Monday, 9 May 2011

Oh You Fickle F1 Fans...

So, did we all enjoy the F1 yesterday? Lots of overtaking, exciting stuff and my favourite team and driver winning! Fantastic!

What do you mean "too much overtaking"??

Whilst on Twitter this morning I saw a posting by Jon Noble (a reporter for Autosport) which suggested that overtaking has become too easy in F1. You can read the article here. I find it hilarious that apparently F1 fans have gone from brandishing pitchforks and torches shouting "There's not enough overtaking, Bernie!" to apparently shouting "The overtaking's too easy, Bernie!". You'd have though that we're all a fickle lot, but I want to examine what all the fuss is about.

Now, the overtaking debate has been going on for some time now. Last year we had very few overtakes, perhaps even less than the year before, and people as a result began to complain that racing was 'boring' or 'processional' with only pit stops providing the bulk of the passing opportunities. Why is this? Rather than the typical view that 'drivers can't be bothered', the answer is probably a matter of physics. You see, the cars now have such sophisticated aerodynamics packages that they create a wake of turbulent air, meaning that cars behind initially get into the slipstream when 1 second behind, but then are met by turbulent air which pushes them all over the place. As a result, it is very hard to get any close and get past. In order to combat this, the bizarre aero pieces which were stuck here, there and everywhere on the cars in 2009 were banned, leading to a more simple looking car. In 2010 we still faced similar issues, largely due to the downforce being produced by the cars (more turbulent air you see). So, in 2011 Bernie and the gang brought back KERS (the Kinetic Energy Recovery System) and introduced the DRS (Drag Reduction System) to aid drivers behind in overtaking.

In order to understand this a little bit more, let me explain what exactly KERS and DRS are. KERS is a system whereby energy from braking is stored as electricity and is then converted into extra horsepower. The drivers charge their KERS unit over a lap, and have the energy available to them on the following lap. This leads to a system whereby the drivers constantly charge and use the energy available. There is no set place where drivers can use KERS, rather they press one of many buttons on the steering wheel to activate it. Generally, KERS is vital at starts where there is a long run to the first corner and in places where there are long straights generally. This season, Red Bull have been having issues with KERS, having not run it in 2009 like many other teams. KERS is meant to aid overtaking by providing an extra boost to the drivers when they are close to a car in front - or indeed to try and escape the car behind!

Now, the DRS is new. The drivers are able to press a button to open a flap on the rear wing, which reduces the drag caused by being in the turbulent air of the car in front. In contrast to KERS, the DRS is only available at a set point on the track (as decided by Charlie Whiting), and then only when a driver is within one second of the car in front - so no using DRS to escape from an oncoming driver. Turkey showed us just how well the DRS and KERS can be in conjunction with each other - there were loads of battles between drivers, even between team mates (though not Red Bull, much to Christian Horner's relief following on from 2010).

Despite these systems of KERS and DRS giving us exciting racing, people have been debating whether they are such a good thing. People have been arguing that overtaking is now artificial, and not down to driver skill. Rather than drivers having to negotiate their overtaking maneuvers on other drivers, they can simply press two buttons and go past.

However, I don't see it like this. If you get a driver who guards the necessary lines into corners, no amount of speed or drag reduction will allow them past. Drivers must therefore negotiate which line to take, as well as how to defend. Not forgetting that drivers don't automatically pull away from another when they have overtaken (unless they're one of the elite teams), and so the driver who has just overtaken another could find themselves being retaken! Just look as the battle between Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton - because the drivers were equally matched in terms of car, several overtakes took place which made for exciting racing.

So if we take this into account I don't think we can complain about the overtaking being too easy - any overtaking is good, regardless of how it comes about. If a driver has the presence of mind to use his KERS and DRS and is able to overtake another, that is down to the driver. We shouldn't see KERS and DRS as some sort of 'push to pass' system, but rather tools which help the drivers to battle with others and give us more of a show. So to all you F1 fans out there who aren't so happy with the new systems - just get over it and enjoy the racing!