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Getting rid of aero in F1 – the counterargument
Getting rid of aero in F1 – the counterargument
Posted By: James Allen  |  16 Mar 2010   |  8:30 pm GMT  |  550 comments

The debate rages on about how F1 can save itself from monotony this season. We’ve had an unprecdeented number of comments and suggestions here on JA on F1.

Following on from Sunday’s uninspiring Bahrain Grand Prix there have been calls for radical steps to be taken to change the cars and improve the racing, with many people pointing to the aerodynamics and particularly the double diffuser, which the FIA decided to allow at the start of last season, as the prime culprit.

The double diffuser is on its way out of the sport in 2011 anyway, having been voted out by the FOTA group of teams over the winter. But that won’t save the 2010 season.

Many readers of this site have said that aerodynamics are the area where the cars need to be reworked more generally in the interests of racing.

But there is a counter argument, which says that fans think the downforce is the devil because they are influenced by drivers. And it comes from the aerodynamicists themselves, not surprisingly.

Frank Dernie, one of the leading F1 aerodynamicists for the past 30 years, has sent me this note, arguing that the “overtaking problem in F1” is not the aero, but the mechanical grip from the tyres and the lack of mistakes made by drivers on gearshifts due to semi automatic gearboxes. He advocates manual gearboxes and rock hard tyres. Hear him out.

“None of the facts in the last 30 years support the theory that grippy tyres and low downforce promote overtaking. If reducing downforce was the answer, then 1983 would have shown it, since we lost 80% of the aero efficiency in the 1983 rules, ” he says. “But there was no more overtaking than in 1982.

“Here’s the proof – if downforce prevented overtaking, historically the races with the fewest overtaking manoeuvres would have been the wet races, where maximum downforce settings are used… Why anybody still thinks a reduction in downforce is the solution when faced with the facts has been a consistent mystery and frustration to me.

“Too much difference in grip between on and off line is a major factor, caused by sticky tyres (lots of mechanical grip)

“Braking distances into slow corners are far too short, caused by sticky tyres (too much mechanical grip).

“The other reason why it is hard to overtake in current F1 is that the fastest cars are at the front with slower ones behind, so there is no reason to expect overtaking unless a driver makes a mistake.

“In this case overtaking will only ever happen following mistakes, which are rare nowadays with super sticky tyres, big runoff areas and semi automatic gearboxes.

“A few things have worked in the past.

– One set of tyre for the race worked, but Michelin’s tyres were much more suited to this than Bridgestone, so it was changed since Bridgestone were to become the only supplier.

– Single lap qualifying. Often fast cars qualified out of pace order, making overtaking likely. It was unpopular since it was “not fair”.

“When there was overtaking in the past it was mainly due to the low grip of the tyres leaving a wide racing line and long braking distances combined with cars much more difficult to drive due to low grip and manual gearboxes, hence more mistakes.

“We will never fix it whilst so many people ignore the facts and fixate on long held views which are completely at variance with the data.

“The problem is that quite a few influential people, like drivers and ex-drivers in the media, do not want the changes which certainly worked in the past. The drivers hate hard tyres, despite them probably being 50% solution, and the engineers love semi-automatic gearboxes, the other 50%…

Most overtakes took place in the past when a driver made a mistake due to poor grip or missed a gear.”

On the subject of double diffusers making it difficult to follow, he said that early last year the Toyota drivers complained that the hardest car to follow was the Renault, which didn’t have a double diffuser.

One of the reasons semi-automactic gearboxes have remained popular is that they prevent engines from over-revving on downshifts, which is even more important in this era of 8 engines per season.

But if F1 engineers can perfect the seamless shift, surely they can invent a system for a manual gearbox which would dip the clutch if the driver tried to select a gear that was too low for the engine speed.

Rock hard tyres and manual boxes and make the drivers work for a living – what do you think?

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Couldn't agree more, particularly with the gearboxes.

It was great when one car could be up the backside of another into a turn and put so much pressure on that the lead driver screws a gear change and gives that nose distance for an overtake.

But yet again all this does it highlight how people won't agree.

Bernie is right on one big thing - democracies don't work, it has to be a dictatorship. As long as it's the right dictator.


Is it time to consider something, perhaps a little more sophisticated but along the lines of the Hanford wing used in Cart racing in the late 1990's which created a huge hole in the air behind cars on the speedways slowing them a bit but making them more vulnerable to being overtaken. On the speedways it was simply too effective making overtaking a circus act rather than a demonstration of real skill but something like the Hanford wing mandating that F1 cars can run closer together, tied in with a wider racing line courtesy of harder tyres and less "marbles" might improve the show substantially without destroying its credibility.


I've just read Bernie's latest comment;

"It would take far too long and it is too difficult. F1 is now a democracy and all the teams voted for these rules, so now they must also deal with them"

Sounds to me like Bernie's using the tried and tested method of making them eat the cake they baked so they'll let someone else cook next time.

The question is, is it his call to make?

James, I know Bernie has influence, but does he have any actual power or could the teams and the FIA just get on with changing anything they agree to without even consulting him?


FOTA has power as a union of the teams and can achieve unanimity at times, which was rare in the past, but its a delicate union. The FIA listens to FOTA recommendations and the can get new initiative voted through F1 commission and then World Council to make them happen.


One word: NO

Everyone answering "yes" to manual gearboxes are out of touch with reality and out to lunch. Modern F1 machinery are much too fast for manual gearboxes, and it would be a devolution of the sport.

Keep the gearboxes they have now, and give them GRIPPIER tires, not HARDER. If the drivers can move around more because of increased grip, more overtaking opportunities will present themselves.


There's a problem with that arguement...

Grippier tyres means more rubber on the track, more rubber on the track means a grippier racing line, a grippier racing line means that the driver trying to overtake OFF the racing line (which they will have to do) will not get the grip that they need to overtake the driver in front who is already on the racing line...

To add to this, grippier tyres will also leave more rubber "marbles" off the racing line which will make it even more slippery "off-line".

Lastly, having harder tyres will mean that they will have to begin to brake earlier for the corners and will therefore increase the braking distance. That allows more opportunity for a good driver that is very good under brakes to slide up alongside the car in front.

I used to think that we needed to see grippier tyres too, but the facts just don't support that arguement i'm afraid.


Good point - as illustrated by Buemi's rather poor defence of his position against Rubens on Sunday: he was moving to the inside early, off the racing line & therefore losing grip, leaving himself wide open to being passed on the corner exit due to his reduced speed & dirtied tyres.

Frank Dernie is well-qualified to have an opinion, but to go back to manual gearboxes and rock-hard tyres would be a retrograde step, IMO.


Well said. I agree 100%.


Grippier tyres would produce more marbles, so no way they could go offline to overtake. The harder tyre would produce less marbles in my understanding so more chance of an offline overtake? Please correct me if I'm wrong. I think that is the point Mr Dernie is making. I'd tend to agree with the brake discs being downgraded and harder tyres, but I'm undecided on the gearbox issue. By manual do they mean H-Box or still using paddles. Paddles would mean sequential so no chance to miss gears anyway. I think a gearstick is just another piece of pointy metal/carbon fibre in the cockpit to account for in an accident at this point in F1 technology/development.


I agree on your tyre comments, and I've always been confused as to why they'd make tyres that didn't last till they were worn out, as opposed to one or two laps and then getting slower! Is that STUPID or what? Gearboxes---- percentage-wise I think they would have a minimal effect other than slower lap times. Brakes---well, in modern F1 the retardation is only limited by tyre grip so reducing brake size wouldn't increase braking distance, but of course they might not be able to last a complete race without fading or wearing out, so then drivers would have to conserve brakes, as well as tyres, fuel, engines etc. Prety boreing, eh!



I really dont see why modern cars are to fast for manual gear boxes. I dont think they are significantly faster than cars of the early '90s.

I think you are missing the point of the tyre argument as well. With super grippy tyres the effect of going off line, onto the marbles is far more pronounced than on low grip scenarios. This is what leads to more difficult overtaking


good to see fans completely ignoring expert opinions entirely


Grooved Tires reduced the contact patch. It didn't necessarily make them harder! If your read the article again, the harder tires are more about giving an off-line option and longer breaking distances.

Leave the Semi-auto changes, limit diffuses (properly), inforce harder tires and two tire changes. At least then drivers will be inclined to risk their tires in off line moves and late breaking if they have to change them anyway.

At the moment it is a case of trash your tires, trash your race! This was unequivially shown in Bahrain. Martin B even commented on an overtake during the race where a driver when defensive onto the dirt off-line and then the overtake from behind was assured.


Well since the logic behind having grooved tyres up until recently was to make them harder, more slippery, more likely to induce mistakes and therefore increase overtaking, you can see why...


Like I said, it just proves the point that people won't agree.

Someone just needs to decide and get on with it.

Although at the moment I can't quite tell who that someone actually is... FOM? FOTA? FIA? We've heard Bernie's line, we've heard a couple of comments from FOTA members, I've seen NOTHING from Todt though.

Maybe if everyone sticks their heads up their own backsides for a few races it'll all go away. The pinnacle of innovation.


I'm not so sure about the dictatorship, but I totally get what you mean. The way I have always felt about it is that the teams should not be governing the sport, in any way. I feel that way about any sport, not only F1. There are just too many agendas - understandable agendas, but agendas all the same.


Thank you Frank Dernie for giving us the rest of the story.

Bernie E has made much the same point (amazing that I'm agreeing with him for once, but when the man's right, I'll give him his due): The engineers' agenda is to optimize the cars to produce the perfect lap time, not to race one another as such.

It seems that to reach that goal, the teams seek to remove as much of the human element, the possibility of human error interfering with the designed-for lap time, as possible. Semi-automatic transmissions help to do that. Until something finally breaks that mindset, F1 will remain a multi-car time trial.

Soumya Banerjee

@Rudy:cant agree with u more. Unfortunately engineers rule the sport and even more unfortunately,their idea of a good race is not compatible with that of the spectator's. But i also think that layouts of most F1 circuits is such that not much overtaking is possible. The turns dont infuse that much confidence on a driver to overtake a slower-lapping car ahead of him.



I agree with you: the focus is more on lap time than actual racing these days. Whether they lap in the 1:55s or 2:02s in Bahrain is simply irrelevant: they should race each other, not the clock. When we see wheel-to-wheel racing, the focus is on the actual race. Lap times have become important because of the absence of real racing action.

Just a thought about Dernie: his argument is actually countered by the facts of 2009. The aero was limited by the wing redesign and cars could follow each other more closely. Not close enough, but closer than the years before. The FIA were actually on the right track but then shot itself in the foot by allowing double diffusers. They should reactivate the Overtaking Group asap, because what's the point in having harder tyres and missing a gear when you're too far behind to take advantage ?

On a practical note: harder tyres can be introduced in 2010 already by simply limiting everyone to the hardest compound. No tyre variable anymore, as the current rules in this area lead to nothing; just to qualify on the soft and race on the hard one. Would allow Bridgestone to trim its F1 budget a bit as well ...


I Live in Canada. we already get Nascar here. I tend to disagree with Mr. Dernie as it would bring F1 down a few notches

I think part of the appeal in F1 is how technology is an integral part of the offer.

I could watch processional races in the past when we had unlimited revs on V10's, nice looking cars, gearboxes were being re-invented, and aero was being developed on an ongoing basis.

the processional race of last week with GP2 pace and capped revs on engines that put a premium on saving the car instead of going all out have no appeal to me.

I have watched F1 since the 80's and love Ferrari and still was disappointed.

just my 2 cents.



I agree 100% with this. I also believe that the type of track leads to overtaking. The tracks need to be wider and designed for more passing.

Also another no brainer that was pointed out here. Qualifying puts the cars in order based roughly on pace. So it's natural that there is little to no passing because everyone is already spread out in order.


How about awarding points for qualifying positions but randomly allocating grid position. That would make for a lot of overtaking.


However wide the track is, is there is still only one racing line. Bahrain is wide, as is China and Malaysia, but I will bet you a Red Bull that there will be no passing in the current format. His points are well taken, but for the fact that manual gear boxes are no longer pertinent at so many levels of motor racing. It would be a major step back technologically speaking, and I don't know that F1 will consider it.


Most fans care about racing not the gearbox. The skill of a racing driver to stir the cogs is an art form.

Humans race, its our skill that excites then comes the tech.

Bring back the manual transmission and a clutch. lets hear the driver blipping on the downshift not the computer.

Soumya Banerjee

But the cars have been dumbed down as much as safety allows. Traction & launch control hav been abolished but there's been no substantial increase in overtaking even then.

Manual gearboxes cant be introduced on such fast cars. Tyres hav 2 b made less grippier to increase the racing line


Or allow a CVT, such as the one that Williams built and tested in the early-mid '90s, but that the driver control the ratio, not electronics. Instead of a clutch pedal, one that controls the ratio. Foot off the pedal, disengaged, hard to the floor, top gear ratio and everything between the two. High tech, but manual.


Clicked too soon, so: F1 cars are neither the fastest, nor the most powerful. Those that are have drives who can shift for themselves. And for those who say that you can't compare the disciplines, remember this: Time counts on the quarter mile, even more than in F1. But you still have to beat the other car across the line.

And for those who doubt the power numbers (I was off. It's actually closer to 7K bhp), have a look:



If the cars use a very hard tire, like what the article states, the racing line will not be rubbered up as much, and the only advantage from running the racing line is the fact that it's the optimal line for speed, not because it is stickier. Taking away a sticky line will certainly aid in overtaking, especially if the track is wider.


Make them start on the same tyres they qualify on so softer tyres will yield faster qualy but will wear out after (say) 12 laps. Harder compounds will be slower for qualy but will last 20 laps. That would yield a mixture of strategies (hopefully) which would mix up the grid a bit.

The key here is the tyre producer making a tyre that is designed to wear out so that you can either get grip or durability. Either way the tyres should be harder than we are seeing just now to prevent so many marbles off line.


The first part is what happened in Bahrain. They all (but Sutil) in the top 10 started on the softer option because they had to start on the tyre they qualified on.

No tyre producer will bring substandard tyres to a race if they are only racing against thmeselves.

Bridgestone are advertising, you dont advertise a sub-standard product.


Yes I know they all started on their qualy tyres but what I am getting at is the fact that the harder tyre (which they must use at least once in the race) is too durable so once you are using that tyre, whether at the start or later in the race, you might as well stay on that tyre to the end! It is not worth the time lost in a pit stop to change back to the soft for the last stint or to change to fresh medium compound. If the tyres were less durable and crucially the softer compound must be less durable than the harder compound then that will encourage differing strategies. For example, 4 sets of softs versus 2 sets of mediums. That way you might get a Force India on the front row on softs with Ferrari on the 3rd row on mediums and 3 stops versus 1 stop. That would be interesting IMHO.

I never said that Bridgestone should produce "Sub Standard" tyres, I just said they should be designed to last much less than race distance. All I'm talking about is less rubber thickness and ideally some form of indicator (red rubber layer) to show when they are done. There is nothing wrong with designing a high performance tyre to last 12 laps or 20 laps and it won't hurt Bridgestone's image.


I heard that for the new Indy street track in Sao Paulo some of the drivers were consulted and they recommended increasing the length of the straight. They listened and the result was alot of overtaking moves at the end of the straight.

How many of the new circuits in F1 do you ever recall that drivers were consulted in the design of the circuit?


Michael Schumacher was a consultant on several tracks over the years. I can't recall which individual tracks he was involved in the design of, but someone else may know.


You are correct however he was consulted on how to make the tracks safer not how to improve the specticle and increase overtaking


No matter how wide the track is, there will always be one ideal racing line. Trulli is no easier to overtake at Sepang than at Spa.

