Two of F1's most respected designers have suggested that rather than pointing the finger of blame for the lack of overtaking in the top flight at the design of the cars, the powers-that-be might do better to take a closer look at the layout of some of the circuits to which the annual circus travels.
For years, aerodynamics and downforce have been vilified as the culprits that have turned grands prix all-too often into Sunday afternoon bore-a-thons, and whilst the reduction in downforce and return of slick tyres last season produced some improvement, there remains a long way to go – and the halcyon, wheel-to-wheel days of years gone-by remain a distant memory to most.
Williams technical director Sam Michael and Red Bull Racing chief technical officer Adrian Newey – the most esteemed designer of his generation, if not of all time, with his cars having swept to more than 100 grand prix victories – contend that some tracks simply don't lend themselves to close competition, an issue that needs to be tackled with some urgency.
“One thing that hasn't really been addressed at all so far is circuit design,” Michael told Racecar Engineering
magazine. “You've got to ask yourself, why do you go to a race such as Barcelona where no-one overtakes, and then take exactly the same cars to Monza, Montreal or Hockenheim and you get lots of overtaking? Those cars are exactly the same aerodynamically, yet on one circuit they overtake a lot and on another circuit they don't overtake at all.
“It's because of the circuit layout; it's because when they lay out circuits, they don't look closely enough at the combination of slow-speed corners onto straights followed by slow-speed corners. This is something that the FIA is dealing with now and having a really strong look at. If you look at somewhere like Abu Dhabi – which was a brand new circuit – there are some very good aspects to that circuit, but because there were some pretty fundamental mistakes there, they need to change them before next year.
“There's no point being sensitive about it – ultimately there wasn't good enough racing in Abu Dhabi, and Formula 1 has to look at itself and ask why. You can't keep putting all of it on the car design all of the time. Of course the car design has some responsibility for it, and if you went to every circuit and you never saw any overtaking, then you could blame it all on the car design – but clearly that's not the case, because there are places where cars do overtake. Clearly this needs a pretty thorough look at. It's something the FIA has taken charge of now, so hopefully we'll see some good come out of it.”
Indeed, the sport's governing body recently hosted a seminar aimed at investigating the means by which to boost overtaking in F1, reports ITV
, with seven-time world champion and new Mercedes Grand Prix-signing Michael Schumacher, veteran Penske and G-Force designer Nigel Bennett and Hermann Tilke – the man responsible for many of the sport's not universally popular modern-day venues, dubbed 'Tilke-dromes' – all in attendance. Few changes are expected to be approved in time for the forthcoming campaign, however.
“Fundamentally, I think the circuits are probably the biggest influence,” Newey opined. “Everybody keeps conveniently forgetting about that, as it is deemed to be easier to change the cars than change the circuits.”