You Weren't Imagining It, F1 Got Way Worse This Year

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“Real snoozer today,” you type, yawning and searching for the race’s hashtag. As you prepare to tweet it, you begin to wonder: Am I being too critical of Formula One? Not all of the races this year have been more spread out than a strand of broken pearls. But, in fact, they were. You now have numbers to back up your yawns.

To overtake someone in F1, according to Autosport, the move has to happen on “complete flying laps” and has to be maintained through the finish line. That takes the first lap out of the equation, and it means that a driver has to hold a position through the line after the pass in order for it to count as an overtake.

Overtaking numbers went from 866 complete passes in 2016 to 435 in 2017, according to data from F1 tire supplier Pirelli. The series schedule was down a race this year, dropping from 21 races to 20, but that’s still a huge difference: Average passing rates went from 41.2 per race last year to 21.8 this year. Take solace in the fact that your exasperated tweets were warranted.


To be fair to 2017, which was a drag of a year anyway, last year had the highest number of passes since 1983—when people began keeping track of this stuff. But the numbers have been skewed for more than a handful of years. F1 added the drag-reduction system, or DRS, to cars in 2011, which allows for the altering of the angle of the rear wing to reduce drag and help drivers overtake. DRS has limitations on where and when it can be used, and race officials can cut it off at any time if there are things like yellow flags or poor weather conditions.


Overtaking numbers went way up with the introduction of DRS, which has been controversial since it came around—The New York Times reported in 2014 that critics found it to be a fake approach to racing (ha!) while drivers said it didn’t help enough. The chart to the left, using data from a 2016 Autosport piece on how DRS has changed passing records in F1, shows overtaking has doubled and tripled in most years since the introduction of the system. The number of total overtakes in 2017 was the lowest since 2009, before DRS, and the average number of passes per race fell into the 20s for only the second time since DRS came around.

The most overtaking moves per race in 2017 was almost equal to the average last year, with 42 total overtakes at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The race with the least amount this year was the Russian Grand Prix, which had just one. Yikes.


Thankfully, F1 wants to make these races a bit less parade-like in the future by fixing tracks that have too few passing areas. Hopefully, it’ll help. If it doesn’t, just remember that you’ll either see a good race or have a guaranteed method by which to lull yourself back to sleep when F1 is in a part of the world that forces you to wake up before the sun does.