There is one ideal line. Go off it and you are at a disadvantage. If the guy in front is not slow enough, or half good at defending his position, overtaking is not going to be any easier.


You know what's missing - drivers with a reputation. When Schimi would "bump" into you to decide the championship it made you be scared to see him in your mirrors. If Sato was starting next to you, you had a restless night. If Mantoya was on your butt you made mistakes. If Mika was riding your tail for 7 laps it was just a matter of time...

Point to one driver with a reputation for me please. One that's not robotic in the legacy of Schumi.

Yes, aero development ruined all that, but that's progress for you. Those cars were state of the art back then. Today they are bricks. In all honesty I think they should reduce the aero. Put that mp4/6 in the wind tunnel and duplicate the results to today's look of F1.


Thats a ridiculous argument why we dont have overtaking anymore. For the records, Mika and Montoya were two of my favourite but Lewis Hamilton fit all those descriptions.

Shumacher was on the filed in Bahrain remember?


or the mp19


Sounds reasonable, except F1 was supposed to be pinnacle of motor racing. Going back 15 years and reintroducing manual gearboxes wouldn't do the sport any good. Reducing mechanical grip would quickly be called unsafe, so I don't think we can expect anyone from FIA to consider it.

The most important thing mr Dernie wrote is about the qualifying format. It is true, why should we expect any overtaking at all, if the cars start the race ordered according to their speed?

Soumya Banerjee

We can because differing strategies may mean that even chandok on freshes can b staring at alonso's back when he's got worn down tyres. Then a pass is obv likely.


It still is the pinnicle. This is motor racing not a Nasa project.

We have to tone down the tech or start a series for AI racing for the engineering freaks.

We the fans set should set the agenda of what pinnicle means to us.

The best drivers in world facing each other.


Indeed, people talk about tech and strategies because there's not much else to talk about.

Whenever real racing is on view, that easily puts all the rest firmly in the background.

Who cares what setup JB was running or which tyres at Interlagos, he was flying through the field !

JB en MW had a nice fight in Abu Dhabi as well, I'm not thinking back about what revs they were running at or which lap time they were doing.


Maybe they should start each race in reverse championship order with the current WDC points leader (Alonso) in the rear of the grid and the next highest points holder (Massa) in front of him, all the way through to the lowest points holder (Chandhok) starting in pole position.

I know, I know, it sounds absolutely stupid, but by having The slowest at the front and the fastest at the back it would certainly create some wild GP's. Imagine watching the fastest guys work their way through the pack...

Ok, you can all start flaming me now. 🙂


Disagree 100%.

The aero wake will still be just as bad, and the following car will have even less mechanical grip to rely on, thus increasing the closest possible following distance. Through each aero-influenced corner, the trailing car will lose significant time, thus preventing him/her to be close enough to strike.


I'm with Malcolm. The fact is that drivers cannot get close enough to each other because of the turbulent wake caused by fancy aerodynamics.

Yes, manual gearboxes would cause mistakes, but I want to see drivers racing, not profiting from errors.

The best way to liven up the show would be to have two races. Lottery qualifying to determine the starting order for a ten lap sprint race, which would then determine the starting order for a longer 50 lap point-scoring race.


If the breaking distances are not so short due to the tyre grip and powerful breaks, the following car doesn't need to be as close as is required now. You can't have so much power and speed in the cars and compromise on breaks though. But I agree, you have a valid point there.

It is not simple, this is why the greatest engineering minds are struggling to find a simple fix to the problem.


This simple fix is:

-Manual Transmission

-Harder compound tire

-Reduced aero and a controlled wake which allows cars to follow.

They can still build the best cars in the world and it will take the very best drivers to control them. Now that what I would call entertainment.


Got it in one, Malcolm. What Dernie completely fails to address is the fact that it's near-on impossible for cars to get closer together on the straight than about a third of a second - and that's even when the guy behind is fully one or two seconds a lap faster. Even at 100mph, that's a gap of almost exactly three car lengths (based on the length declared for this year's Sauber).

The sole reason drivers can't get closer together than this is because of the hot, turbulent air coming off the car in front. Without that, there's absolutely no reason the cars wouldn't be able to follow each other nose to tail down a long straight (presuming the car behind had enough power to catch the guy in front, that is).

So - when you arrive in the braking zone for a corner which would seem conducive to overtaking, you've generally got at least several car lengths to catch up on your rival before you're even starting to pull alongside him, and with the rules we have this year, he's generally likely to have a reasonably similar load and tire condition to you as well. Yet somehow you've got to be able to carry enough extra speed through the corner to make up four or more car lengths.

No wonder overtaking is a big ask for the drivers these days.

Dernie's coming at this from a position of self-interest, I'm afraid. Bluntly speaking, he doesn't want to admit that the problem lies on his doorstep, because without the aero battle he's out of a job. He may genuinely believe in his statement, but that doesn't make him right.

Contrasting Dernie's position, we've got a fairly clear consensus from the drivers that aero is the problem. They're about as impartial as you can get, because they could really care less whether they're benefiting from aero or mechanical grip, so long as it gets them to the front. How many times have we heard drivers say that they couldn't get any closer to the guy ahead because the front started to wash away every time they got near? Rather a few, I'd wager.

So sorry James, but I'm going to have to disagree with Dernie, and with the suggestion of this posting. Slap rubbish tires and a manual gearbox in and we'll have more mistakes, yes. We won't have more overtaking though, because overtaking is about skill from the guy behind, not lack of skill from the guy in front. If Dernie has his way, we'll basically replace overtaking altogether with the luck of the draw.

Soumya Banerjee

If there is a large racing line then people cud stay out of the dirty airflow of the cars ahead. Datz wat Dernie wants 2 imply & datz y introducing less grippier tyres is going 2 help more. This dirty airflow being the reason for less overtaking concept is rubbish. Didnt u fellas c wat alonso was doing on bahrain main straight?


"The sole reason drivers can’t get closer together than this is because of the hot, turbulent air coming off the car in front"

I'm sorry but this isn't true. Cars cant get as close *in corners* because the turbulent air in the wake of the leading car upsets the aero, meaning there's less downforce. But if the wings produce less downforce, then there *has* to be less drag.

I wonder if one of the reasons we see less slipstreaming now is because all the engines have pretty similar power, or the cars have similarly efficient aero. Winning in F1 is currently about being a tenth or two a lap quicker than the next guy, whereas in the past there has been a bigger gap between the cars. If you look at qualifying in the past, there's generally been a few seconds between say pole and 10th place. At Bahrain on Saturday (in Q1) the top 10 were covered by a second. With cars that are so equally matched, then it stands to reason that overtaking will be much less common.


I don't particularly remember there being *significantly* faster cars under the previous rules. The teams mostly ran fairly similar strategies, so the difference in weights weren't always that huge. Certainly, I don't remember too many cases where drivers have been a second or two faster than the guy in front, except in wet races (where the fuel effect is less influential of a factor anyway!).


Dickie, my reference to cars being significantly faster was mostly regarding past seasons where we had refuelling and more variant tire strategies. That was the situation where we tended to have cars significantly faster than the guy in front.


I was addressing the comment that it's impossible to slipstream now because of turbulence. The reason we see cars stuck behind for lap after lap isn't because they can't slipstream, it's because the turbulence makes it harder for cars to follow in the corners. Which means that cars aren't close enough on the straights to pass. Part of the problem here is aero, part of it is down to track layout too.

You mention cars being "significantly faster" too. Well, for the last few years its very rare for a car to be significantly quicker than the rest of the field. The Brawn at the start of last year was said to be much quicker, and what was that when it came to it? 5-6 tenths a lap? Compare this to the 80s, where car differences were often measured in seconds. A couple of tenths over a lap is very small, so even without the aero problems it's much harder to overtake, as the overall "skill" level is higher.


Dickie, if your assertion was right, then we wouldn't see cars stuck behind the guy in front for lap after lap, 0.3-0.5 seconds off his tail, until the precise moment he gets out of the way (pits, makes a mistake, whatever) - and then suddenly rocketing off at a second a lap or more into the distance.

Fact is though, we *have* seen that. We've seen it many, many times over the last few years. If we don't see it much this season, the only reason will be that the rule changes have basically forced most of the frontrunners onto near-identical strategies with near-identically fuelled (and hence weighted) cars.

Given that we know even a car which is significantly faster in lap pace can't get closer than a third of a second to the guy in front, there has to be a reason for it. It ain't the engine, because the car can easily catch up, and once past can easily disappear down the road. It isn't tires, because your tires don't adversely impact the guy behind you (we get faster on the racing line throughout the weekend as rubber is laid down, remember - tires only make it slower *off* the racing line on the marbles). It isn't an invisible, magical forcefield, either.

The only meaningful effect two cars that aren't touching are directly having on each other at a couple hundred miles an hour is the air that passes between them. It's relatively clean for the first guy, but turbulent and "dirty" for the guy behind. (It's also hotter, but I wouldn't expect it to be enough so to significantly rob the following car's engine of power - just enough to cause him cooling issues with extended nose-to-tail running).

Truth be told, we *do* have an aero problem, no matter what anybody would like to say.


I think your post sums it up pretty well. Mr Dernie brings us an interesting insight but not the whole story. Having the job he has there is biais...bottom line: yeah, this aerodinamics super-science has become too important damn it. Mechanical grip from tires on the other hand would allow cars to closely follow each other so...decisions have to be made!!!


The post above was made in haste (had an appointment). I need to clarify:

Disagree 100% with the hard tire idea, for the reasons listed above.

Agree 100% with the single-lap qualifying, with the aim at spicing up the grid without resorting to gimmicks.


True, but what do you propose?


Like the idea of manual gearboxes - that would certainly make the racing vastly more interesting!

But Dernie, for all that he obviously knows 2 million times more about car aerodynamics than I do, has missed the main point. It's now about downforce. Downforce = cars' ability to stick to the road like glue. But two cars with massive downforce should still be able to dart about, overtaking and re-overtaking each other. In fact, arguably they should be MORE able to, since each driver will have massive confidence in their grip levels.

What is choking, strangling, stifling and killing overtaking and wheel-to-wheel racing isn't downforce, but the unwelcome result of overly-engineered aerodynamics - turbulence. I've said it another recent post, but the current style of cars virtually operate their own weather systems at high speed - how many times, right up to this past weekend, have we heard drivers complain that once they get with 3 or 4 car lengths behind the one they want to overtake, the 'dirty air' prevents them getting any closer unless one car has either vastly better tyres or a significantly more powerful engine than the other.

Dernie's the aero expert - but why has he chosen only to discuss downforce and ignored the unwelcome byproduct of what's he paid precisely to do, ie make the cars as aerodynamically perfect as he can?

We need to reduce the amount of so-called 'dirty air' coming off the backs of the cars by 80-90%. And we need to do it very, very soon, because all the complaints from drivers, commentators and fans over the past decade and a half or so can't all be coincidence.


Excellent post.

I've said this before... the aero wake is the problem. Endplate design, diffuser design and rear wing design need to be looked at to determine how to reduce the vortices shed from the back of the car.

It's not difficult; mandate certain control surfaces to ensure that the flow is straightened coming off the back of the car, and suddenly following another car may be possible!

Also, F1 would become a very boring sport if the only passing came about as a result of mistakes made.


Hi Malcolm,

The 'it's not difficult' bit for turning turbulent flow into laminar flow is to my knowledge a large challenge. Turbulent flow is not well understood, but one thing the flow has is relatively high energy. For example, the Reynolds number, which is used to estimate the onset of turbulence, is directly proportional to velocity.

The next thing to realise is that the flow behind the wings is laminar for some distance - it is not immediately turbulent. The wings work by sending a large mass of air upwards and from Newtonian physics the conservation of momentum means that wings push the car down. The underside of the car is using Bernoulli to generate low pressure. The diffusers are aiming to slow the air as much as possible to bring the pressure up to a close to 1 atmosphere as possible. With a perfect diffuser I believe there would be minimal turbulence as the air would have minimal velocity at the exit of the car. In contrast the wings do a lot of work on the air. The air flow gains a lot of energy and as it loses that energy through friction it become turbulent.

To maintain aerodynamic downforce, which would be required to keep F1 as the fastest series, I believe (I did some fluid dynamics including CFD at uni 11-12 years ago as part of my engineering degree, but I'm not claiming professional expertise) that the rear wing should be nothing more than a near horizontal advertising space (if that). Ground effect generated downforce would be much better.

There is a safety question as to whether skirts should be allowed, as downforce is obviously lost if the seal is damaged. Rigid skirts that notionally are only allowed to wear a certain amount through a race in the same way as the current plank could be a way to do this.

A further possibility is to repeat the 1978 Brabham fan car concept. Taken to the extreme this design is unaffected by the presence of other cars. With the diffusers on current cars debris is still picked up and then the down wash from the rear wing sends it all over the place anyway, so the fan car shouldn't be much worse. In its one race the fan car was said to be relatively impervious to oil dropped on the track (rarely an issue these days).


They already tried doing that for 2009. I'm not expert, so it's possible that they did it incorrectly. But it seems that the lesson from 2009 for the teams is that there's always some clever loophole in specs that must be found and exploited. Again, I'm not expert, but it looks like F1 as a pinnacle of motor sport cannot be significantly more overtaken oriented. The level of competition and technical brilliance is simply to high. Maybe it's time to simply accept that ?


Design the diffuser, front and rear wings and standardise them, it would be a huge cost cutting measure in terms of aero but they'll just spend elsewhere. Keep the adjustable front wing, but everyone gets the same or within very tightly defined rules. The wake of every car would then be the same. What benefit do aerodynamics give outside of F1? Other technologies should be available for development to compensate, active suspension anyone? I do think that harder tyres to produce less marbles and allow offline overtaking is a good idea though, and a change in brake material to lengthen braking distances would also help. But these restricted techs need to be replaced with something else for the engineers to get their teeth into. Something that won't prevent close racing. The problems are a result of the rules not the engineers/teams working to them.


I wonder how you would measure and enforce certain levels of 'dirty air'? Dirty air can only be measured in a wind tunnel, and I doubt Bernie has money to put every car into a wind tunnel before every race to check that their latest aero update confirms to certain levels of dirty air.

I think you can only decrease the influence of dirty air by lowering the overall downforce levels.


Exactly. It's not the aero downforce itself.

It's the dirty air that is the core problem.


There's another aspect people forget. If you suddenly reduce the speed of F1 cars you'll have to do the same for all other sub-F1 single seater series. Can F1 really survive if GP2 cars are quicker?


I don't think anyone would really care if the races were exciting...



F1 is the global racing brand, appealing to the masses. FIA will strangle competitors anyway; remember how Bernie E used to try and lure Mercedes/Audi/VW from sportscars into FA by changing the rules via the FIA ?

WTC gone, Group C gone ...

F1 just needs to up the spectacle, the rest will come by itself - nobody will care about the other series; F1 is where the glamour is


I think its a combination of lots of things - as pointed out by Frank Dernie.

Tyres, yes. Circuit design, yes. Semi-auto gearboxes, yes.

Fast cars at the front? Yes. (Though that must have been some sort of factor for a while, though, surely). But what can you do about that? "Random" or reverse grids will go down like a lead balloon. And single lap quali wasn't good at all.

Is aero a factor? Well, unless the working group coming up with the 2009 regs were all having a laugh and just pretending to do some work, presumably it is seen to be some sort of factor too.

But given some of the radical changes that's happened over the last few years, I find it strange that simply making the tyres harder is difficult to get through. Semi-auto gearboxes could be removed if we really wanted to - it'd be a step back, but hey we got shot of traction control and launch control because we wanted to see driver skill and not fancy electronics, so it can be done too.

It needs to be done. But other factors need to be looked at too, not least of all circuit design.


