Key members from three of Formula 1's leading teams – Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes and Renault – have formed a working group to come up with design ideas that will raise the chances of overtaking in the top flight in 2009.
With a radical overhaul of the technical and aerodynamic regulations within the sport due to take effect from next year, there has never been a greater opportunity of late to solve F1's longstanding problem of not enough passing. The European Grand Prix around the harbour-side streets of Valencia back in August was widely criticised afterwards for having been 'boring' [see separate story – click here
], and even world championship leader Lewis Hamilton admitted that the action 'can be a bit dull' [see separate story – click here
That being so – and backed by governing body the FIA – design engineers from the three teams have defied the sport's prevailing atmosphere of secrecy to hold meetings during which they have been bringing their mutual knowledge, resources and experience to the table in discussions about how to spice up the spectacle.
In the old adage that 'three heads are better than one', McLaren's Paddy Lowe, Ferrari man Rory Byrne and Pat Symonds of Renault have set up the Overtaking Working Group, British newspaper The Independent
“Great overtaking,” underlined Lowe, “is appreciated most where the guy has really worked for it. My personal favourite was when Mika Hakkinen passed Michael Schumacher at Spa in 2000 as both of them overtook on either side of Ricardo Zonta going up the hill to Les Combes.”
Drawing upon McLaren's F1 simulator, the trio determined that around the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona prior to its changes last year, a driver would have needed to have been some two seconds a lap quicker coming out of the final corner in order to have had a chance of getting past the car in front along the main straight.
“Almost all of the attempts to reduce downforce in the recent past have been retrograde in terms of overtaking possibilities and wake behaviour,” one working group representative noted, adding in reference to the two-part CDG rear wing the FIA had initially wanted to make mandatory for 2009: “If we had wanted to make overtaking chances worse, that's what we would have come up with...”
The 2009 designs will feature, The Independent
affirms, 'fewer ugly appendages, such as barge boards and air extractor chimneys', whilst rear wings will be both smaller and higher-mounted on the cars and front wings will be wider, lower-mounted and adjustable by the driver whilst driving.
The latter marks the first time such a situation has been permitted at the pinnacle of international motor racing since wings first appeared in F1 more than four decades ago. That should allow drivers to better control the balance of their cars whilst in dirty air – thereby reducing the resultant understeer and, theoretically, improving overtaking chances.
“I hope,” Hamilton admitted, “things will be very different with next year's cars…”