order to keep pace with the sports technical advances etc. 
A suggestion would be to have a annual percentage contribution from all concerned toward track development for the designated tracks of the upcoming season, this would make the sport a much bigger spectacle and would also raise the interests of many more nations who currently would like to host a GP but cannot afford to maintain a true F1 circuit year on year due to the financial burden. 
It's about time that F1 and the FIA start putting something back into the development of the sport as a whole, that includes the tracks that they race on and respective owners of those facilities. After all don't common motorists pay toll fees for road usage which then leads to improvements of those facilities etc. ? 
A little more consideration to race track improvements would go a far way to improving the overall spectacle that F1 is.

The Heretic's reply:

A very valid point. Thank you for your comments which I cannot disagree with.

Louis G from Australia adds, 

While the effects of aerodynamics are well documented and the pursuit of downforce/grip by the engineers is never-ending there is certainly one area that needs attention and that is the poor layout and design of modern circuits. 
Being blunt about it the knee-jerk reaction to the deaths of Senna and Ratzenberger at Imola prompted great discussion regarding safety. Consequently there was a proliferation of temporary tyre chicanes and the remodelling of once great corners (Club at Silverstone and The Lesmos at Monza to name a few). We now arrive at a situation where we only have 2 really great drivers circuits left (Spa and Suzuka). 
My belief is that circuit design has not kept pace with the development of F1 cars. Is F1 not meant to be the pinnacle of technology and the pursuit of excellence? Why is it that the cars should be restrained? Lets face it the desperation of drivers at the start of a race is indicative of the "this is a circuit that is impossible to overtake on" mindset not to mention the ridiculous situation of waiting for the "stops" to make up places. 
I am an F1 fan who wants to watch Racing Drivers overtake and demonstrate why they are lauded for what they do not watch a procession.

The Heretic's reply:

I could not agree more. The conflict is now between safety and fitness for purpose. Some of the racetracks that were difficult to overtake on in the past is well nigh impossible now and the few circuits that are interesting to watch are so fast that safety is soon to become an issue. It is human nature to want everyone to be safe but it sure as hell takes the fun out of watching.

Alberto R from Paraguay adds:

As I see the problem, it is only a matter of time to have two separated tracks on at least one chicane; why? - It would not require dangerous speeds - It would avoid turbulence to the chasing car - It shouldn't take any excitement out, as it would depend chiefly on driver skills (otherwise, why do we enjoy classifying so much?). In fact, it would add an extra expectation as the chasing driver must try to find out which way the front driver will choose. - Even when it is impossible to get two mathematically equal tracks, we can always make them as similar as we want. - It would be cheap to implement on almost any circuit (possibly saving Monaco to F1!)

The Heretic's reply:

Redesigning chicanes to offer two mirror image alternatives could work.

Nathan from the US adds:

This site's forum is a wonderful outlet for my of us F1 fans to rant, rave, criticize and postulate. I find the general level of intelligence and insight in these posts to be very impressive. With that said, I do not expect that I have the fullest comprehension or keenest observation, but often the greatest gains in overcoming difficulty are made by acting upon the simplest evaluations. These I can do. It has already been suggested that tracks need to provide more than one racing line, at least for individual segments. The way this can increase the chances of overtaking are obvious and simple. One response to this solution is to say that it wouldn't make much difference because of the turbulence factor. While it can't make as much difference as in a racing series where all the grip is mechanical, it would still increase the possibility to overtake. How much this helps is determined by the quality of the circuit design. The easiest and cheapest way to begin implementing this solution is to widen the track on the outside of a curve in two spots: the braking and turn-in area and the exit. This is a very rudimentary idea, but shows the basic logic of how to alter existing courses to allow 2 or more racing lines. The shape of these widening extensions would have to be determined by careful calculation of entry and exit speeds, as well as other factors, but there is no shortage of brain power in F1. Applied at individual corners, I doubt my band-aid suggestion would work, but if the basic idea were applied to multiple-corner segments and allowed for equal entries into straights, the effects will snowball. While far from a permanent solution, wouldn't it be worth a try for the sake of a short-term improvement in racing excitement?

The Heretic's reply:

Alternative racing lines in corners will work, especially if they are planned so that there is little or no difference in entry, exit and cornering speed.

If both (or all) lines through the corner are regularly used it should avoid a build-up of rubber dust which is normally what makes non optimum lines through corners virtually unusable.

At the end of the day the only feasible solution is to design modern tracks to cater for overtaking. For this to be effective, circuit design should be reviewed every year or two to ensure that development does not negate track design again. (Popular as it may be Monaco is no longer viable as a circuit to campaign these vehicles on)

Marc D. from Canada adds:

I think that the key to making passing possible on any circuit and remain at reasonable speed for safety are curves or chicanes that offer at least 2 possible trajectory option were one maybe or not more efficient than the other and/or requires different braking timing.

On needle curves (curves over 120 degrees approx.), cars may delay braking, take the curve from outside-inside or vice-versa. We always see attempts and many successful passing on such curves, in Belgium, Shumy had closed the door twice on Hakkinen on such a curve.

A Chicane (S Curve) that offers 2X90 degrees turns will have the same effect and if there is an error on the part of the pilot, he will simply miss the chicane and because of the shape of an S curve, chances are he would not even come close to the track barrier, again, we had good examples of that at Spa-Francorchamps.

