Wednesday , 17 October 2018
©Scuderia Ferrari S.p.A

After eight seasons, Formula 1’s racing ‘band-aid’ isn’t working

The 2018 Canadian Grand Prix was hardly a classic, was it? Despite the incorporation of a third DRS zone to try and help the racing, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – a circuit which usually produces a thrilling Formula 1 grand prix, racing was pretty much non-existent for much of the event.

Let’s put Monaco aside for a second. It is almost ironic that the tracks which have arguably produced the worst racing this season have been the ones with three DRS zones – Albert Park and Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The latter is usually a highlight of the calendar, so for there to be a dull race despite so many areas to use DRS is incredibly worrying.

Those who have followed me on social media (or in person) for a while now will be very much aware of my criticisms towards the overtaking aid. It continues to divide opinion, and has done since it was brought in.

Its inclusion was designed to only be temporary, starting from the 2011 season. Yet, eight seasons, and perhaps more worryingly two drastic regulation overhauls later, it remains, is more powerful than ever, and it still isn’t improving the racing.

Overtaking is not something that is going to repair itself over time, and so sticking a band-aid on it and waiting for it to fix simply does not work. So, it is very concerning that the Overtaking Working Group that so little has been done to try and help mend something which has been an issue within F1 for many years.

If anything, things are worse now than they were when DRS came in all those years ago.

It is no longer exclusive to F1 as well, as it has filtered down into series that it arguably has no place in – DTM, Formula 2 and GP3. In those series, has it made the racing better there? It’s debatable.

The rule change for 2017 was certainly not designed with overtaking in mind, and it is certainly showing.

Yet, F1 still needs to understand exactly what the problem is before it goes about finding a solution. Circuit design generally is not the problem, as Canada showed. Plenty of series have visited those tracks and produced great races too.

However, a lack of variation in circuit design is a problem, but that is a point for later. It is not, the one-trick-fixes-everything solution.

The main problem is dirty air, and tyres. Cars struggle to follow in dirty air, and it is only amplified when the Pirelli tyres struggle to remain in their tight operating windows due to the increased strain on the rubber. Supposedly some changes have been forced upon teams for 2019 which will aid this, but these will only be minor.

Frustratingly, from a point of view, one of the changes for next year is to make DRS even more powerful than it already is. What will that achieve when DRS has achieved so little?

Hopes are all pinned on the massive overhaul for 2021. That is a real crunch point for F1 and for its new ownership Liberty Media. It would be nice to see DRS gone by then. Otherwise, there will be calls for heads to roll.

But it goes beyond just increasing the number of overtakes. Overtaking is an art, and DRS takes away from that. There is an art to both attacking and defending. Make overtaking too easy, and there is a problem, and vice-versa. There must be the correct balance, and the powers that be must understand that.

There should be races where overtaking is easy, but not every track should be a 1970s-style Monza slipstreaming arena.

There should be races where overtaking is difficult, but not every track should be as tight and narrow as Monte Carlo.

Generally, the F1 calendar these days is littered with tracks supposedly designed to produce good racing, but it simply doesn’t work. Some of the best races have happened because overtaking has been easy, and some of the best ones have happened because overtaking has been difficult. Monza 1971, and Jarama 1981. Two great races, for very contrasting reasons.

There should be a nice variation of circuits on the calendar. Sort that out, as well as the cars and tyres, and perhaps this problem might just be fixed.

Vettel is right in saying that not every grand prix is going to be an absolute hit. F1’s fanbase needs to acknowledge that and accept it. It has been the case in every era previous, the current era and all future eras. For every dull race we have, it makes us appreciate the special ones all the more.

But F1 does have its problems, and the racing is one of them. IndyCar has helped its overtaking problems on road and street courses by drastically cutting the amount of downforce produced by wings and winglets. It is a hugely positive change. The most exciting part about F1 should be the racing. I’m currently finding myself most excited about watching qualifying, which is quite simply bizarre.

Despite the poor racing, the 2018 season is shaping up to be a cracker. Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo are all very much fighting for the championship in three different machines, while Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas is the dark horse in the bout. So, it is still going to be a great season. It is just a shame that we have had to endure a few dud races because overtaking is so hard, in addition to some crackers earlier in the year.

About Craig Woollard

Craig Woollard is an avid motor racing fan and freelance journalist and writer. A mathematics graduate from the University of Essex in 2013, Woollard has ambitions to work within motor racing. He is a member of Autosport's academy programme. In his spare time, he listens to music, sim races, wears hats and drinks cranberry juice.

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