These sound a lot more reasonable than shortcuts, mandatory pitstops and what not.


Not sure by his claim that wet races would have the least overtaking moves! Surely in the wet the most important factor is tyre on the tarmac. The cars are going nowhere near their potential speed, therefore not producing their optimal level of downforce.

I'd like to hear the thoughts of Patrick Head on this, as I believe from what I have read, he wasn't a fan of aerodynamics to start with.


Didn't Patrick Head and his team PERFECT the concept of "Ground Effect" which used aerodynamics to suck the car closer to the road?


No, but they developed an incrementally better Lotus 79, something Lotus couldn't manage, and then developed incrementally better active suspension than Lotus, to manage aero/track relationship.


I believe Patrick was also Frank's boss at Williams for quite a while.

The wet race comment comes from screwing on as much downforce as is available. However, the key this is obviously that the grip levels are unpredictable and other lines become feasible allowing cars to run closer together. So yes I agree that the wet race argument seems like a thrown-in point.


Forget about aero . Of course the type of the circuit it matters , of course all the things said in the article it matters , but let's work around the current regulations . I think one of the solution is to give a motivation to an extra stop . Maybe the speed limiting in the pits is too much , except tight pits like Monaco , so the overall time in the pits will be shorter , giving a motivation to an agressive strategy . And maybe the other solution is to not to force the Top 10 to start with the same tyre used in Q3 . In the current regulations everybody will be using soft compound so they will start in the similar way . But maybe if that rule will be changed , some people will try to start with hard tyre giving a chance to a shake-up .



I disagree; introducing mandatory pitstops fails to address the root cause, which is cars not being able to closely follow each other. Remember that pitstops were introduced in order to produce position changes, but in the end what did we get: no increase in overtaking as everybody just waits for the pitstops. With or without pitstops, F1 has been a mainly processional affair for the last 25 years.

If anything, we should take away any excuses from the main thing, which is cars racing each other. That is what people want to see, not strategy calculations or strategy induced position changes. Even with pitstops, the guy on pole would most likely win the race.

2009 has been the most exciting season in years, because all the budget cuts are paying off: more cars had a chance to win the race. Before that, it was between 2 cars and all the rest just made up the numbers.

People going on about how F1 should be the pinnacle of technology: been there, done that -the guy with the deepest pockets wins.

Relevance to road cars: it's racing, not test labs. I drive a diesel powered car, with a manual gearbox ...

Ultimately, the race should be decided by the guy in the car, not someone on the pit wall. Pole position used to mean something: who was able to do the fastest lap. That didn't mean he would win the race though,and it shouldn't. Otherwise we can call quali the race ...

Budget restrictions are going in the right direction: the whole field is matched closer than ever before. If the turbulence problem can be solved, F1 would be a great show.


Frank's comments are certainly food for thought but I for one want to see the strategic element brought back with refuelling.

F1 has had years to get the spectacle right but every rule change seems to have the opposite effect.

Short term measures are necessary - and certainly before Barcelona - but introducing

two compulsory tyre stops may require races to be shortened.

James - can the 2010 cars carry enough fuel to complete a full GP divided into three flat-out sprints by compulsory tyre stops ?


Why does refuelling need to be brought back in order for there to be strategy? If the teams are given the option to use any tire they want (soft or hard), use a no-stop strategy, one stop using both compounds or two stops using softs for all three stints, wouldn't that be enough strategy? That way, most of the overtaking would be done on the track, rather than just swapping places in the pits (which I personally found quite boring, to be honest).


I think aero is still an issue.

Lewis was faster than Nico but couldn't pass because of lack of downforce whenever he got close.

I think they should allow the flexi-wings back in F1. Cars following another's dirty air will have the downforce to at least stay close, and then have an increased burst of speed when they dip out for a pass.

I never understood why they banned flexi wings in the first place yet allow double diffusers and adjustable fronts wings a couple of years later.


Flexi-wings were banned for safety reasons. They were relying on the flexibility of materials, which could (and did) lead to dangerous failures.

Now, if you are suggesting a move to spring-loaded wings with pivots and fail-safe mechanisms, that's a different story; however, the car following could be at a disadvantage because while drafting, their wing would be in the high-downforce/high-drag position, so when they pull out to pass, the wing would need a fraction of a second to lay back and subsequently reduce drag. Also, a wing in dirty air won't really see an effect by a small change in angle of attack, so I doubt it would help in terms of allowing trailing cars to follow closely.


Spring-loaded wings with pivots would be a good idea. It would be crazy, and it would cost money to develop, but if successful, would sure be worth it.

If the front wings could participate as well, and independently of each other, it could definitely shake things up during the races.

With more range in the angle of attack compared to the 6 degrees of range available to the drivers now, I think it could make a difference.


What interesting points, especially for me as I've been advocating a massive reduction in aero and simultaneous increase in mechanical grip!

However the sticky tyres and semi-auto boxes don't explain the inability of cars to follow each other closely and almost total lack of overtaking!!!

Instead I would ask why it is that Indy cars can do what we want to see in F1; follow the car in front so closely AND overtake regularly???

Low grip tyres in comparison to F1?

What is the respective aero versus mechanical grip on an F1 car compared to that of Indy cars???

Or other be-winged single-seater race cars??

As for wet race comments in relation to overtaking surely pure visibility plays more of a role than almost anything else, one can't get too close regardless of the respective 'grip' be it aero or mech!

If all said by Mr D is true then why are cars like Ferrari's or Red Bulls so much quicker than the rest, mech grip rather than aero??


IRL cars are heavier, so a larger proportion of the grip is mechanical as the aero levels are lower. A larger proportion of the downforce comes from under the car the nature of Bernoulli related venturis is that these generate less turbulent flow than wings.

The lower downforce to static mass ratio means the braking distances are much longer. The cars also have limited periods of extra power. These two combined with reduced turbulence give more overtaking in my assessment.


Formula 1 cars are designed to run perfectly in clear air, so they cannot follow each other.

As it is now, ideally the fastest car will win every race - the designers design a car that is fastest in clear air to get pole position, then can lead the entire race in clear air. This is what all teams are currently striving to achieve, as this is what the regulations demand.

Teams do not use any wind tunnel time to improve how their car works in dirty air as it takes away recourses from creating the fastest car in clean air.

Therefore, the long term solution should be to scrap qualifying and have the grid as the reverse championship order (i.e the driver leading the championship stats last)

This will force teams to design a 'racing car' rather than just a 'fast car', as to win the championship a car will have to come through the field at most races.


Let's face the facts, the expert already says that aero is NOT the main issue.

I think you are on the money.

Refueling, 2/3/20 stops, hard tyres,etc are not the solution. Some sort of reverse grid is the way. It is a short term solution that can be used from from Australia if FOTA agree.

In my view, F1 is first a show and second a sport, i.e. the show is more importantt that the sport. Overtaking is more fun than who is the fastest on a single lap for the average viewer.

Technology developments need to stay, KERB, automatic gear box, etc. This is F1 after all.


I'm beginning to think that this would be the most effective, albeit drastic, solution in order to spice up the races.

It would make races not about who's the fastest, but who's best at overtaking (which obviously requires a fast car, along with a good driver).


About two years ago F1 magazine ran an article about a computer generated F1 Car. You will remember it was the picture with a set of wings over each tire and nothing in the middle. This would increase the air flow over the centre of the car for the following car to utilize. Has there been any discussion about that design?


I think some engineers quashed that idea, since the net upwash from the rear wings would cancel out the little downwash from the open center section.

Also, I think the turbulence is more of an issue than the direction of airflow, along with the vortices shed from the rear of the cars. A few years ago, it was noted that the Toyota was particularly bad to follow, and I think James said recently that the Renault was bad to follow last year.


Yes, that horrible effort. I can't remember the details but it turned out upon doing the calculations that it would actually have made the issue worse! And hence the 2009 regs were what was designed.


Yup. The government stockpiled as many copies of that issue as they could, in case an emergency tissue paper shortage were ever to befall the nation.


So then, we need hard tyres. Not very difficult to bring in quickly and the cars to start in inverted order to points position in championship. The designers thus have to give priority to design cars that are not sensitive to the wake of another car since overtaking is the only way to make a good result.


Why dont they use water sprinklers before the race? I have never seen a single boring wet race. That should level the field and we will have more teams competing for places and place the emphasis on the drivers as well.


Ace idea! A sprinkling of silicone powder on the corners would spice it up no end too. 🙂


I have always thought it crazy F1 spends $$$ on fly a way races just for one race. Also if you put cars on the grid in order of speed then your obviously not going to get alot of passing.

Solution, Eliminate Qualifying.On Saturday have a race based on championship standings. The driver with the most points starting last and so on.

Where a driver finishes on the Saturday race is his grid postion for Sundays race.

Your going to get alot of racing, passing etc. Bernie gets a better show, two races a weekend.

Also I'd have one soft tyre compound so u need 2 stops per race, don't bother having two, another saving.

The only way to get passing is to have faster cars behind slower ones...


Well then you could just keep qualifying and flip the grid. It sounds like a cheap way to get a spectacle though.


Sounds like what north american hockey league does for drafting new players, weaker teams pick first, stronger teams pick last. Not quite reversing qualifying, as a team *wants* to get the most points all the time. Also, *passing* should be a skill a top driver should have, no?

But then, what do you do on Saturday afternoon to spice up the show?

All things considered, I'd rather see stronger teams start from the back and work their way to the front, than start at the front and stay there, all I do now is watch the first 3 laps, nap for an hour, and try to catch the last 3 laps....zzzzzzzzzzzz


every car should be as fast as the other, which what they are working on with regulated engines, etc - everybody should be able to win by overtaking

the best driver should win, not the best car (ie Damon in 96, Prost in 93, Nigel in 92)

artifial juggling about with grid positions and adding weight is diversin attention from the main issue: the impossibility to overtake


That obviously wouldn't work. You then just go very very slowly in qualifying.

No keep qualifying and give points for quali results, say the old points we had for the race.

Then for the race, people start in reverse order of the championship and, between drivers with equal points, start position is still decided by the qualis.

This puts the fast cars at the back and hence should improve the racing.

By the way, has anyone ever considered weight penalties for fast cars as you have in GT racing? Win a race? You get X kilo extra to your minimum weight, which gradually goes away again after a number of races.


Then everybody's going to drive as sloooooooowly as possible in qualifying which isn't that much fun...


Wouldn't you just try to go as slow as possible in qualifying then?


Well I was previously going for soft tyres that wear out - but I will bow to superior knowledge - if hard tyres make it easier to overtake due to longer breaking distances and more grip off the line, then I'll get my chisel out and start carving ones out of the nearest granite block...

I presume the gearbox could be made manual by a software change.. so no problem having that done by Spain then.

Sadly I can see two chances of FOTA agreeing with this...


Very interesting article. Ive always wondered about Manual Gearboxs as being used in modern F1. Driver error will probably increase as anyone whose driven a manual gearbox road car will mess up their gears from time to time.

On a personal note to what Mr Dernie said about wet races having the least overtaking. That maybe the case, but they usually happen to be the most entertaining due to the chaos that follows.


Aero must also be a factor. Overtaking does happen when one car manages to get in a slipstream, but it's so rarely achieved due to the difficulty in staying close through the last corner. Also, lower grip grooved tyres have already been tried.

Bahrain isn't helped anyway by being a dull, featureless circuit.


Then why are all the best tracks narrow? Interlagos, Spa, Imola, Monza, Montreal -all narrow by Bahrain standards.



Another common trait... Mr. Tilke wasn't involved in their design! Personally, I think the reasons why the older circuits have more character is because they weren't designed by computer, thereby giving the track little idiosyncrasies that are eliminated these days by super-accurate circuit design.


ie, Bumps n stuff!


This is a interesting argument and again credit to you James from bringing insight like no other, this really is the definitive F1 site! This sounds like a fantastic soloution, but also I feel the refueling adds an extra dimension. But all this talk but how will this turn into action. Its going to be difficult near impossible to implement it this year. So it looks like 2011! I hope though the racing improves and some sort of tempoary soloutions finds itself. But with the new engine formula coming it it seems like within the FIA a lot of head scratching is going to commenence.!


While I agree that the 1st race of the season was boring I think it is unwise to make any major changes to the rules so soon.

If anything all of this has proved that changing the rules for the greater good of the sport usually impacts F1 in some other unforeseen way. We have seen it time and time again yet the FIA and FOTA insist on introducing over complicated solutions.

KISS (keep it simple stupid) should always apply with any rule changes.

I have been saying all along on other F1 forums that F1 is in great danger of destroying itself resulting in some other form of motorsport taking over.

I for one thoroughly enjoyed the opening Indy race and recently saw a fantastic IRL race live. So I can safely say that once Indy sorts itself out with the new 2012 spec cars, a good mix of drivers, tracks and better sponsorship then I think it could well be a contender.


I can't wait: the race fans can then watch IRL and the technology fans can watch the best cars in the world ... follow each other around in F1


Just like the Nineties and early Noughties, then!


Oh by the way James - Once again another brilliant and insightful article. Your articles give me more to think about than any of the other F1 journalists - congratulations on a job really well done.


With all due respect to Frank Dernie, my views are somewhat different.

With rock hard tires and manual gearboxes, F1 cars will be circulating at speeds less than GP2 cars. Is that the kind of F1 we want?

Another issue with this suggestion is that this solution cannot be implemented quickly. To reengineer gearboxes takes time and with resource restrictions in place, nobody wants to spend the money for completely new gearboxes.

The question at hand is, how to spice up the 2010 season.

I still think the easiest and fastest solution to spice up the 2010 season would be to have two mandatory pit stops and tires that are closer together in performance or just having one tire compound (saves Bridgestone some money as well).

Knee-jerk reactions often lead to bad decisions so F1 fans should just take a deep breath and not lead to a hasty conclusion on a quick fix.

Tires and pit stops are the quickest route to a better show in 2010.


Well don't you think that you would first set out what you want F1 to be, the align the other, lower series accordingly?


James, for a long term solution that would be absolutely correct.

Resetting the performance envelope of F1 and all the lower formulae to match each other will take 3 to 5 years.

Meanwhile, the issue at hand is the snore-athon in the 2010 season that requires a quick fix that can be implemented quickly and without appearing as if the rule makers are fiddling with the rules excessively (perceptions are important). Having Bridgestone change the tires and requiring madatory pit-stops should achieve that goal for 2010.

There are two key points to make here. F1 has never been a sport where there is too much overtaking on the track - this ain't Nascar. Most of the action in F1 has always been based on strategy and pit stops. That has never bothered me too much (and I have watched every race on TV since 1983). The second point is that this season is a great marketing opportunity for F1 to generate new fans - four world champions, the return of Schumi, four competitive teams at the front. Squandering a mega-marketing opportunity like this seems like a waste.


monktonnik: I want to collapse in a heap at the end of the last GP on account of being spent after shouting at the telly for the previous 18 races!"

LOL....... that is exactly what all of us die-hard F1 fans want!!


" The second point is that this season is a great marketing opportunity for F1 to generate new fans – four world champions, the return of Schumi, four competitive teams at the front. Squandering a mega-marketing opportunity like this seems like a waste."

This for me is the issue, from a sporting rather than marketing point of view.

Let's see how the first 4 races go, but if it is still processional let's act quickly.

I for one don't want to look back on 2010 as the season that could have been great. I want to collapse in a heap at the end of the last GP on account of being spent after shouting at the telly for the previous 18 races!




