F1 Thinks Passing Could Increase by 50 Percent in Some Races This Year With Its New Aero Rules

Lewis Hamilton leading Sebastian Vettel at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton leading Sebastian Vettel at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Photo: Mark Thompson (Getty Images)

When it comes to the racing, there are a lot of things one could say Formula One needs—more vehicles capable of winning a race without everyone else breaking down or vanishing into thin air, less predictability, closer racing, and, of course, more passing. The good news is, the folks at F1 think that last one may improve this year.

They’re not talking small improvements, either. Motorsport.com reports that F1 thinks overtaking numbers could increase by 50 percent in some races, based on simulations its technical folks have run on the new aerodynamics regulations.

The lack of overtaking in F1 has been a big deal in recent years, especially the dismal 2017 season, when the average number of overtakes per race was half of what it was the year before. But F1 introduced regulations for simplified aero for this year in hopes of changing that, in addition to its existing Drag Reduction System to help overtaking, and simulations show that it may just work.

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Motorsport.com cited the FIA’s Auto magazine in quoting the FIA’s head of single-seater technical matters since last year, Nikolas Tombazis, about the simulations. Here’s what he said, from the story:

“Some simulations were showing a +10% increase of overtaking, assuming a similar evolution of a race, of course.

“In other races the same simulations expect a more sizeable increase, possibly to the tune of +50%.

“That’s the feedback we’ve had so far, but it will really only become clear as we progress through the season.

“We weren’t expecting miracles in round one at Australia, but generally we are expecting a step in the right direction as far as aerodynamics are concerned.”

There don’t appear to be comprehensive overtaking numbers for the 2018 F1 season online, but the 2017 season was when things really didn’t look great. Pirelli announced that there had been 435 overtakes that year, or an average of 21.8 overtakes per race.

Combined with Autosport data from 2001 through 2016, the numbers from 2017 were the worst they’d been since the introduction of DRS in 2011. But two years later, aero regulations have undergone a slight overhaul to try to trend those numbers back upward.

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Overtaking numbers in Formula One, with the red section marking the years since the series introduced its DRS system to help passing.
Overtaking numbers in Formula One, with the red section marking the years since the series introduced its DRS system to help passing.
Graphic: Alanis King (via Autosport, Pirelli data)

The 2019 aero regulations in F1 include simpler front and rear wings as well as a simpler design on the front brake ducts, meant to make the racing less spread out. The series is two races into a 21-race season—the opening Australian Grand Prix, which isn’t an easy track to overtake on regardless of aerodynamics, and the Bahrain Grand Prix, which was fun to watch for more than just the passing and extra DRS zone. Given that we haven’t seen much racing yet, it’s hard to gauge how much of an impact the new rules have had.

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But there are 19 races to go this year, meaning we have a lot of time to see—and hopefully enjoy—just how much of an impact these rules may have.

Staff writer, Jalopnik

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DISCUSSION

What’s kind of funny is in the grand scheme of things, overtaking was much improved with the introduction of DRS. People still bitch about the lack of overtakes, but if you were to watch races from the 90s and 2000s, the vaunted V10 era so many like to look back on with rose tinted glasses, the overtaking was way worse then. Especially starting in 1998 when they made the cars way narrower and reduced mechanical grip from the tires significantly by requiring grooved tires.

This made them waaay overdependent on aero grip for handling, which made overtaking far more difficult.

The V10 era was great for outright lap records and glorious noise, but it definitely was not more entertaining than what we have now when talking about overtakes.

When they introduced new rules in 2009 to go back to slicks and reduced wing sizes, it was a step in the right direction. And they were talking about the positive effects on overtaking that would have then. Not a new issue F1 has been trying to tackle, they just keep tweaking the rules towards that end.

What did mystify many people was the rule change a couple years ago where the cars were allowed much wider tires, but they also allowed greatly increased downforce/larger wings, once again going back to making them more aero dependent. It was good in terms of seeing the current hybrids actually able to break the old V10 lap records in many cases (although they do it with the assistance of DRS—which they’re allowed to use anywhere on the track they like during qualifying, which is something the V10s did not have). But larger wings and more downforce goes right back to making aero dependence worse and thus more difficult to stay close behind another car to attempt an overtake maneuver.

If they had left the basic aero rules from 2009-16 (and with DRS allowed, which was introduced later than 09) but used the bigger tires of 2017 and up, it probably would have been a great package. Not as fast as what they are currently, but it would have helped overtaking.

It’s just funny to me that the FIA keeps on tweaking rules and always mention “helping make overtaking easier” but then they go and make aero rules a couple years ago that actually made it worse in the pursuit of making cars faster. Go back to the old aero rules pre 2017 and let them keep the fatter tires and watch what happens. Would be a way better show.