Present: Paul Monaghan (Head of Race Engineering, Red Bull Racing), Paddy Lowe (Technical Director, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes) and James Allison (Technical Director, Lotus Renault GP).
With the introduction of tyre degradation, DRS and KERS in 2011, it would seem that less driver skill is required in order to overtake. How can we get that back?
Overtaking is a very difficult topic and it's one that's been constantly debated over the last 10-15 years. People often look back to some rosy picture of the old days, when there were great overtakes and they ask why there aren't any more. You do need overtaking, you need it at every circuit and not just at some circuits. You need it to be a great moment, it mustn't be trivial, and I liken that to needing something that you have in football, rather than what you have in basketball. What we've done this year, with the combination of the three elements you mention, has dramatically improved overtaking so are there now too many and are they too easy? I don't think so. Occasionally it's easier than you might have liked, but it's still never easy! We still see plenty of places where overtakes have failed and they can be just as interesting as successful overtakes. The balance is better and with the DRS we can tune it to be even better. Bearing in mind DRS was a FOTA initiative, which we designed last year, we were clear that we wanted the FIA to have some knobs they could turn in order to tune the extent to which DRS affected overtaking. Those specific knobs are the length and the position of the straight where you can use it and the other one is the gap – the one second interval that triggers it. We've left that for the FIA to select on a race-by-race basis in order to make overtaking balanced. We're only eight races in and they're still learning about the system, so it can only improve.
I reject the premise to some extent because I don't think driver skill is in any way reduced by this year's rules. There is more overtaking, certainly, and that was the intention of the rules this year. But in no way does that diminish the driver skill, it just means there is more overtaking. There might have been a little bit too much overtaking at the odd track this year, but if you look at the season as a whole, the races we've had this year. There have been several absolute crackers, at most tracks the overtaking remains extremely challenging and while there is an element of the DRS in particular that offends the purist, which I completely understand, I think the overall balance is of a sport that's more thrilling to watch. If I use my wife or my mum as a yardstick, as opposed to someone who's really into the sport, I've seen my wife in particular willing to sit through a whole race. There's excitement from start-to-finish and I think all of us know that that hasn't always been the case in the past. Some tracks we went to with a heavy heart because we knew that it was going to be an extraordinarily boring affair from beginning-to-end. We haven't had that this year and that's a good thing.
I don't think we've diminished driver skill at all. A lot of the things we've spoken about, such as KERS, are complementary to their skills and they choose to exploit them. It's up to the teams to provide the driver with a car that can exploit all of these things. In establishing DRS, we sought to give a trailing car a small performance advantage; you don't make the overtaking a formality, you've still got to present a reasonable challenge. The drivers who exploit these new rules are still the good ones.
Paddy, how do you set about making a rule change?
We have a number of FOTA groups, who look at the rules. We're all on the TRWG, the Technical Regulations Working Group, which looks at the technical regs. We will discuss, generally a year or so ahead of time, initiatives that might for instance control costs. If there's something that we're all doing and spending a lot of money doing it and it's all a bit needless, we may agree to constrain it. Or initiatives such as the DRS, where we see an opportunity to make the sport more entertaining and more fulfilling for the spectators. We vote and there is a majority system, and anything we agree will get put to the team principals within FOTA. If they agree to it, it will go to the formal FIA bodies, which are the TWG, the Technical Working Group, and there's a voting process there. If it's too near to the coming season, it requires unanimity to change something; if there's enough of a notice period, which is about six months or more, we can change it with majority. The DRS for instance was all developed in the TRWG in a very friendly manner, I must say. It then went to the TWG for the text to be carefully scrutinised over several months so that we would have exactly what we intended. Then it goes to a number of other bodies, working its way up the chain and ultimately ending at the World Motor Sport Council, who will approve that text. That's how a technical regulation is made.
What does the panel think of the double DRS zones that we had in Canada and Montreal?
I still don't fully understand the reason for the second DRS zone and I think the FIA are acknowledging that now. There might tracks where two DRS zones is the right way to go, but in Canada the first zone was very much longer and if you were going to make an overtake stick, generally you were going to do it there. The second zone was just a means of opening a gap for the guy who'd already got past.
The FIA have done a pretty good job at trimming it this year. It's their first time round with all the circuits this year. By and large they've set the distance variable pretty well.
What issues have you had adjusting your cars for the off-throttle diffuser ban at Silverstone?
It affects how we operate the engine. Your first step in addressing this is to ensure your engine complies with the latest interpretation of the rules, which is a reasonable chunk of work in itself. Assuming you accomplish that, you can have a look at the effect on your car and all the cars will be affected differently. The first thing we'll look at is what's the loss of downforce and how does that affect the balance of the car around the lap? We can at least tailor our investigations to suit Silverstone. You do your utmost to identify the deficiencies it will give you and concentrate your efforts on how you're going to get back what you've just lost. I'm sure these guys have been as busy as we have and on Sunday afternoon we'll see who's been the most successful at achieving it. I don't think it will particularly change tyre degradation and I don't think it's necessarily going to be the magnitude of change that's being forecast in some areas. As long as we're still on top, I don't mind!