I agree that causing more driver errors would increase passing opportunities but Dernie must admit that because cars lose downforce when closely following cars they can not get into position on the exit of curves to pass and also in braking zones they must be out in clean air to get max braking which makes it hard to surprise a leading car and position for a passing maneuver. Now the aero is so dominate that cars can't follow closely because they will overheat! He is correct that one spec of tire per race will increase the chance that some drivers will be superior in using them correctly, resulting in more passing toward the end of races. I remember that Prost was very good at that!

Also, downforce effect is relative to the downforce of other cars in the same race not what they had year to year!


An excellent analysis, and I must admit I had fallen into the "its all about aero" line of thinking in the last few years. Yes drivers all love grip, but its how they handle the lack of it in wet races that provides such a spectacle. If they can replicate that in the dry with low-grip tyres then that would be very interesting to watch. The notion that hard tyres mean that there is less of a penalty for going off-line is also fascinating as it potentially opens up more overtaking opportunities.

Best of all providing new tyre compounds is probably relatively quick and cheap to do (although as Bridgestone are leaving at the end of the year their motivation for doing so might not be there).

Somehow though I can't see teams wanting to bring back manual gearboxes.


The cars are built for speed not overtaking. They always will be regardless of regulations. If you build a faster car than your rival then you may be able to overtake them.The guy that controls the machine is programmed for overtaking (their ego does this automatically) so the only way to encourage him is to give him all the tools to have a stab at the guy infront without the fear that his race will be ruined if he flatspots a tyre just after his only stop on lap 20! Having to conserve tyres is not the way to get the driver to go hard out from lights to flag. They only solution is mandatory pitstops for tyres. All the talk is of 2 stops but why not make it three and give the teams large windows in which to take these stops. For example in Bahrain the 'windows' could have been laps 1-15, 16-35, 35-49. This gives the teams scope for stratagy but also gives the driver fresh rubber to attack all race long. More pitstops also puts added pressure on the pitcrews. The short first window would also create the situation where faster cars are mixing it with slower ones as they come out of there first stop which will encourage also overtaking. Anyway there is lots of talk but from the armchair this system would have made Bahrain more exciting to watch



The rules allow multiple pit stops now so if the strategy merited it teams would make more tire changes. This idea of trying to control what the driver must do during a race is NOT competition. Why not make a rule that drivers must change gears 20 times per lap or close their eyes for 30 seconds per lap! Let the racers race for goodness sake!


Sorry Gavin,

Bahrain was also boring last year with the pitstops. All this will do is more of the same: waiting for the pitstop to pass the guy in front. NO - pass him on the track, you're the driver, mate; not your pitcrew.

Come to think of it: Bahrain has always been a boring race.


Would single lap qualifying find unanimity among the teams as a short term fix?


It'd get my support, for sure!


Also agree to a point, i think skinny front tyres, big fat rear tyres, small short cord front wing, moving weight distribution and aero balance rearwards.


If that's it takes, it has my blessing.

johnpierre rivera


a very enlightening post. dare i say i was one or the 400+ readers that replied earlier to your "press put the boot..." and although after reading your newest entry, i stand corrected on some of my aero comments, which is fine, i always like to learn more about the details of some of the aspects that we don't usually see on sunday, i did at least get the gearbox part right. lets get back to manual shifting, a reduction in the crazy expensive carbon-fiber-ing, and this rock hard tire that has been mentioned. also if this harder tire produces less marbles, or clagg as david hobbs says, then the racing line will open up. make the diver work for that pass.


Is there anywhere I can get the lap time data for each lap and each car? It would be good to run a simulation including 3 stops to see what extra opportunities would have been created when the field is mixed up. Also what was the total pit lane time?


BTCC, WTCC, A1GP, GP2, Formula BMW, Porsche Supercup, Indycar, Aussie V8 Supercars etc. etc. all use semi-automatic gearboxes and have plenty of overtaking.

What don't they have? Mental aerodynamics.

Would this guy be out of a job if the aero rules were massively limited? Probably.


Dernie has forgotten more about F1, engineering, and aero than most can fathom. He's been in the sport since the aero revolution and helped create that revolution. The classes you mention do not have the total dollars spent on aero development that F1 does. Each incremental improvement is extraordinarily expensive AND reduce car to car racing because they are designed for clear air.

Hard tire? Yes. They increase braking zones which will increase passing opportunity. They also increase the effect of driver error.

Manual Gearbox? Yes. They increase the chance of error and the ratio of driver skill to engineering skill.

If you want to see RACING you want more driver involvement.

If you want to watch a STRATEGY and DESIGN contest then engineering will be dominant.

Dernie points out, from the point of view of a design engineer with 30 years in F1, that the ratio of engineering to driving is out of balance.

Dernie is right on the money.


Dernie wants to be in the money, just like anybody else!

The rules, not physics, dictate the design in F1. Cripple aero and let's throw the money into powertrain and engine developement for awhile. Might make for better racing and it for sure will be more exciting to watch.


Exactly. Formula One, the self preservation society. He was never going to blame aerodynamics was he!


Exactly right, absolutely agree!


Indeed - the guy is just protecting his job

Limiting aero would also lead to less budget; less budget = level playing field = more cars can win

... don't see a problem here

Can someone mail this to Bernie E and FIA ? (not FOTA, participants should not make the rules)


The fact is that any car that is catching another car will suddenly stop catching when it gets to around one second behind the other car. How can this be caused by anything other than aero? The evidence is right there in front of our very eyes!


thats even more a reason for the cars to have harder tyres... by doing so there will be more than 1 racing line and hence the cars will not have to follow the other car in its dirty air!!!

it makes perfect sense to me to have tyres that promote multiple racing lines and dont punish for going "offline"

thats the whole argument


I do not agree. With harder tyres there would be a smaller differential between the grip a car has when running with clean air and the one when running besides another car (with turbulence).


Yeah, he talks about the rainy races with more downforce being the ones with more overtaking, but you have to remember the overtaking takes place when a driver makes a mistake. nothing to do with the level of downforce in the car.

the real problem is, a car can be faster than the one in the front but cant overtake when getting closer because of the dirty air. simple as that.


Its not just the dirty air and the effect on the front end. It's also the reduced cooling on the engine. But mostly, it's HOW LONG a car has to follow waiting for a mistake. That's what ruins and overheats the tires.

If they had harder tires and manual gearboxes, the cars theoretically would not spend as many laps directly behind another car ruining tires and overcooking engines - 1) because of increased opportunity with lengthened braking zones and 2) more frequent driver error.

The theory is a lot of potential.





James, do you feedback this to Dernie ?


Agree 100%


Why doesn't someone take a poll of the past F1 champions,

and ask THEM what measures might improve the racing ?

After all, who should know better than the past champions ?

It seems to me this poll could be conducted by James Allen,

and the results reported to the FIA, FOTA, and the readers of

this blog.


I haven't heard anything from past champions that would do the racing any good, except from Jacques Villeneuve: he blamed aero & I remember him suggesting a while back to get rid of the rearview mirrors, which only serve to block a guy trying to pass you - that's a different voice from the PC comments the others make. 'They should be able to hurt themselves on the track' - this comes from a guy who can compare F1 to IRL (winning both competitions)

I don't think Nigel Mansell would put his WDC crown down to having the best car in '92 or Mario Andretti admitting to the ground-effect deciding his in '78 ...

What would my namesake Gilles Villeneuve think of all this: only overtake via pitstop, preserve the car above all, ...


That was a great informative write-up. Thanks James.


One point I will raise is that in wet races a number of other factors are also present such as driver error, standing water (offline), visibility etc so its not only the downforce which changes.

But it is great to hear the other side of the argument. Have we all been duped by a driver-led conspiracy? They don't all strike me as work-shy. It would make for a great piece of journalism or the FIA and/or FOM could, I imagine, easily fund the investigations needed.

Anything to increase driver error without endangering their safety would add to the spectacle. And many of the points raised by Mr Dernie have been suggested on this and other sites. If all it took was hard tyres then maybe it does need proving and for Bridgestones replacement to design accordingly.

Or maybe it should all be resolved with a TV Burp style 'FIIIIIGHTTTT'.


So the mechanics blame the aero and the aero guys blame the mechanics. Well the drivers blame the aero so who do we listen too. Partly a mixture of both but hasn't aero run it's course in F1. Surley mechanical grip gives back to the industry several more times than aero grip.

My dream F1 would be this, Front and rear wings baned, apendages except mirrors and certain air cleaners banned, diffusers simplified. All dampers, active suspension etc unbanned. The current F1 cars produce more downforce than the ground effects cars, which is to much. Make aero all about efficiency and low drag and you can have faster straights and slower corners. An more fuel efficient cars, again giving back to the motor industry. Aerodynamics in Formula 1 have run their course, they don't develop as fast or as exciting, get rid of most of it an focus on mechanical an you'll have a better formula.


YES ! aero is for aircraft designers, not cars


Spot on, active suspension and other electronic and mechanical goodies can be adapted and used in road cars, aero can't. What we have in F1 is upside down aircraft, what we need is RACING cars.


The voice of reason. Except keep the wings, only make them very simple and ineffective. It's good advertising space 🙂


This is highly thought-provoking, an excellent article and insight!

It makes perfect sense to try to keep the racing lines wider and avoid marbles as much as possible by using harder compounds but it is important to ensure that the tyres do need changing more than once during the race I think. Remember when we had grooved tyres there were rules to govern when a tyre was worn out - we need something similar with the slicks, perhaps a red layer of rubber after the tyre has worn to a certain extent?

I like the idea of manual gearboxes up to a point but it does seem like a backward step in terms of technology which makes me think twice.

Off the wall thought - how about a boost button which simultaneously gives extra power (nitrous or revs) at the *same time* as adding a balanced amount of extra front and rear wing angle. This would allow following cars to get closer in the corners but would yield no advantage to the car in front to use the button to defend. The idea is to allow cars to penetrate the "1 second" turbulent air region to the point where they can pick up a tow and then the overtake would be possible. Of course the trick would be finding the correct balance of extra wing and extra power but some sort of pop up standard winglets might make this practical.


boost button ? we had this before and was called 'a turbo' ...

This worked fine though (remember Nigel's pass on Ayrton at Silverstone) and would be better than KERS: kers regenerates and everybody would use it all the time - if you see someone trying to make a pass, hit your button to stay ahead - always use it to reduce your lap time to the max = impossible to get ahead. Kers only works when not everybody has it or some stupid rule to limit the use (ie max 10 times per race).

Increasing turbo pressure would give you your boost, but: it costs you fuel.

Reintroducing fuel pitstops again would off course destroy this idea again.

Maybe something for 2013 with the new egine regs...


how about just a "button" that would allow to set another max of engine rpm, say 21000 for some time? Of course the numbers to be limited as well, i would propose to have it only 3 times, so a pilot should use it for the attack, not for the defending.

And moreover nobody knows if someone behind you turn on that button or not ...


The fastest cars are at the front, that is the thing standing out here the most. In a way it is obvious to every one as it has been like this ever since F1 was created, but you must agree with the man that there is no point expecting much overtaking in this format.

I suggest top ten starting from the back of the grid, a mass Le Mans style start or a lottery for grid places.


What about get rid of blue flag and let the drivers sweat a bit more for a win.


great idea


Too much room for politics between teams... the season would become a popularity contest mired by 'unsaid alliegencies' between teams. Ferrari would certainly veto as it hasn't made best of friends with the back markers!


'Toyota drivers complained that the hardest car to follow was the Renault, which didn’t have a double diffuser.'

- Maybe it was the Driver that was difficult to follow? 🙂


I think vortex generators (or other surfaces that create vortices as a byproduct) are more at fault than double-diffusers.


That makes sense. Without knowing who participates in the Overtake Working Group - whilst positive measures to encourage overtaking will be discussed in meetings, is it possible when engineers head back to HQ they will be implementing designs to do much the opposite?

We all know about Brawn (and Williams, Toyota) last year with the diffuser, and presumably the airflow from Mclaren's stalled wing or Ferrari's clever wheel design will create such vortices? If these teams are seen to be going against the spirit of the sport with such designs, is it not possible they are going a step further and introducing aerodynamic elements on the car with the simple use of preventing cars following closely behind?

Being slightly cynical, when so much is at stake in F1 nowadays, are teams really going to hamper there own chances in return for a few more overtakes?


Should be the right way to go. Being only 18 I have never seen an F1 race with h pattern boxes! All I can do is watch onboard footage on YouTube. This alone would make much better racing + there's more skill involved.


The solution is partly the harder tyres and, possibly a manual gearbox. I still think that aero has something to do with it. Even if we have manual gearboxes tomorrow, the car behind can't get close enough to have a lunge because of the aero effect. By all means give us harder tyres, but get rid of these awful wings, increase underbody aero (which is not apparently affected by unclean aero wakes from preceeding cars) and lets see the cars dance and drift like they used to in the 60's.

Look to MotoGP for an example, they don't have aero downforce at all, but they do have (effectively) seamless shift and other electronics. The benefit is they can follow each other closely and passing happens as a result.

I don't necessarily need to see 300 passes a race. What I want to see is some real RACING, wheel to wheel, diving inside your competitor on the brakes, or braving it out around the outside of a fast corner. Unfortunately, this is all too rare in F1, due to the current cars throwing out such unclean wakes and the following cars being totally dependant upon clean air. Get rid of this unclean wake and you should have closer racing. I think even Mr. Dernie would agree, the wings have a significant part to play in this 'dirty wake' issue.


Neil, I am with you a 100% !


It will make the cars harder to control thus a greater likelihood of errors. However, I feel that issue would be resolved over time just as has been done with Aero.

Also, though it might liven up the show, it would take things back a couple decades. F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle. I am not sure we should take things a step back. Fren has a point. The tracks are the biggest issue. I also feel the drivers would know better than anyone else why they can't pass. Their only agenda is to win races not to promote Aero above mechanical grip.


As F1 fans we do not really care about technical stuff, we want to see overtaking as this makes a race interesting. Refuelling did so too, this was rather a pale substitute for overtaking on track. Anyway he had something, do not have it anymore.

So it seems one harder tire and manual gearboxes would be the salvation?. I do not know for the gearbox thing but I sure would love to see all that science-of- tire-selection gone, keep only the prime, scrap the options. For years I'm having the impression it's some kind of tire-compounds championship. Optimal temperatures ranges and all that bull, what a headache! Really, that was too important for the outcome of a race.

What know Bernie? And Maxie,...huuuuh...Monsieur Todt?


> As F1 fans we do not really care about technical stuff

I disagree. Maybe YOU don't really care about technical stuff, but I know from many F1 fans that they are drawn to F1 BECAUSE of the technological aspect AND the racing.

There are many forms of motor racing where technology is secondary to the show and there is nothing wrong with that.

F1 lacks clearly in the "show" aspect but dumbing it down to a technological level of the lower Formulas is wrong.


John F – you were missing the point, I would absolutely not want to see 200 meaningless passings (ie like NASCAR). Nor have technology expelled from F1. I do not really care about technical stuff beyond common people comprehension and training. The thing is F1 is kinda missing its own essence… which would be RACING I guess…One good reason - not necessary being the only one - to stand for this is lack of overtaking. If cars are not able to closely follow each other this IS a problem no matter how you look at it, no matter what “technical stuff” is involved…;)


I don't really care about the technical stuff either. The interest for me has always lain chiefly in the human aspects of the sport. (I was pleasantly surprised to hear Martin Brundle to say during the Bahrain GP coverage that it's the human side that he finds more interesting too.)

I'm not suggesting that technology has no place in F1: of course it does. And if you're interested or involved in engineering yourself, you'll naturally be more taken with the technical side of F1 than I can ever be. But even with reduced levels of technology incorporated in them, the cars would seem extremely hi-tech to 95% of the viewing public.

Motor *racing* is the name of the game. Technology will always be at a higher level in F1 than in any other formula, but it must always, always remain secondary to the quality of the racing.


