Will Gray

Technical Talk: Is overtaking back?

Will Gray

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It's official: Formula One cars can overtake again. Perhaps.

For years, fans have been craving the opportunity to see the top Grand Prix racers show their guts and go for glory, overtaking their rivals on the track - yet Formula One has consistently failed to match the drama seen further down the motorsport ranks.

Sure, there have been some impressive moves, but for years they have been the exception to the norm, with most racing moves made in the pitstop periods and most drama coming from the strategic game of high-speed chess played out on the pit wall.
But this week Nick Heidfeld was the first driver to come out with a strong confidence that it is all about to change.

The issue with overtaking has always been one of drag. The complex aerodynamic elements on F1 cars, especially the rear wing and diffuser, twist and turn the air so much that a long and messy wake trails the cars, much more than seen in lower formulae.

This 'dirty air' reduces the downforce of any car trying to follow closely behind, reducing their ability to corner as fast as the car in front and putting them too far behind when they come onto a straight where they may be able to overtake.

But the new rule changes introduced for this year were developed with a very strong focus on altering car performance with the overall aim of reducing the effect of this issue and making the racing more attractive to spectators and sponsors alike.

A think tank including some of the top designers in the sport pulled together to develop a concept that would, in theory, increase the opportunities for overtaking through the reduction of reliance on aerodynamic grip in favour of mechanical grip.

Out have gone the grooved tyres, replaced by slicks which have a greater contact patch and greater grip overall — and this greater mechanical grip allowed the group to consider stripping the cars of the complex aerodynamic devices without reducing speeds too much.

The aim was to cut the cars' aerodynamic downforce by half - a move that in turn automatically reduces the drag - and with less drag (or wake) but still the grip from the tyres, the cars, in theory, can follow each other more closely and have more of a chance to overtake.

Heidfeld had the chance to evaluate this theory in testing last week and was happy with what he found, believing the new simple aerodynamic package does the job. There is hope, then. Good news. But still, we have to wait until Melbourne to truly find out...


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