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Why last year's best F1 pass may be the future

An accidental prelude to the most important change in Formula One for 2011 resulted in the most exquisite pass in the 2010 season. Before Grand Prix racing kicks off for another year this Sunday, come and savor the dismantling of Fernando Alonso by Jenson Button at the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix.

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What made last year’s race at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve special was the unusually heavy tire wear. With the exception of wet races, 2010 cars were making one obligatory stop for fresh tires per race, but the track in Montreal had recently been resurfaced, and the new asphalt had a particular appetite for racing rubber. The result was a mad shuffle in the pits, drivers making 3–4 stops over the 70 laps of what thus became a very entertaining race.

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For 2011, Formula One’s long-time tire supplier Bridgestone has been replaced by Pirelli with the explicit mandate to produce tires that will wear out faster. A strange request from a tire manufacturer, and no doubt one that required a number of Italian engineers to swallow their pride and go make inferior product, but the end result may be more races like Canada, and more passes like the one Jenson Button made on lap 56. It must be said that passes in Formula One are like goals in soccer, emerging violently from a number of controllable and uncontrollable parameters, but even if Button’s pass of Alonso was a result not of tires but of corner geometry, one may hope that we’ll see more of the same.

Illustration for article titled Why last years best F1 pass may be the future

For it was the very best of what Formula One can be. It’s worth watching the action frame by frame (and ignoring the commentary, which lags by eons). It is right after the cars emerge from Turn 2 that Button begins to set up his move. On the short straight between Turns 2 and 3, he realizes the trouble Alonso is in because of the slower cars ahead of him and the particular geometry of the six corners they’re about to take. In the braking zone for Turn 3, he creeps up on the Ferrari ever so slightly. Between Turns 3 and 6, he keeps his distance, waiting for the opportunity to make his move. In the slow combination of Turns 6 and 7, the leading cars bunch up and Alonso flicks the Ferrari left to pass them on the exit of Turn 7. It is here that Button pounces. He slipstreams his McLaren behind the Ferrari, follows it as Alonso passes the slower cars ahead, then pops out from behind and accelerates past him down the straight between Turn 7 and 8. He ties up his move by the end of the straight and leads the pack into Turn 8, a position he would finish the race in: second behind teammate Lewis Hamilton for McLaren’s third and last 1–2 finish in eight races, the high point of a waning season.

Jalopnik reader Alex Nikiforov attended the race and witnessed Button’s move:

I got to see the pass Button on Alonso through the lens of the Nikon D90 camera that I borrowed from my colleague, and yes it was really, really great—the stands erupted on many occasions.

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It’s subtle, elegant, clever, calculating, and it makes you realize that a pass is an elaborate construction built corner by corner, lap by lap, then executed in a fraction of the right second. If Pirelli’s fragile new tires give us more of the same, we will all be able to thank them for their great advances—in engineering inferiority.

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DISCUSSION

potbellyjoe
PotbellyJoe and 42 others

When did the WWE take over F1?

All I have heard for a decade is one man ribbing another man's sponsor, or this guy is sleeping with that girl or that teams are sand bagging to improve the standings for other drivers. yatta yatta.

Recently it's been smaller engines, less power, smaller wings, less fun.

Passing in F1 is becoming the folding metal chair of excitement.

It's an engineered soap opera, but you have to watch it while wearing an ascot or Tifosi scarf.

Now I read about F1 mandating inferior products.

What good does Pirelli get from having tires that scrub off faster than they should. What innovations will come to the street to help build their business among consumers from tires that wear out faster?

The entire scope is lost.

When innovation is stifled in the name of close races and entertainment, racing development suffers.

F1 had been a hotbed for technical victories. A place where brave souls belted themselves to untamed rockets and attempted to keep the beast 1 degree away from crashing or catching fire in order to beat the other insane men.

Countries would get behind their champion. Now fans get behind their brand.

I don't watch NASCAR for this reason. I am now starting to tune out of F1.

I want cars that are faster, more technical than anything ever before, with tires that are engineered to last to within inches after the finish line the exact moment the car runs out of fuel. I want wings and ground effects that make NASA rethink their designs.

I want creative dreamers that refuse to say 'impossible' and I want to cheer for the brave heroes that will strap themselves into a car with a trembling excitement that only comes when you are on the razor's edge of sanity.

I want F1 to be the pinnacle of all racing development, not just another spec series.