Technology is killing the racing: the guy with the deepest pockets wins. No need to expand the grid, limit it to 4 cars who have a realistic chance of winning - the infamous US GP all over again. Boy, was that exciting ...


Excellent article.

We still need some form of reverse grids and marked lanes.


How do you prevent drivers competing for the slowest lap to get "pole"?


These are good suggestions for increasing overtaking, but we have to ask, how much do we really want to see more overtaking, if it means randomized grids or hobbled cars?

To be honest, what makes a great GP great is that you know there's nothing contrived or staged about the drama. It's not WWE wrestling, it's real: it's the best drivers in the best cars going flat out.

Perhaps we should just put up with the boring GPs so that we can still enjoy the great ones.


Well put.

Also, effort needs to be put into why some GPs are great and others are boring, and then make changes accordingly.


I agree about manual gear changes, I get the feeling its all too easy for the drivers these days with a relatively paltry 750bhp or so and power steering. Get rid of power steering and bring back gear changes. Then fatigue will play a part in the drivers performance introducing mistakes and overtaking. These days they get out of the car after a race looking fresh as daisies, make them work for it.


GO FOR IT ! . . .reversed grid sprint race anyone ? Good work James.


What a fantastic insight- it's great to hear Mr. Dernie's thoughts.

Whilst I'm not sure about manual gearboxes, a 'rock hard' tyre compound has some very positive consequences: longer braking distances, less off-line disadvantage and more scope for driver error.

However, which tyre manufacturer would put their name to tyres with comparatively low grip?

One solution would be for the FIA to produce their own tyres. However this would inevitably increase costs for the teams.

However I think 'rock hard' tyres would be a positive step.


There is no way to back and reintroduce manual gearboxes. F1 is a pinnacle and semi automatic gearboxes are way to go in mass car market. But carbon brakes are not - why he address short braking distances only to sticky tires?

Get back steel discs and they will have broader braking zone and much more possibilities for overtaking...


I think Frank Dernie has hit the nail squarely on the head. If the tires are rock hard there won't be all the 'marbles' off line. Drivers will be able to race side by side. The other possible solution is to ban carbon-carbon brakes to further increase braking distances. And definitely a return to manual gearboxes - separate the men from the boys. "Missed a gear" was an oft quoted phrase when drivers were brave enough to admit making a mistake. Technology is great up to a point. But if it isn't checked the engineers might as well go all the way and design cars that don't need drivers...


Indeed Bill,

we might end up with some sort of RoboWars: driverless cars battling it out on the track !

But: would they overtake ? Hmm, I wonder what the simulators say ...


Excellent article James. Thank you for not only providing the best insight available but writing articles relevant to what we the fans want to know about.

Short braking distances and a single racing line are definitely big factors in the lack of over-taking in F1. And with the cars so close to each other in performance (as seen in 2009) it is clear that only mistakes make over-taking opportunities. If the cars are so evenly matched (which we all seemed glad about last year) it is silly to expect them to be able to over-take at any stage except under braking but with short braking distances and a single grippy line that is near impossible.

What I don't get is how the FIA missed the fact that with tyre management being more significant than ever due to fueling rules that following close-up in the wake was going to be more of a disadvantage than ever?


I would like to point out that maybe, just *maybe*, the reason we see more overtaking in wet races has less to do with downforce (high or low), and much more to do with wet conditions being more conducive to making mistakes ...

Apart from that it's an interesting rebuke. However, I think the end goal for both camps is the same; an aspect of the car's performance should be reduced to allow for more driver interaction - and hence mistakes.


Whilst I pretty much agree with that, it is telling that the aero engineers point out the Renault as being the hardest to follow. We've all known for many years that it's nigh on impossible to get within a second of the car in front without aero-grip disappearing. Surely this shows that aero is part of the problem.

I've never understood why it appears to be impossible to build a manual gearbox capable of withstanding the forces of modern F1, while they were common, and had far more power/torque to deal with, during the turbo era. Still, it's all up to Bernie, innit?


Why does it appear impossible? The current gearboxes provide performance and reliability advantages. Cost is the only downside. I don't think Bernie has anything to do with gearboxes as I think he'd hardly think about them at all.


I'm really no expert but I dont remember overtaking being any more prominent under groved tyres when mechanical grip was presumably less? Or maybe not and somebody can correct me? I tend to agree that the problem results from special interests - the number of smart people in f1 should be able to find a solution!

It is my view that since 97 overtaking in F1 has become increasing rare (despite some memorable moves over this period but they tend to be extremely rare). I have lost a lot of interest in recent years as many of the races are pretty dull. Would be interesting to see some statistical analysis of overtaking in recent decades.

Michael Balthazar

I agree with this. I'm an Aerodynamics Masters student, so maybe that colors my perception, but if anything underbody aerodynamics are the least effected in the wake of another car. Getting rid of them won't fix the problem. Note that the OWG aero solution was the make the cars sleeker, getting rid of all the bits and pieces that created more/larger turbulent structures trailing from the car. If anything I think less complex front and rear wings would be a better solution, if one is going to address the aerodynamics.

Personally, I'd like to see simple front and rear wings with adjustable flaps on one or both. Possibly expand the range of flap adjustment (further than 6 degrees?) and allow more than 2 flap adjustments per lap. If the driver is good enough to manage his aero balance mid-lap he should be able too.

James you mentioned already in the Schumacher post that one of the problems is that the teams don't appreciably use the tires differently from one another, would harder tires also change this? A team may try to be more aggressive with their setup to get more heat into the tires (and hopefully more grip) but then compromise the durability.

As for the rest of this year... well we can hope that drivers make mistakes and eat up their tires by making mistakes which will lead to some more excitement, either through allowing more overtaking or forcing a pitstop. I saw drivers lock wheels a couple times during the race, but no appreciable drop in lap time. Then again this wont happen until drivers start to get desperate for points later on in the season.


Well it's nice to know that someone who knows about aero agrees with what I said on the Schumacher thread here yesterday.

The original point about manual gearboxes takes me back to that race when James Hunt's knob fell off (pun intended) and he did half the race with his hand wrapped in his visor wiping rag (tear offs were not established then) to stem the blood from the wound caused by the sharp end on the metal gearstick, I seem to rmember he certainly wasn't last, the pain kept him pretty sharp. Back then qualifying was an aggregated time over two days.

Why protect against over revving? you just use a sequential push/pull lever. With sequential gearboxes it's not very likely, to go down two gears by mistake. It works fine on other formulas. Though when it was introduced I couldn't help wondering if using the same system as my old motorbike from 40 years ago was actually an advance, but it seems that it was.

I have many times on many threads here said that the problem stopping overtaking is the marbles, we need tyre compounds that wear down and not melt and fall off in huge chunks.


No but everyone would have low grip


Problem is hard tyres presumably will not wear out. So unless u have mandatory pitstops no one will pit.

If you have mandatory pitstops then the teams will take them as soon as possible all at the same time to get them out of the way. Because if you don't take your stop and there is a safety car then your race is ruined.


If the tyres are hard enough to prevent forming marbles the racing line would be wider, thus cars would be able to use more of the track. There would be more overtaking so we wouldn't need pitstops to spice up the action.


Possibly they could make "thinner" tread?


why not bring the softest possible compound to every race? Okay, everyone has high grip but then everyone will need to pit multiple times. It achieves the same effect but isn't as "manufactured" as mandating that cars stop a certain number of times during the race. It all sounds like an A1GP or Superleague tactic. And really, Formula ONe should be above that.


Take a look at the footage here... Watch Senna going around Monaco with manual gear changes... Awesome and just shows how easy the drivers have it now!



Thanks for the reminder indeed !

Drivers are being paid way too much these days...

I read about Lamborhini producing a car in honour of their test driver - can't remember which model though - and he said: 'a real driver shifts manually'. I couldn't agree with him more.

After all, aren't these people supposed to be the best drivers in the world ? They have only half the bhp that they had in the turbo days ...


It is the Gallardo Balboni. Rear wheel drive too - as opposed to the 4WD of the rest of the Gallardo range - apparently a complete animal in all bar the most skillful of hands.... exactly like F1 sould be!


BTW, isn't the job of the test driver to improve the car? What's Balboni for otherwise? Enthusiasm?


They wouldn't have done that in the Countach days. Try to imagine a Countach Wallace. Brings to mind Nick Park movies.


Lets just bring back those cars and tracks.


That video sums up what F1 should be for me. Not the size of one car's double diffuser compared to another. Manual gears, less wing, big sticky tyres and seeing the best drivers working every inch of grip. Thanks for the reminder Nick.


A quality Senna and pre mechanical grip moment, the master at work.


Absolutely stunning pole lap in 1991 on board with Senna thanks for that


I agree about the tires - how many farking times do we need to hear that drivers can't pass because they can't go off the driving line because of the balls of rubber!

Switch the tires immediately! Make them hard and not durable. I love the idea of a manual gearbox, too, how obvious is that?

Thanks again, James, great insight!


It is an exciting way to bring a little more excitement in F1 these days ..

in this basis, then we believe that McLaren will escape punishment from the FIA next weekend,

Let's see the outcome of this story, including me, Thomas, 13, wrote about this in my blog,

excellent text and citations in the same category.

hug James, and remain so.


I agree with a lot of that - but have my doubts about the following bit:

"Here’s the proof – if downforce prevented overtaking, historically the races with the fewest overtaking manoeuvres would have been the wet races, where maximum downforce settings are used…"

Surely in wet races, speeds are much lower so even with maximum downforce settings, much of the downforce is lost - and that's one of the reasons why there is more passing?

Also he doesn't mention the turbulent air problem caused by aerodynamics, which is surely one of the major barriers to passing.

James, at the start of last season when the new regulations were in place but only three teams had double diffusers, was there noticeably any more overtaking among the cars that didn't have them? That will give us an indication of whether banning those from 2011 will make the difference.


I didn't notice any gigantic difference in number of overtaking, but: the cars did follow more closely - so they were on the right track.

Don't forget that drivers are used to pitstops, so they just took the safe option and wait for the pitstop window instead of overtaking - they can't do that this year.

The problem is not new, we are simply back to 1993, at the end of which refuelling was introduced ... to increase overtaking. Well, it did not help as the issue is the same now as it was then: 'you can't follow closely behind'. Problem was made worse then by technology and differing budgets: only a few cars had a realistic chance of winning. This is addressed by the budget restrictions: in 2009 more drivers won a race than in many seasons before that.

Problem now is made worse by reliability: there are hardly any mechanical problems anymore. Plus: data on the car now shows when engines overheat (Massa in Bahrain) - driver gets signal to slow down and brings car home. In the old days, he would continue and blow up his engine ...


Manual gearboxes would definitely help the racing in F1. Seeing the old onboards of Senna at Monaco flicking through the gears gives me goose bumps. That was a real sport. I guess Schumacher is the only current driver who raced F1 with a stick shift? Maybe Barrichello in the '93 Jordan? Was the Forti the last F1 car with a manual gearbox? I know they were pretty far behind the others on technology...


Nope - Rubens didn't race an F1 car with a manual gearbox. The Jordan had a Semi automatic gearbox in his first year with the car. I think Michael is the only current racer with h-box F1 experience.

Rubens may have had his first run around the track in an old Jordan with a conventional gearbox, but the semi auto box was installed and operational by the first pre-season practice session at Estoril.

I know, because I designed the electronic gearbox controller for it when I worked at Lucas Aerospace 🙂

I agree, however, that going back to manual gearboxes would increase the possibilities for mistakes and increases the skill required by the driver.

Hard tyres may make a little difference, but unless they just don't shed marbles, the tarmac off the racing line will still be too slippy to use, so it may not have that much effect.

It's still a basic tenet of racing that you have to get close to the guy you're racing through the corner in order to get into his slipstream and have a change of diving past him into the next one. If both cars have less grip, and the amount of cornering speed is affected by aero (which it is), then the difference between the cars speeds is not going to change that much simply by reducing the amount of mechanical grip.

Bring back ground effects, and then dramatically reduce the amount of wing allowed on top of the car to compensate. If, as was stated by Michael Balthazar in a previous post, underbody aero is less affected by wake turbulence than over-body aero treatments, then surely this is the way to improve the show, not artificial measures like reverse grids and extra mandatory pitstops.

Mandatory pitstops may increase the amount of position changes, but probably not on the track. All the passing will happen on pit rotations. Will this really improve the show for the fans?


That's pretty cool that you made Barrichello's gearbox Jeff. Did that have a foot clutch? I seem to remember some drivers maintained a foot clutch even into the semi-auto era. Maybe Coulthard? I could be talking baloney though!


I was only responsible for the electronics. My colleagues at Lucas did the software, and the guys at Jordan did the actual gearbox.

It was a sequential box with hydraulic valves controlling the selector mechanism - no clutch involved except for the start. If I remember correctly, the total shift time was <20msecs. I think these days the best teams are doing that in low single digit msecs.

Our controller also did traction control and ride height, back in the bad old days when such systems were legal.

It was a fun project, but as a hardware engineer, if you've done your job right, they don't need you any more. The software engineers were swanning all around the world, while all I got was a 3 day VIP pass to Donington Park (though that wasn't a bad perk), and an emergency trip to Estoril with a fistful of ICs and a soldering iron when they fragged my controllers during pre-season practice.


Spot on Jeff.

I agree the majority of the cars downforce should be produced underneath the car (i.e. ground effects) not by wings and complicated aero on top of the car. As it's been said, wings need to be simplified (maybe even standardised).

The "Overtaking Group" should be given a decent budget to work on this, ask them to produce prototypes and get ex f1 drivers to test them. Sure it will cost alot but the FIA need to invest and save F1!


Ground effect cars also have sparks coming off the back of them - which looks cool!


Indeed, I would like to see the 'wing cars' back again. Was sad to see them go in '83.

The Overtaking Group did work on this to set up the 2009 regs. Getting rid of the wings was not an option, apparently on commercial grounds - so standardization seems the only viable way.

It would be nice to have some more openness on this Group however: how is it composed, when does it meet, which proposals are discussed, who made these proposals, who dismisses them and why, ...

I would like to know why wing-cars were not proposed.


Harder tyres would improve overtaking, but its really misleading to say that the problem is not downforce because the tyres are too grippy.

The grip is crudely dependent on the tyre grip multipled by the downforce.

You could reduce the tyre grip, which would make braking while cornering easier, but it would still leave the problem of the wake.

If you have driven close to a lorry on the motorway, you have felt wake - when you pull up alongside the lorry, you get in the wake, and can feel it slow you down. Its why lorries struggle to overtake.

You also feel slipstream, when close directly behind them. In F1 you just about never get to feel slipstream, you just feel wake.

Reducing downforce, especially from wings and DDD, would reduce this wake, and mean drivers could follow more closely.

When they can follow more closely, then they need less of a chance to get past under braking, or if the driver makes a mistake.

In proper racing, several things make for good racing.

Following closely and seizing small chances is one.

Timing your overtake, to get the slipstream and draft past is another.

Out braking is another,

Better traction out of a corner is another.

Reducing downforce helps these things more than any other single thing you can do.

Manual gearboxes only helps the better traction out of a corner situation really. The thing is that I think the driver standard is so much higher, and more uniform, that it would very rarely happen. The same sort of error was made when they removed traction control and ABS - people thought it would lead to more driver mistakes, and more passing - well it just didn't, did it. Missing gears is not going to be a big factor in F1 for the forseeable, probably even if you made them double declutch and use a non sequential gearbox... The drivers are too good.

Harder tyres helps out braking and traction out of a corner, as more driver skill is required to maximise it.

But it still leaves aero as the big factor that affects everything.

