Driving on the ceiling

Formula 1 cars are so aerodynamically tuned that they could drive upside down. Being this aerodynamically advanced has made the cars faster but the problem is that it is almost impossible to overtake one.

Several people have suggested a ban on wind tunnels. They have been the cause of the aerodynamic advances, and they are terrible for the environment. It’s actually not the races or even the flying to the races that are the least environmentally friendly part of F1. It’s the keeping dozens of wind tunnel centres running engines 24 hours a day blowing wind and measuring what it does when it blows over the cars.

The problem with banning wind tunnels is that the cars are currently difficult to overtake and would simply stay that way. There has to be an incentive to make cars easy to overtake. The only way to do this must be to make it imperative that you overtake in the race. If you must overtake you must create a car which can be overtaken. I think this is true. I know that in theory it must be possible to make a car which deals with turbulence from a car in front but still deposits incredibly disturbed air behind it. But I think if this vision was possible we would have seen it already. I think that if we made it imperative to overtake we would see cars being built which were less aerodynamically sensitive. They would have to be able to deal with anything thrown at them and still go quickly. And not be perfect machines.

So how do we make overtaking imperative? Surely in the pinnacle of motorsport it would already be vitally important? But no. As has been said before on this blog, “if you put all of the cars in order of fastest to slowest why would you expect any overtaking”? Overtaking happens almost by accident in Formula 1. When it happens it is all the more spectacular because of its rarity – a factor I worry about destroying with these proposals. And yet I will propose away because I think Formula 1 is nothing if not the fastest evolving sport in the world. It keeps changing and that’s part of its charm to the seasoned observers.

So how do we ensure overtaking?

Well the first thought is always to reverse the grid at the start of the race, but that seems complicated. How would you get people to drive quickly in qualifying if they knew that the faster they drove the further from the front they would be qualifying.

The GP2 solution to this is to have two races, the first in qualifying order so fastest first and the second in the reverse order (only the top eight). This is something that Formula 1 could easily do but I think it is a bit tricky because it means two races and a qualifying. The two races might devalue each of the races. It might be too difficult to attract people to watch both of the events. In GP2 you get points for both which is how you make it worth it for everyone to do well in the first one. This system does work in the feeder series, so perhaps there is some merit, even though we seem to have rejected it in a previous SofaF1 Poll.

The next solution is requires very little modifying with the current Formula 1 race system. To get more overtaking almost everything could stay the same. All you would have to do is to get rid of the blue flag system. The blue flag system means that if you are lapping another car that car has to immediately spring out of the way (well within three blue flags being waved). This system means that races aren’t compromised by weird situations where some cars are incredibly difficult to overtake and back drivers into the clutches of weaker cars. And yet that seems to me exactly the kind of thing that we want to see. If a driver can take advantage of a situation like this then it really means they are a great driver – it’s almost nothing to do with cars at that point it is simply taking advantage of another drivers mistake.

My last offering is perhaps the most controversial and yet it would be easier to explain than the way that GP2 works. I think that perhaps this is my favoured solution. I think that we should get rid of qualifying, and re-instate the 115% rule. Eh? In this scheme during free practice every car would have to be within 115% of the fastest time in free practice. To make things less dangerous we could use the fastest time from practice 1, and say that you must get within that time in any of the sessions. This would stop the last practice effectively being qualifying. So if there is no qualifying how do we decide the grid? Well that’s simple, we use the reverse of the drivers championship. The championship leader starts at the back, the person in dead last starts the race. One extra rule is that the constructor team scores no points for the first race with a new driver unless it is the first race of a season. This would stop teams from simply fielding new drivers every race to try and get them to the front of the championship. There is bound to be overtaking in this situation. Some might claim that the grid will be dangerous but already we have situations naturally where fast cars are at the back of the grid and what happens? They overtake the other cars, they tend not to crash into them.

So on Tuesday next week I’m going to put these three and “keep Formula 1 as it is now” into the SofaF1 poll, but if you’d like to add your own pet theory then I’d love to hear it and include it in the poll too.

About Alex Andronov

Alex Andronov is a writer who lives in the UK. He is currently working on 7 novels, 5 film scripts, 2 plays, 2 TV series, 1 history of the United States, 1 travelogue and trying to find some focus.
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