Analysis: The 2011 overtaking bonanza in detail
Honda F1 website
Honda website

MAY 17, 2011

Analysis: The 2011 overtaking bonanza in detail

Felipe Massa, Vitaly Petrov, Malaysian GP 2011
© The Cahier Archive

Many have spoken about the difficulty of overtaking in F1, and at Barcelona in particular, which is why there is such anticipation to see whether or not the improvements to the action in 2011 hold up in this weekend's Spanish GP.

The Mercedes GP team points out that with the exception of Monaco -- an anomaly in every way -- the Circuit de Catalunya has long been the track at which overtaking is more difficult than anywhere else. Sixteen of the 20 races held there have been won from pole position, including every one in the past decade. In the past three years, normal overtaking manoeuvres have been measured in single figures; on average, there have been 2.3 'normal' passes for position per Spanish Grand Prix since 2008. So if a circuit is going to provide a yardstick for the success of the 2011 regulations, which have so far seen an average of 24.5 'normal' overtakes per race, and many more with the use of DRS, then Barcelona is it.

The Mercedes gurus have been looking both Spain and the overtaking figures in detail:

Q: Why has overtaking historically been so difficult in Barcelona?

A: The fundamental impediment to overtaking at the Circuit de Catalunya is that the 880m main straight is preceded by the fast Turn 16. It is a corner through which it is hard to follow another car closely and, when performance differentials between cars are small, this makes overtaking extremely difficult. Furthermore, teams have normally been testing at Barcelona and have optimised the car and tyre usage, which usually gives less variation in performance and strategy than normal.

Q: Can you quantify the impact of running in another car's wake?

A: Yes. Downforce levels are monitored by the car's on-board sensors and the closer you get to the car in front, the bigger the loss in downforce. This loss occurs across the whole car, but is more pronounced at the front, hence the tendency for the following car to understeer. The loss begins to occur when the gap between the cars is 3.5s. When one second behind, the chasing car loses approximately 7% of total downforce; when 0.5s behind, this rises to around 12%.

Q: How is overtaking measured?

A: The traditional method of counting on-track overtaking relies on registering position changes from a lap chart; however, this method cannot take account of multiple passes on a single lap, or passes made on in- and out-laps. The team calculates the number of overtaking manoeuvres using a combination of video, timing data and GPS technology. This method enables the 'value' of overtaking moves to be categorized for use in strategic calculations: for example, passes between team-mates are categorised separately because one driver can choose to let the other pass, although this is not automatically the case; similarly, passes by faster cars on those from the bottom three teams are categorised separately as their strategic importance is different. However, there is no standard definition of a 'real' overtaking move, so differing conclusions can be reached according to the method used. Consistency of method is as important as overall accuracy.

Q: How much overtaking occurred in Barcelona over the past three years?

A: The raw statistics are as follows: 2008, 11 moves; 2009, three moves; 2010, 10 moves. However, the total from 2008 includes passes made because of damage or mistakes, while the 2010 number includes passes by faster cars on a car from the bottom three teams. The number of 'normal' overtaking manoeuvres was: 2008, two; 2009, three; 2010, two.

Q: The picture has changed dramatically in 2011. How so?

A: The number of overtaking moves has not only increased significantly compared to 2010, but it has also risen steadily with each race so far in 2011, from 30 total moves in Melbourne (including all types of pass) to 112 in Turkey. Within these totals, the number of 'normal' passes between cars from different teams more than doubled between Melbourne and Sepang, and has since then remained reasonably consistent: the race in Turkey saw 31, for example, compared to 12 in Melbourne and 29 in Sepang. In contrast, the number of DRS-assisted passes has risen significantly, from five in Melbourne to 40 in Turkey. In percentage terms, DRS played a role in 17% of passes in Melbourne, compared to 36% in Istanbul; conversely, 'normal' on-track passes accounted for 40% of passing in Melbourne, and 28% in Turkey.

Q: How much passing has occurred overall so far this year?

A: The raw totals are as follows: Australia, 30; Malaysia, 70; China, 90; Turkey, 112. Within these totals, the sum of 'normal' and DRS-assisted moves is: Australia, 17; Malaysia, 48; China, 53; Turkey, 71. Comparing the raw totals from the 2010 Spanish Grand Prix and the 2011 Turkish Grand Prix, one can see that the race in Istanbul featured over eleven times more overtaking than last year's race in Spain: 112 moves compared to ten.

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