Qualifying in race order - well, I have read a lot of alternatives. A reverse grid is biased and bad. A random grid is perhaps best, but you can only make that fair over a whole season, so everyone gets a chance to start at the front and the back. But its really hard to imagine a Spanish race with Alonso having to start at the back... We all enjoy a driver making their way from the back of the field - well, we don't any more, because they never get very far - but if overtaking was fixed, then a random grid might be an answer.

You can do more complicated variants of mixing up the grid, where the drivers have some control over which races they start up front and which at the back, which might be enough to make it workable.


I'd like to see Bridgestone turn up to Australia with the super soft and hard (they said in Feb they'd bring the soft and medium). Last year they brought the super-soft and soft; the super-soft ware marginal, as we saw with Kubica catching the in-trouble Vettel. The hard would hopefully taker a lot of abuse but provide poor grip.



how about just the hard one ? Less money-consuming for Bridgestone and there's no point in bringing both: they'll just qualify on soft and then race on the hard.

The polesitter will still probably win barring mechanical failure.


A sensible argument from Dernie, that may well hold water.

But we can hypothesize until the ends of the earth whether the current overtaking drought is rooted in aero sensitivities, super soft tyres or the absence of manual gear shifting.

This doesn't need to be a do or die solution. Appropriate time should be allocated and a thorough analysis undertaken. Why not restablish the overtaking committee, but this time extend the various proposed remedies as far as real prototype cars for pilot. In this manner, each envisaged solution can be tested back to back, the corrective measures determined and implemented.

Another alternate solution mooted earlier today was to allow the aero designers free reign (within specific boundries)so long as the car leaves a prescribed level of clear air flow in its wake allowing another to trail closely.

But above all else, let's not rush into another half baked knee jerk solution, only to discover that doesn't deliver the desired outcome either and find ourselves at the same juncture one year on, tinkering with the rules yet again.

Take the time to make it right for 2011, and if need be take a piecemeal approach completing the overhaul in 2012.


Wow, Mr. Dernie COMPLETELY misses the point here.

First off, he loses all credibility with the comment about wet races. The impact of high downforce is completely negated at these events by the lack of grip, surface inconsistencies (off the racing line and at different parts of the circuit), and the increased likelihood of drivers making mistakes.

Second of all, nobody is really saying that downforce in of itself is causing this difficulty in overtaking. What they are saying is that the disrupted airflow (what we typically hear commentators call the "turbulence") makes it impossible for cars to follow closely. It is not really the same thing at all.

Mr. Dernie is trying to pour cold water on the fire, but he's failing to address the real problem.


You made me laugh hard. First you say that Dernie misses COMPLETELY the picture but your explanation of how his explanation is wrong is EXACTLY the argument that he gave on why his theory works, i.e. key to overtake is low grip + mistakes.


For me, the biggest insight from this article was braking zones - of course that makes sense - if braking distances into turns was increased (via less capable brakes and/or harder less grippy tires), then more passing would occur, because there would more time and distance in which to overtake, and it would encourage risk taking.


Dernie misses the point. Nowadays with heavy fuel loads cars are already braking much much earlier, still doesn't make any difference.


Or would it just reduce the length of the previous straight that could be used for slipstreaming?

Shorter straights = less time to get under the wing of the car in front and set yourself up for out-braking.



I agree with you, but most of the passing straights are pretty long. Also, the braking zones are so compressed that passing under braking (more exciting than passing on a straight as well) is nigh impossible, at least cleanly. There is usually a "stick the car in there and block the other driver". This is now a touch worse, since the cars can't accelerate in the early parts of the race due to fuel, so the "over/under" is harder as well.


Manual boxes would be nice, but I don't think it would effect the racing much. Sure, drivers would make the odd slip-up, but is that really how we want to see positions gained and lost?

The only solution is ground effects. The sport is big enough and ugly enough to be allowed a longer leash to play with the concept again. As long as greater freedom with underbody aero is sensibly regulated (not a given!), it would be safe. And, more importantly, it would allow cars to follow one another closely. Because if the majority of downforce is generated from a part of the car that is not affected by turbulent air itself, then that's halfway to solving the problem.


Indeed, the car's behavior should not be influenced by its proximity to another car - simple as that.

If I was an aero guy working in F1, I would purposely develop 'dirty air' behind my car...


Of course you would, that's the point... the designers are in their own "race", against other designers in other teams.


Well, I stand corrected by Mr Dernie below:

apparently they focus on their own car, not its influence on another one.

I'm relieved ! At least they don't purposely kill off their own shown, it's merely a by-product of the rest ...


I agree with some of Frank Dernie's comments, but I still think that the most important factor in the lack of overtaking is aerodynamics.

However, it is not related to the relative percentage of mechanical vs aerodynamic grip, but to the percentage of aerodynamic grip which is lost when running in dirty air.

I do agree that drivers have it easier these days, with all of the mechanisms that help prevent mistakes.

In addition to things like manual gearboxes, I strongly believe that various electronically-controlled functions should not be changeable by the driver. These include clutch maps, fuel maps & differential maps. I think these should only be changeable when the car is stationery in the pits.

One area in particular is controlled by such functions, and that is the "start strategy".

Watch the starts in a category like GP2, where there is a wide spread of starting efficiency due to drivers having to finely balance clutch against throttle, and they are massively more spectacular than F1 starts, where almost everything is controlled by the electronics.


Hi James,

Your website is the best there is on the web for F1 and the more I visit the site, more I wish other sports would have something like this so that the fans can actually connect to the sport they love. Kudos!

I wish to reiterate a question that I'd asked earlier and it would be nice if you could answer that. Changing rules will have a temporary effect of reshuffling the order. Why do we just have Hermann Tilke as the designer? Why is no one else brought in for the task? Also, are drivers, present and former, consulted when designing a new track or modifying existing ones? For this season, why not get rid of the Front Wing Adjuster? Won't that make the tyres degrade faster?


When MotoGP bikes turned to big four-stroke engines instead of 500cc two-strokes, it drove the development of slipper clutches, because the compression braking on downshift would otherwise lock the rear tyre and spit the rider off. There's still an argument for reducing aero grip, though. In the early '90s, Bob Jane tried to introduce NASCAR-style racing into Australia. One year, they ran at Bathurst. Compared to the V8 Supercar class that Australia favours, they've got almost no downforce, so the braking distances from long straights were much, much longer, and some laps, braking duels at the end of the longest straight would see three overtakes on one corner. Hard tyres helped there, as per Frank Dernie's observations.


Excellent post. Lots of food for thought there and it makes sense to me. I like the concept of a harder tire if it leads to more overtaking. But how how hard would it have to be to fit into the current season?

Based on Bahrain, a tire that lasted the whole distance still leaves the possibility of a procession. But if it's a tire that has significantly less grip while lasting the distance it should lead to longer braking distances and potential for errors on the exit of a corner since the car would be 'under tired' for the power available. An in season test with team trying a harder tire would be a good exercise.

Alistair Blevins

It's hard to argue against 30 years of wisdom.

The biggest challenge is finding a solution that doesn't artificially enhance the show (mandatory pit stops, short cuts, reverse grids etc), and that has longevity (stability) and relevance in today's world (hybrid technology, KERS, flexible aero devices etc).

I want to see races run flat-out from lights to flag, with drivers and cars on the edge at all times.

The current rules bring more of an endurance racing mentality, which is all well and good for Le Mans, but not want I want to see for 2 hours every other Sunday.

Well Max, this is another fine mess you've gotten us in to!


1. the longer braking distance would help - therefore we have heavier cars this year 620kg + fuel + driver

2. racing line should be wider as possible - we have Porsche race and all the weekend action helps widen racing line.

3. to follow cars closely you have to have mechanical grip, there is no aerodynamics that will not stall in a close follow up of other car - we need gripier tyres, increased mechanical grip, or ground effect cars

4. refueling, semiautomatic gearboxes, are not cause for luck of action - many fans around the world follow f1 because of technology and edge that brings. Active suspension should be allowed, also because of safety.

5. about rain races and action that they bring. Its just because of grip and mistakes. - Not relevant for comparison and final solution.


I think they should be driving with manual gearboxes anyway.

It seems bizarre that the refueling ban came to pass given that FOTA had concerns for it leading to processions. Who was the main protagonist for it in the first place? Was it Moseley by chance?


There are so many different theories as to how to make the racing better it can make your head spin. Change the tracks! Ban the wings! Make tyres softer.. NO make the tyres harder! Ban refueling... oh crap no we want it back! We need mandatory pitstops... no that's BS let them choose whether to stop or not.

I don't think anyone really knows exactly why things are so bad. But this is a huge problem and it needs to be improved. The powers-that-be (i.e. Jean Todt, Bernie, Hermann Tilke, all the team principals and lead designers, and the drivers) need to get together and find a solution. And if/when they do, they need to put the fans first and give the fans what they want.


Would rock hard tires and manual gears increase overtaking in F1? Yes.

Would reducing aerodynamic turbulence increase overtaking in F1? Yes.

What this guy is saying would make sense if the cars were right behind each other, but when they cant get within 100m of the guy in front because of loss of downforce the fact that he cant use a different line to overtake is irrelevant.


I agree with the evaluation of the impact of automatic gearboxes (who are we trying to kid?) and the soft tires.

Remove both of these and there is more room to make mistakes. Make tires last a whole race. No more pit-stops. You want to pass? the only place to do it is on the track.

I don't agree with the reasoning about downforce and wet races. There are two flaws, IMHO. The first is that it is the excess of downforce, especially the reasoning of "...wet races, where maximum downforce settings are used."

The first issue is that at a wet race, even though the maximum downforce settings are used, the cars may not be going fast enough to generate any more downforce than they would have if they were trimmed for dry. The advantage to the car running the high downforce setup is not necessarily there.

Secondly, and I think more importantly is the turbulence, It is *THE* reason there is no on-track passing in modern F1. With high downforce settings, the leading car will be producing more turbulence going in to a corner. Because of this turbulence the trailing car has even less hopes of following and passing. With the lack of downforce, caused by the turbulence from the leading car, the follower must let up going in to a corner even earlier, caries less downforce through the corner and therefore less speed. Which leads to the most important aspect, a lack of speed OUT of the corner.

Get rid of the turbulence and you will get rid of the boring races.


It's an interesting view and not one I've considered. Certainly it has logic on it's side - hard tyres that do not produce as many 'marbles' means off-line in turns is more viable and would certainly increase braking distances. Manual gearboxes I think are a must - both to promote the driver's skills and to create situations of missed/over-revved engines. For that you need a proper gate though, not just a sequential 'push for up, pull for down' selector.

As for qualifying resulting in fastest first etc. that's not necessarily the case. If you allowed low fuel and qualy tyres you might end up with cars that work their tyres hard getting near the front. But the cars that were easier on tyres might come into their own later in the race, assuming the tyre/gearbox suggestions created overtaking opportunities.


Didn't they try the hard tire idea in 2007? Even if this does work, the question then becomes what's considered a good pass. Just because one car overtakes another, doesn't mean the racing is any good. Look at NASCAR. There's a ton of passing, but a pass isn't worth a lot because it's too easy. I think most people would rather see a close hard fought battle with no passing compared to one driver blowing by the other becuase of a mistake. Also, if you look at the new circuits they don't encourage a close battle. It's seems like the "in" idea is a slow corner leading onto a 5 mile long straight. Seeing an outbraking move into a 2nd gear corner is boring to me. There's no excitement. I might as well watch a drag race. I'd much rather see something like the Alonso Schumacher battle at Imola. The final thing to touch on are the rules. Let the teams figure out their strategy after qualifying. Having the first 10 cars all on the same strategy leads to a boring race. It's a no brainer that the cars are going to drive around in the same position they started unless someone makes a mistake. The rule requiring them to start on their quali tires kills the racing. That needs to be scrapped, and if anything, they need to bring another compound or 2. If you look at the midfield, you see a lot more passing because of the blend of strategies. With refueling you'd have the 2 stopper cars pushing to get around the 1 stop cars. The more options avaiable strategically, the better the racing will be.


Would love to see single lap qualifying again.

We should keep Q1 and Q2 with Q3 being a single lap top 10 shootout

Zami from Melbourne, Australia

I still don't get how 2010 season can be saved!!! Hard tyres and manual gearbox might help overtaking. But the modern cars will be aerodynamically a lot more improved to suit those changes as well. And if that's the case, there's no gurantee that we are going to see more passing. The worst two words F1 have come up with over the years are "DOUBLE DIFFUSER". Getting rid of the component is less painful than the number of times I heard those words. The big solution to save 2010 season could be the freedom for teams to choose their own tyres rather than the compulsary use of soft & hard tyres. Then we might see drivers pushing hard enough to catch up to the ones in front.

As Bridgstone is unlikely to agree to the sudden tyre change rules, I reckon top 15 drivers should start the race in qualifying fuel, similar to what it was in last season. That is worth thinking about. And the tyre choice should be open to teams as well. It can't be top 10 only because the guys on 11th 15th place are capable of winning the race this season. And they might get an unfair advantage as a result of that.


Ok I think I'm converted!!

I've previously always believed the hype that too much aero grip with too little mechanical grip killed the racing. But Dernie's points all make total sense and in fact now I think about it, I always look back at 2005 with utter annoyance because it was a great year, and then for 06 the re-introduced tyre changes - i.e. the one thing that worked they reversed after one year!

I suddenly wonder why I've never put 2 and 2 together on this issue!

What a fantastic article.


While I agree on the logic of the comments put out, I notice that the arguments against aren't against the nub of the problem, but against "downforce". The main issue with too much aero is not to do with aero efficiency or the generation of downforce, but on the state in which the air is left at the rear of the car - the aero wake.

It's very, very clear that cars simply cannot function nearly as well in the dirty air of modern day F1 cars. Reducing downforce isn't something anyone wants, but reducing the turbulence and reliance on aero is. If we can have cars able to drive closer, it follows that there can be more potential for "slinging one up the inside".

While the facts on tyres and gearboxes are just that, facts, and would help improve overtaking to a degree, the stance the 'defense' of aero is written from is a good indicator of the real problem. Everybody is blaming everybody else. Aerodynamicists will blame tyres or drivers, drivers will blame the aero package, and Bridgestone will blame anything that isn't their tyres.

Reducing mechanical grip slightly, while also looking at enforcing levels of wake reduction (using engineering that is far, far beyond me) and bringing back refuelling, at least to my mind, could go a long way towards spicing up modern F1 while keeping the cars at the bleeding edge of racing technology where they belong.


I partially disagree. Look at Formula Ford. No areo. They are able to keep up close to the car in front whilst going through a corner...and then can latch in behind and use the tow to sling shot them selves into an overtaking move.

Contrast that with F1, where the car behind can not follow the car in front through a med-fast corner...and then usually can not get close enough to use the tow.

Also i strongly believe that in this day of age, where we have speed limits, manufacturer's should be looking at technology to maximise mechanical grip. This should be pioneered in F1. However, to be fast in F1, you have to balance aero with mechanical grip.

I also think that random weather has created some of the best F1 races to watch. It would be pretty simple to wet the track at a random time during each race (ie unknown to anyone).

And lastly - James...good to see you on Channel 1 Digital in Australia for the pre race reports!


Great article james, far be it from me to know more about areo than a leading f1 aerodynamicists but i thought that the 82 rule changes were for ground effect reduction and that ground effects produce far less turbulent air than wings, bargeboards, winglets etc, so surely reducing ground effect downforce wouldn't have that big an impact on cars ability to follow each other closely?


The technical excellence of the cars combined with their almost bullet proof reliability, have brought us to the point where the sport has been emasculated. Bahrain was the first GP I can recall where there was literally no sense or feeling that an actual race was taking place. The spiritual essence of "sport" was absent.