All circuits that allow passing, do so because more than one trajectory is possible which each one being approximately equal in efficiency. Straight lines allow more than one car to be side by side, hence more than one trajectory is possible. But straight lines promote higher speeds, something the FIA may want to avoid. Besides, such overtaking requires just raw engine power, a bit boring and disappointing.

Curves however are taking at reduce speeds, challenges the car and the driver. Much more than just raw power is involved making it truly challenging and interesting.

I think that circuit design should incorporate a minimum of 2 of such curves and that the required modifications to existing circuits would not be extensive (a lot less than making straights longer).

This kind of circuit changes could not work in Monaco of course, so there would be some exceptions remaining

The Heretic's reply:


I think you may be on to something here too.

Although it will be hard to design (or possibly sustain as Formula 1 cars change so dramatically) corners that are balanced so that one can choose different lines for different results without paying a huge penalty must improve the situation. It has been a long time since we have seen the typical "Slingshot" manoeuvre ( go in slower and apex later on the assumption that you can then accelerate faster on the way out).

I doubt if it will work in isolation. Even if corners were designed so that several lines will work, turbulence from the car in front will still impact the following car and rubber dust in the unused part of the track will still play havoc with grip.

Having said all of that I believe that track design has a huge impact and, providing that we are prepared to increase the danger on long straights and fast, complex corners it could be the only solution.

Dom H from England suggests:

I understand your points here Heretic, however you don't seem to come to any conclusion on what should be done.
The FIA brought in the thinner track and Grooved tyres in '98 with a view to reducing cornering speed. Whilst this has been successful the side affect has been the reliance of Aerodynamics to gain grip through a corner and therefore the following car just cannot get right up behind the car in front to affect a pass on the following straight. In your article you seem to omit the point that it is just this Turbulence, caused by a high wing settings to combat aerodynamic grip, that allows the following cars to get in the tow down the straight. A higher amount of downforce setting on the rear wing will surely provide a bigger hole in the air and therefore more chance of "Getting the tow" on a straight.

It would be virtually impossible to set rules that enforce a limit on Aerodynamic grip from the wings but the FIA are attempting to do so with their Front Wing height ruling, which as you point out is probably not going to work.
We are all barking up the wrong tree here. To overtake the cars need Mechanical grip to closely follow a car in front through a corner, in effect they need Slicks! The FIA are never going to allow Slicks back as that will then increase corner speeds!
Back in the 80's overtaking was often made possible by the drivers control of the Boost settings on their Turbo's. How many times did we all hear Murray saying that Prost will be "Winding up his Boost for a Pass"...?

So we have no Slicks and no Turbo's yet at Spa (which I was at, by the way) we had a number of overtaking moves and would almost have definitely had more had we seen a proper start. Why?
Well basically because it's a Proper Track.
I therefore argue that it's the Tracks that need to be looked at. SPA saw good overtaking moves at the Bus-Stop (heavy braking into a Chicane), La Source (heavy braking into a hairpin) and Les Combes (heavy braking at the end of a long straight). Corners like Eau Rouge make for opportunities along the straight due to different drivers level of skill and Bottle!
With all this in mind WHY are the newer tracks sooo crap. Sepang may be a great facility but it's a track with absolutely no redeeming features! Indianapolis will provide some interest as they brake down from the Oval section but the rest is Crap!

To see more overtaking in F-1 there is no point in arguing for less downforce because the positive side will be negated in reality. The return of Slicks is not imminent, however with Michelins involvement the compounds will become softer and grippier, perhaps allowing more action, but I'm not holding my breath.

No the answer is to give the drivers a Chance by giving them Proper racing tracks with good straights, challenging corners and big braking points.

The Heretic's reply:


How can I argue against such logic. Sadly you are right on all counts. I can see the problem, but I am damned if I can see a solution.

The problem with "the hole in the air" is a complex one. Normally, and you must take into account that my racing experience is 30 years old, the biggest drag in the slipstream is in the last 6 feet. That means that you need to get very close to the car in front of you before you pull out to overtake.

That close, the diffuser of the car in front of you, is really stuffing up the effect of your front wing which means that your car will probably not respond well when you attempt to flick out of the slipstream and you are running a real risk of touching the car in front.

In production car racing you often see a slight coming together at this stage and most of the time both cars carry on undamaged. In F1 the overtaking car could lose its nose and at high speed that can be disastrous.

Lately few drivers have been brave enough to fully utilise a slipstream and if the current configuration is continued I can't see this improving.

The issue is: How do you limit aerodynamics and increase mechanical grip?

If you simply add mechanical grip to the current aerodynamic grip lap times will decrease but the rest of the problems will be unaffected. Racing will become more dangerous and F1 tracks will get more chicanes and overtaking will become even less of an event.

To me racing without slicks is like dancing without music, but I do not see the FIA giving in.

I also agree with you that modern F1 circuits (or even the old ones that have been modernised) have lost their appeal. The tracks are bland and soon we will land up with Monaco-like tracks without the old buildings.

Build a track where straights are long and end in a tight, challenging corner and overtaking will come back instantly. But, to do that we must accept that top speeds of 400kph or higher will become normal and I am not sure that the complex world of liability will allow that to happen. Race organisers now have to ensure the safety of all spectators as well as the drivers and a car without a nose cone at 400kph will fly and land in unpredictable places.

But you are right I am long on criticism and short on solution. I wish that I could see the answer, but, I suspect, so does Max Mosley.

Thank you for your input.

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