Manual gear changes, rock hard tires and possibly some sort of ground effect that would retain or boost downforce without disrupting airflow to the car behind could go some way to bringing back "racing". Without changes along these lines, I feel F1 will lose immense numbers of supporters who will turn to other pursuits where they can get the "thrill" which is so patently missing at this time.


Great analysis, I've been thinking along the same lines: take away all this grip and give them lots of power. Save downforce and grip for road cars which get used in the wet by people who (in some cases) can hardly drive! Not the experts who should be able to handle a lack of it!

Also correct about qualifying - the trouble is getting backwards-thinking people to change their minds on having the cars in descending order of speed.

Here's an idea, James:

Equal points for qualifying and the race, points all the way down the field with an emphasis on first etc. Then invert the grid come raceday and workout a standard time that gives the possibility of the pole winner coming through from last to first - see if they can do it! Plenty of overtaking (Suzuka 2005 anyone?)and it rewards speed, consistancy and clean overtaking.

What do you think? Pass it on to FOTA would you?!


Completely agree. Make the cars harder to control into the braking zones and through the apex - this will provide more variables, and more opportunity for error.

I always thought that when Ferrari introduced the paddle-shift in '89 (?) that it was taking away a potential for error and that it would effect the racing.

Racing needs variables. Super efficient tyres and semi-auto gearboxes have both taken two away


Get rid of qualifying. Then reverse the start grid order. Points leaders start at the back and so on. Radical? Yes. Exciting? Definitely.


I don't necessarily disagree with your source - it's certainly an interesting viewpoint - but isn't the point made about 1983 a bit of a red herring? If I remember rightly, in 1983 the FIA banned ground effect tricks. I always understood that downforce from ground effects is far less sensitive to dirty air than the above-body wings and whatnot.

Also, I'd be curious to know what your source would make of an idea that I've heard floated: Remove the external wings from the front and rear of the car, but allow teams to generate ground-effect downforce from the car's floor - under restrictions, obviously. Based on the above, we might then reduce the 'dirty air' problem.


well this guy is an expert and seems to know what he's talking about.

If only the FIA could get of their high horse, lend an ear and take heed.


A tough one. I disagree about the manual gear boxes. I can see in the future that all cars will eventually change to the "flappy paddle" shift method anyway, and for that reason the gear boxes need to stay, to keep relevant.

The tyres is clearly the biggest issue. Bridgestone have made tyres which are too good for F1. This again isn't necessarily a bad thing as the technology that developed those tyres will eventually become relevant to road tyres as well.

Having a reversed grid would improve the spectacle in theory, but this relies on all the teams being far closer together than they currently are, similar to the end of last year would be the only way this would work. It really would be too dangerous having Hispania, Virgin and Lotus occupying the top six with all of the big power houses in the rows behind.

I've said this before and I'll keep saying it until someone listens, but I still believe KERS or turbos are the only way forward. These systems will allow the driver to use them whenever at a certain time in a lap to help get the edge over their rivals. Mclaren had an excellent system at the end of last year, and Ferrari's wasnt exactly as poor as it would seem given it shall be used in one of their road cars in the future. It's still in the regs now as well, Mclaren and Ferrari should consider it if they are able to put it in the car at all anywhere. Williams did promise they'll use their version of the system this year as well. I hope they do, just to spice things up a little. I'd rather a gentleman's agreement be broken and Williams ousted from FOTA (again) than have a season of processional races.

Crid-Los Angeles

You'll never get overtaking until you put faster cars behind slower ones... And blue flags are kind of silly too, aren't they?


Well, in Bahrain the faster Button was behind the slower Schumi and ... did not overtake


He is partly right, but the problem is not total downforce, thats mostly irrelivent, but how the turbulent air affects the following car negativly...

In general it seems like the increase in downforce from melbourne 09 to now has ment cars are'nt following each other as closely, or the drivers have given up trying to overtake on the track.

another quick thought, in the past the slipstream was often refered to as the car in front punching a hole in the air, maybe the modern cars dont make that void?

F1 really needs some non championship race(s) where ideas can be tried out aswell, instead of blind stabs in the dark we are stuck with for a year or two


Isn't Frank just denying something that is evidently true? We saw in Bahrain, and we have seen a million times in the past, that once a car is in the wake of another one it can't get close enough to attempt an overtaking move - of course that makes overtaking more difficult, of course it's due to the aerodynamics! His argument about the wet is cobblers, there are lots of other far more important reasons (more mistakes by drivers, bigger variation in setups/tyre strategies, some drivers more confident than others in changing conditions) why you see more overtaking in the wet, it's got nothing to do with downforce levels. I'm not disagreeing with him that the other things will help too but he can't have watched a recent F1 race if he can't see the current aero dependence is harming overtaking opportunities.


He's right. It propably would improve things quite a bit and since Bridgestone is on the way out, a change in tyre technology propably won't give a new tyre manufacturer such a hard time. And if Bridgestone is going to stay, new harder tires would mean that they'll be talked about a lot.

But getting rid of the double diffusers won't be wrong as well. I still don't understand why they weren't already banned for this season.


what would Frank Dernie say makes the GP2 cars run so close to each other and facilitates on track passing?


A very interesting article James. Manual shift gearboxes would be a good idea as would test the drivers a bit more and increase the chances of mistakes being made. At present the cars are too perfect, we see very few mistakes made these days.

It's also an interesting point about softer tyres making it more slippery off line because of the marbles, that's certainly a factor to consider. However, you could also argue with more marbles off line, there could be more mistakes, as if a driver runs wide in a corner there is more chance of them spinning, or a least paying a more heavy price for the original mistake.

If rock hard tyres were introduced, you would probably have to bring back refuelling as drivers wouldn't need to pit otherwise, which I'm not convinced would work. One of the elements that increases the chances of overtaking is having drivers running on different levels of fuel, or cars on new tyres racing those on old tyres.


Agree with some of Franks points, but dont think its the most elegant way of skinning the cat.

As ever, theres more than one solution to the problem and i would prefer to keep some level of technology in the sport.

To me its not the aerodynamics that are the problem but the type of aero currently used, we constantly hear drivers saying they cant get close to the car in front because the air is too dirty, so it makes sense to design a car that has downforce and gives clean air on exit.

I dont want to see an overtake due to a mistake, i would prefer to see a faster driver be able to use their skill to get past but if they cant follow closely in a corner, its pointless. Not every race needs to be a passing fest but when someones out of position, you want to see that driver make up places and challenge for the lead ala Hamilton in GP2.

We already know that the GP2/05 uses ground effect and minimised flip ups and it produced good racing. Ground effect cars are less effected by wake caused by wings, maybe its time allow this design back into F1, i know its pitch and bump sensitive leading to its ban but by now im sure a solution that works can be found.

Hard tyres are ok but as we know, we wont see any pitstops that everyone seems to be a fan of lately, so at least having soft tyres will offset the full tanks and naturally lead to multiple pitstops. A series of sprints as before, each an intense burst of action.

With a clever wing package that minimises vortices, ground effect and a harder brake compound, im sure we would have the close racing we crave. I note this weekends Indycar race at Brazil had close racing, how close the cars could follow and god forbid, there was actually some over taking!


I would also suggest metallic brakes would help. The carbon brakes are so effective in their, temperature range, that the braking zone for the corners is extremely short. Metal brakes or carbon/metal brakes will require longer braking distances and will bring back late-braking passes. It will also bring the road-car technology back into F1 for brakes. This would mesh nicely with the FIA's desperate push to make F1 more relevant to road-going autos. As a bonus, the late-braking will reward drivers with larger "attachments." and their willingness to let them hang out...


I am not an engineer so I cannot really say much about the Aero. Harder tires and manual gearboxes would definitely make things more interesting but I suspect that the teams would find a way around this. One thing I can suggest is probably oversimplified but today's formula 1 cars are too large. If they reduced the wheelbase, length and width of the cars, there would be more space to use for an overtake and more inherent stability to recover from a botched overtake.


I think they should have

1) v skinny basic wings front and rear resulting in minimal turbulence.

2) Hard tyres with no grip!

3) 1000hp V10 engines.

All introduced before the Spanish GP. Bernie can pay for it all because he's taken enough out of the sport so he can afford it! Simple 😉


Can anyone actually remember there ever being an exciting race in Bahrain?

If Australia is dull, then we worry.


I thought this quote from Mark Webber was enlightening:

"I was quicker than him but I was unable to find a way through," Webber said. "He didn't make a mistake and if I'd tried to force the issue it would have ended in a crash."

In other words, if he tried to race with someone through a corner there would be an accident. Why can't two cars get through a corner side by side without carnage?


I don't know, that's the problem. I'm not an engineer, an aerodynamicist, a physics professor, I just love racing, seeing cars travelling at speed, drivers on the ragged edge at 300 km/h, a thin skin of carbon fibre to protect them.

These overtaking working groups, how do they arrive at their decisions? Do they simulate their ideas to check their probity? How rigorous are they in ensuring that their decisions actually work? Because, at the moment, it doesn't look like they know what they are doing, And if *they* don't know, well, things ain't looking too bright.


I think the OTWG can only make suggestion to the FIA. The ultimate decisions rest on the FIA.

Take the double difusers's case. To limit the height of the difuser is to reduce the turbulance ("dirty air") on the car behind. But this is void by the loophole exploited by some teams at the start of 2009 season. Otherwise, it would have worked to some extent.

Why do they decided to keep the double difusers for this season is beyond comprehension. This should have been banned instead of exploiting more of this making it bigger and more "dirty air".

Off the subject, James, I read somewhere else that Ferrari is spending in the region of £500M this season. Is this true ??

This is rediculous when everyone is talking about reducing cost.

Ferrari is literally buying the championship. They are spending 10 times the budget of the new teams but are they 10 times faster ???


I doubt that FIAT would allow them to spend that kind off money! I think that kind off spend was back in the early 2000's era...


Don't forget that Ferrari changed engines before the race - could hurt them later in the season.

If this was 2009, Vettel would not have finished, he is still in there now.

Don't give up just yet !


Not true about Ferrari budget.


james 2 firsts

first time I have posted on your excellent website

first time I have ALMOST stopped watching F1 forever.

I have been an avid supporter since 1978 (even shook your hand in the Jag garage). This is a serious problem for the sport. pls use your influence! Thanks Nick


Of course manual gearboxes and super hard tyres are the way to go, but I doubt it will happen. I remember filling in a FIA questionaire that contained these same ideas a few years back and nothing has happened. Mainly, I think because Max was on his cost cutting mission. There has been talk about making it a good show, but very little action.

The bloke is right about the aero and you know why. The Aero working group set about trying to make passing possible and they failed. Sure they purposely said they didn't go as far as they could because they didn't want to make it too easy to pass. But fundamentally they failed badly, either they stuffed up completely or the bloke is right and aero isn't the answer.


If the total downforce figure (say, an arbitrary 650 kg at 300 kmh) were THE driving specification in F1, Frank Dernie will still have a job in reducing drag to achieve that figure, improving it in traffic and transition, or raising ground clearance to obtain it with a less-than-perfect or changing angle of attack. One mandatory wind tunnel used by all teams, and Virgin could achieve it with CFD. Seal the wing, trim and mounting, and a flat floor for the entire car footprint, no diffusers at all.

Make the tyres rock hard and they'll never get a tyre manufacturer who'll put money into it, or any competition between them.


Interesting remark about CFD: it makes 'simpler' aero and needs a lot less aero guys ...

Virgin's car is too bad for the moment to see whether it can be followed more closely than the other though. I hope they do well, even if only to put a buffer on the aero focus in F1.

Gilles Villeneuve Fan

Can't agree about the aero or the tyres, but agree completely about the gearboxes. I find it difficult to comprehend that someone of Dernie's standing and calibre would try and dumb down the complexities of overtaking in F1 in trying to compare wet and dry races. There are many factors that affect wet races, not just reduced mechanical grip through the tyres and cars running at full downforce.


This guy sounds good but is totally wrong!!!

Why do faster cars get stuck behind slower ones and lose 2 or 3 seconds per lap, because they lose the aero! If the balance of power was with mechanical grip this would not happen.

Bigger wheels/tyres would be great, more mechanical grip and more disruption to the aerodynamics.

Also allow more technology, turbo charge smaller engines, and let them rev to the limit, force them to run kers, and keep changing the goal posts; this should keep the cars less reliable.

Manual boxes would be a step backwards now so not really an option.

Of course to get these rules through would require some level of dictatorship. And Bernie has my full backing!!!


I think your first paragraph begs the question. Faster cars get stuck behind slower ones (and lose time) because they can't get get past the slower car. You can't simply conclude it can't get past "because of the aero". Getting past requires two things:

- Being able to go faster than the car in front.

- Being able to do so on a different piece of track than the one the car in front is choosing to occupy.

For example if the amount of marbles on anything vaguely off the racing line means that the amount of mechanical grip would be substantially compromised for any overtaking manouver (and for whatever additional time to clean up the tyres) then the following car is also at a mechanical grip disadvantage compared to the car in front if it wants to overtake.

Also if operating the tyres aggressively in the non-ideal aero causes a significant mechanical grip degradation in the tyre (ie graining) then it's worth thinking about making the tyres more robust under those conditions.

I think harder tyres which shed less and are more forgiving (in the sense that being aggressive with them won't ruin your whole race) would be a major step forward. At the moment I think drivers are reluctant to risk anything because picking up rubber or pushing their tyres too hard will compromise a large proportion of their race, not just the immediate moment.

If drivers can race without having to manage the performance of the equipment so much then I think we'll see more overtaking.


Well, we mustn't forget that drivers will need the impetus to pass. You will still have people thinking about the championship and who will be OK with finishing second to grab the points.

After all, Gilles Villeneuve did have his share of critics in his day as well ...


All of this while trying to cut costs? No way.

I wouldn't mind seeing them drive manual boxes.


Mmm....Sonewhat agree with Frank.

Devising a car design that is difficult to drive without mistakes is key - I certainly agree with that.

I'm unconvinced by the aero argument. Going back to basics: it's an unargueable fact that one car can't follow another closely through a corner - that's due to aero effects. For this reason, classic slipstream overtaking is rare because cars are not close enough to each other at the beginning of a straight.

I believe we see this effect less in the wet because there is often more than one line available through a corner, and so there is no need to follow the wheeltracks of the car in front onto the straight. As a result there is not the same aero disturbance effect. And let's not forget that even though downforce settings are high in the wet, corner speed is much lower because of the lack of mechanical grip. Of course, driver mistakes really come into play under these conditions too.

I further don't believe the '82-'83 argument is entirely valid. Downforce was substantially reduced between these two seasons but it was because of the banning of ground effects. Downforce in '83 was more dependant on the front and rear wings, and not on the ground effect. I believe this is significant.

My simple, immediately applicable strategy would be to reduce the rev-limit on all engines by 800rpm, then allow a push-to-pass button that gives access to these revs for a given number of hits per race - exactly as in A1GP. It's a legitimate tactical element (not so different from the turbo boost control of the 80s) it would have an IMMEDIATE effect, could be installed before the next race, and would cost nothing more than rewritten software.


Every time an F1 engineer talks about this issue sounds very clever,my question is why they don't open their mouths when FIA ask them what to do in order to solve this problem?

And if they do why FIA does not what they say?


The only time drivers make mistakes is in quali.. why?

They are forced to push their hardest for fear of being overtaken (by others' laptimes).

Create a racing environment where drivers are under such pressure all the time.

In other words, where a car can follow uncompromised closely behind with realistic possibilities of overtaking offline.

The solution isn't black & white like this article suggests.

The solution is a mixture of both sides of the argument:

- clean up the aero off the back wing/diffuser for easier following

- improve tyre degradation (harder, slower tyres) for the sole aim of minimising marbles off-line

-increase braking distances dramatically

That'll do a lot more than just arguing for less aero or less mechanical grip.


Whats stopping the Top Dogs from investing a little money into research, maybe get a number of older cars e.g. '07/'08/'09 cars and getting a group of GP2 drivers and a set of super hard tyres and having an unofficial race. Maybe try other ideas, even Bernies shortcuts, anything.

All the fans are wanting to see some overtaking, surely it cant be that hard looking into it



I dont agree. I think F1's teams need to go and buy one of the old GP2 cars that had their last races on Sunday. They provided brilliant racing and it was when the new GP2 car with its F1-like aero parts came in that the racing got boring in GP2. They didnt suddenly change the tyres between those seasons.

Also last season we had a few good races at the start of the season, when most teams didnt have their double diffusers. Once all the teams got their double diffusers on the cars, the amount of overtaking suddenly dropped.


Yes, we do need faster cars behind slower cars for overtaking, and for that, we need refuelling!!! A light Force India could give a heavy Mclaren a run for it's money, and leaders pitting at different times on different strategies puts them behind slower cars, and if they cannot get past then they'll lose out to someone who's taken a punt on a one-stopper.

Refuelling gave a whole new tactical dimension to the sport, the new pitting is diabolical, everyone goes in at exactly the same time, with exactly the same tyre issues. Also part of the excitement of quali was seeing someone like Trulli get on the front row running on fumes. The guesswork that used to go on(before the FIA started publishing the weights) was fantastic, right when the engineers were on the grid discussing fuelling strategies. There was nothing wrong with refuelling, F1 is not 100% drivers, it's about the tactics, the strategies, the thought that goes into every decision. That is what's missing so sorely from 2010.


The tactical dimension is just a cover-up for the lack of on-track action: F1 should be about the best driver, not the best team per se. It's about Jenson Button, not Brawn.

There should be no guesswork, nothing holding the driver back in passing the guy in front. Fastest guy wins -simple as that.

Yes, the cars will behave differently as fuel is burnt, tyres are used, etc. It is up to the driver to compensate. What's missing is what has been missing since the mid-eighties: close racing. When that comes back, you won't miss the strategies one bit.

All this talk about strategy is just keeping you interested when you are watching people deliberately not racing each other, they are waiting for the pitstops ...


Hi James,

Last year I read an article by Gordon Murray on his ideas to improve overtaking in F1. His main idea was to remove the front and rear wings and generate downforce purely from the ground effect. His reason was that even though a following car would still lose downforce, the centre of pressure would be similar, and the car's balance would be maintained, reducing any graining of the front or rear tyres due to balance changes.

What are your thoughts on GM's idea?


There is one argument i disagree with:

"the races with the fewest overtaking manoeuvres would have been the wet races"

I think the logic is flawed since rain makes drivers lose control more easily, that's why we have overtaking in wet races. Not because of aerodynamics.


One notable politician once said: beware of experts! Manual gearbox is spot on, I could not agree more! But downforce is one thing and its effects at the back of the car, in the slipstream, is something entirely different. And these effects are these days mostly produced by diffusers that mix the air low above the surface.

There were seasons when cars produced a lot of downforce but still we were looking a lot of overtaking, especially for today's standards. Also, I remember CART series race(s) with literally dozens of overtaking for the top three positions.

Why it has become such a heresy in F1 to build cars that enable driving at the tail using slipstream and making a pass!? It has been made impossible only due to the effects of the expensive technology that serves as driver's skills equalizer.


I agree with a lot of comments here that downforce is not the issue it is the wake the the aero on the car produces as it cuts through the air. Mr Dernie might be an expert on aerodynamics and I do not question that but when you have every driver saying that it is impossible to overtake due to the wake off the other car something has to be done.
I am not sure if manual gearboxes are the answer but certainly more onus needs to be put on the driver; harder tyers maybe - less grippy tyres certainly; it's probably a bit rash but no power steering would make it interestng.
I do not agree with anyone's suggestion regarding a reverse grid - it would solve nothing!


The picture of Dernie grimly holding his coffee mug makes him look quite angry and coloured my reading of his arguments. He was probably just squinting into a bright sun of course, but this did to me make his comments sound a tad like the rantings of a desperate man.

Demanding a return to manual gearboxes, whatever its merits, also puts him in the category marked 'grumpy old man with a declining grip on reality'

I'm sure he's actually a jolly good egg and damn good at his job, but the stuff about wet races didn't really, uh, hold water.

The drivers certainly seem to think that being able to follow a car closely would help overtaking.

Unfortunately the problem has been tackled completely the wrong way round, with the FIA asking technical boffins to come up with some ideas that could then be written down as fiendishly complex regulations which the very same boffins would then work out how to circumvent.

I say make the aero geeks do the hard work.

The FIA doesn't tell the teams how a car should pass a crash test - it simply specifies some forces which a car must withstand. It's up to the teams to design cars which satisfy these strength criteria and yet are also decent racing cars.

In the same way, the FIA should establish a metric for turbulence or disturbance of the air 1 metre behind a car travelling at a certain speed. This could be tested with a wind tunnel or CFD, I guess. All cars must have a wake turbulence below a set level (obviously a long way below what current cars generate).

It would then be up to the air flow intelligentsia to find a way to minimise a car's wake but at the same time maximise aerodynamic downforce.

Result - everybody's happy: the aero chaps feel loved and valued, the cars can follow more closely, and there could even be more overtaking.


"It would then be up to the air flow intelligentsia to find a way to minimise a car’s wake but at the same time maximise aerodynamic downforce.

Result – everybody’s happy: the aero chaps feel loved and valued, the cars can follow more closely, and there could even be more overtaking."

Fully agree.

The aero-people would still be very usefull and valued. F1 isn't about not having limits, it's about finding the best compromise within a given set of rules.

Diminishing the dirty air takes nothing away from the merit of a good aero-engineer when he finds downforce where others considered none to be found.


Yep, sounds like a sensible suggestion to me.


That would be a tea mug. He's a big tea drinker..


I stand corrected.


F1 is about technical innovation, reverting to hard tyres and manual gearchanging is a backward step.

Just reduce the Wing areas by 50 to 75% or eliminate Wings all together. Cars don't need wings!

Let the designers find grip through true innovation, like Chapman used to.

Bring back Turbos and boost buttons, that'll increase overtaking.


all great ideas. I'd like to see one of these suggestions (from anyone, pro aero or pro harder tyres) actually come into effect and then we can really see the impact. Until then, all talk!!


Not saying it's the fault of the guys with the ideas. I just wish the FIA would listen to these guys cause if there was anything better to watch at 5 in the morning, believe me, i would have changed the channel.


The question is - what will work *this year*?

I don't see a change coming to the gearboxes, but I do agree that the semi-auto boxes have probably made a driver's job easier, and ought to be a good candidate for removal

Tyres probably can be changed. And I like the idea of making the cars less susceptible to sticking to the "one" ideal driving line. This can be done in two ways:

- Make the tyre itself less susceptible - by making it harder.

- Make the track less susceptible - by stopping the "rubbering in". I guess we can't change the tarmac itself, but we can do things to reduce the rubbering-in, can't we? Clean the track after every session?

Alter the tyres such that we get a split of choices at the end of quali. If we can set the tyre compounds and/or tyre lifetime correctly, then we will get teams making different choices at quali, leading to different strategies during the race.

We could probably change qualifying so the grid isn't always in the right order. But while overtaking is hard, we won't get much buy-in to that.

- Reverse grid order is no good - no-one will try during quali.

- Random order might work, as it will balance out. Of course, F1 will lose quali, and an important day of promo of sponsors

- Reverse grid based on championship position, or previous race position, might work. Still no quali event though

- Keep quali, but make it into a slightly more random event, and more chaotic. Maybe a single lap of quali on a clear track; Best of 3 laps, on a full track; Make it handicapped based on previous result; Run a quali event (not a single lap) that is started in reverse order.

The problem is that we want the end result to be the same. The winner of a GP should be the best driver, driving the best car, whi makes the best use of his opportunities. We want to see excitement & want to present opportunity on the way to the result, but we mustn't make the overall result into something random.


Looking back at a time when overtaking was more frequent, or at least easier to accomplish, no ‘tricks’ such as reversed grids, forced pit stops, short cuts or other such nonsense were necessary. Some of the tracks we still race on are basically unchanged since decades so that only leaves the cars.

There is no question that grip levels are much higher than in the past and this is easy to remedy but I believe it is possible to unify the requirements of racing with those of the wider relevance of racing to transportation.

Any technology that is inapplicable to road cars should not be on a race car. Carbon brakes are nonsensical for a road car but carbon-ceramic brakes are not, so use those instead and increase the braking distances.

Under-floor aero is something we want to encourage for the road but huge front and rear wings are not. For racing these should be used for trim only, reducing wake turbulence.

Regulations should allow the highest of high tech as long as road relevance can be established, whether it be engines, energy recovery, or aero.

I think the season will get better as all teams move closer to the limits of the tyre and fuel regulations, so snap changes should be avoided. The media hyped up the season and are now slamming it, all to be expected, but it could yet surprise us.


84% of readers have voted Yes in this poll, and they are all wrong.

We’ve had low grip tyres and they did not help. Every top level racing series in the world uses semi automatic gearboxes and only F1 has no overtaking. F1 is the only series with extreme aero. If you can’t follow the other car closely, you will never be in a position to overtake.


It is not the amount of downforce that is the problem- it is that it changes so grossly when a driver gets close to the car in front.

He does have a point about the tire build up offline which makes it difficult to go around. If making the tires harder would help this, then that is a good reason to do it.

Also, who is the genious who thought the solution to the alledged oversteer last year was to unstick the other end of the car by making the front tires smaller.


Hi James

As ever, a brilliant and insightful analysis. However, I'm still interested about the effects of turbulent or 'dirty air' upon a modern F1 car. Does this present the greatest issue with over taking, rather than down force?

Also, would a reintroduction of KERS be the answer to the overtaking issue? I know they are considering it for the next engine spec....


I think the changes could be done in 3 phases done over a span of 3 years. It's always easier to do it that way than expect single stroke of the pen magic solutions.

Phase 1 (2010, right now): Eliminate all the

different dry tyre options. There s/d only be 3 types of tyres: dry, intermediate and wet. Run the super soft dry tyre in all of qualifying and all the races. No limitations on pit stops. That way nursing the tyres would not be the single most important element. Drivers can go as fast as possible as long as the gains are greater then the loss of time in pit stops. You'll have a variety of strategies which leads to passing.

Phase 2 (2011) Have a reverse order grid. Put the fastest qualifiers on the back of the grid, slowest in front. Of course, you don't want a race of slowest to qualify so give points according to qualifying position in addition to the race points. Points equivalent to half or two thirds of race win points to the fastest qualifier, so forth and so on until 10th position. (Have the mathematicians fifure it out.) That would make both qualifying and the race even more exciting. Overtaking guaranteed.

Take down the importance of aerodynamics. It should be a world driving championship, not a world aerodynamicists championship. Get rid of all the elaborate front wings by having a standard spec front wing which all the cars should run. Or no front wings at all.

Get rid of all the underbody wing structures

including rear diffusers and what not by specifying a standard spec flat covered bottom for all cars. Require smaller rear wings. These days, the aero is so optimised, cars can't follow closely. Suboptimise aero on purpose and make it a close though not totally level playing field for aero. Save a lot of money too.

Phase 3 (2012): Emphasize tracks designed for

overtaking. Why is there so much more passing in Indycars and (god forbid) NASCAR? Because they run in tracks with long wide straights and wide fast corners where 3 abreast is possible. The most exciting circuit in the GP calendar for both spectators and drivers - Spa. Monza used to be like that too. Take the good elements of Spa and require that every

circuit, except for Monaco, have at least 2 prime overtaking spots. You can have those spots right where the spectator stands are and get even more revenue and excitement.\

Move to a 1.4 litre, 4 cylinder, single turbo formula with an 18,000 rpm rev limit. This should result in blown engines plus a bit of turbo lag which provides passing opportunities and driver mistakes. But most important brings F1 engines closer to what the real world is requiring. In 2013, bring back more advanced

lighter KERS systems which s/d again provide passing possibilities - eg Kimi in Spa 2009.


I don't want a guy winning because someone has blown his engine - he needs to pass him fair and square. Ie Austria '82 Rosberg/de Angelis -something like that.

Big turbo lag: Spain '81 - GV in the 126CK with a turbo lag as big as his house, still holding up 5 guys behind him - great skill, close racing, but no overtaking


I remember Alan Jones labelling him a "rock ape" after that race!


like your ideas.


I completely agree with Frank Dernie. Having just watched a 1991 Senna qualifying lap at Monaco, seeing the drivers work the steering wheel with one hand whilst changing gears with the other and braking would be a true spectacle to behold.

I remember in Brazil, cant remember what year but Schumacher took his hand off the wheel to change some settings on the wheel and a lot of talk was made of that moment, imagine it all the time. This would really show the men from the boys.

I do feel though that as much as I would like these changes implemented, the gearbox might be an issue as it might be seen as taking a backwards step in technology development.

Also, didnt CART use manual gearboxes before its dimise??


i want to suggest that the back marker car is allowed to race with the leader (so don't give blue flag to slow car let the faster car work hard into traffic) that i think make more interesting


My 2c worth.

First, the more variables you have, the greater chance of overtaking (simple math!). With so many elements of the cars the same and stable now (tyre, brake, standard ecu, etc) that the number of variables are reduced. The point about manual gearboxes is an example, it adds an extra dimension (possibility of wrong gear selection or missing it). Going manual may not be the way to go as someone else pointed out, a lot of road cars are going that way but is the right idea. Refueling was another variable, now, it has gone.

Second, there needs to be a slipstream created by the car in front. Look at this video an see how most of them overtake!


Lastly, the harder or durable or more mechanical grip debate. The bottom line has to be that the car works well on and off the racing line. How often do we see lap times coming down as the track gets rubbered in? The grip is so much higher on the racing line so how can you overtake off it? When it rains, the grip is often better off the dry racing line = more overtaking. The marbles also deter drivers from going offline, as soon as they do, the car cannot stop as quick, the best chance of overtaking. Making a tyre that works just as good on and off the racing line and did not leave debris would be a great technical challenge for the manufacturer.


ah thanks for the video... how things have changes, sob sob, wow Mansell vs Senna, wheels two inches apart at the end of the straight... that was motor racing. Oh i am sad now...


Mr. Dernie says much that is interesting, but as others have extensively pointed out, he neglects the issue of aerodynamic wake inhibiting following cars. There is ample empirical data on this from watching races and also extensive wind tunnel databa well which shows the same thing.

His point about fewer mistakes reducing
overtaking opportunities is interesting, but if you can't get close enough to take advantage of a mistake in the first place then his point is moot.

His point about qualifying is interesting as well, and valid. Perhaps the return of single car qualifying would indeed help. But there is precedent to even further randomize grids: drawing start positions by lot was the way things were done in Grand Prix racing during the 1930s, and was considered legitimate then. I think it would be easier to justify than reverse grids.

2005 tire rules (banning tire changes) would also help, and along with single car qualifying could possibly be done this year (although how Bridgestone could be convinced I don't know).

The biggest issue is simply that over-taking only occurs when different cars are running at different pace. I think the reason the early 1980s saw so much overtaking was because the cars were less sensitive to the wake of the car in front, and because of the turbo vs Cosworth scenario. The turbos were faster than the Cosworth-powered cars at certain parts of the track and vice-versa. That difference enabled many more over-taking opportunities to arise. The only way to get that difference back is to create such massive differences between the cars. 2013 engine rules can't come soon enough.