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Why the F1 Grand Prix at Barcelona is set to thrill for the first time
Why the F1 Grand Prix at Barcelona is set to thrill for the first time
Posted By: James Allen  |  17 May 2011   |  5:20 pm GMT  |  111 comments

I posted on Monday about how this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix will be the acid test for the new rules, because the Catalunya circuit is the worst of all the F1 permanent circuits to overtake on.

I’ve since had some interesting data sent to me by Mercedes which goes into detail about what we have seen in the past in Spain in terms of overtaking and what we’ve seen this season with the DRS wing, KERS and Pirelli tyres.

Overtaking not DRS dependent (Mercedes)

16 of the 20 races held at the circuit have been won from pole position, including every one in the past ten years. In the past three years, there have been an average of 2.3 ‘normal’ passes for position per Spanish Grand Prix since 2008.

We’ve already pinpointed the fast corners onto and off the pit straight as the main reason why it is so hard to pass. The exit speed from the final corner is vital to the following car, but Mercedes say that when it is one second behind, the chasing car loses approximately 7% of total downforce; when it is 0.5s behind, this rises to around 12% loss, principally on the front wing and so the car understeers and loses momentum.

However here are the stats for overtaking for the first four races of 2011, which suggest that even Barcelona will struggle to stifle the exuberant overtaking moves we’ve seen so far:

Total overtakes per race (including for damage and mistakes, faster teams
overtaking bottom three and team-mates):

Australia, 30
Sepang, 70
China, 90
Turkey, 112

‘Normal’ overtakes (ie non DRS and excluding the groups above) per race:

Australia, 12 (40% of total overtakes)
Sepang, 29 (41%)
China, 26 (29%)
Turkey, 31 (28%)

‘DRS’ overtakes:

Australia, 5 (17%)
Sepang, 17 (24%)
China, 27 (30%)
Turkey, 40 (36%)

So far, average normal moves per race: 24.5
Average DRS per race: 22.25
Average overtakes per race: 75.5
Total overtakes this year so far: 302

The trends to look out for here are the increase in overtakes generally from the first race to the last, as drivers learn more about the tyres and how they work and about the DRS. But they also show that the DRS isn’t the most important factor in the surge of overtaking this year – the tyres are.

It also shows that the placing of the DRS zone is important; in Australia it wasn’t in a very good place so there were limited overtakes, whereas in Turkey its placing in the middle of a long straight made it arguably too easy.

But it also shows that most moves are taking place regardless of the DRS and this is all due to drivers being on tyres of different ages at different times.

Renault technical director James Allison made a useful observation about this yesterday, “(In Barcelona) soft tyres degrade up to 0.3 of a second per lap. This means that small variations in strategy yield very large differences in performance at different times in the race. Stopping just three laps different to another car will give nearly a 1sec/lap difference in performance. Set against that, the DRS and KERS have only a second order effect on the ease of overtaking.”

Meanwhile the FIA has tried to act to cut back on the effect of the blown diffusers, writing to teams to say that with effect from this weekend onwards, they must cut right back on the amount of exhaust gas generated on the overrun in the corners, which is something Renault engineers with Red Bull got a head start on last season and everyone has been catching up on.

It appeared a blow to the competitiveness of Red Bull, at a time when they seem to be running away with the championship, but late Tuesday night it as reported that the FIA had rowed back on the decision – for the moment due to unforseen circumstances.

Ross Brawn commented today, “The teams have all been developing their engine management systems to get the maximum advantage from the exhausts, and the FIA want to push us in a different direction now so there will be changes there.

“I’ve no idea what will be the outcome there, but it has forced all the teams to have a fresh look at what they are doing in terms of engine strategies.”

It will be discussed in Spain by engineers from the Technical Working Group and is clearly an item about which we will be hearing more.

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Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

A ‘thrilling’ in a certain sense, but also sad

Race took place in/near Barcelona. 1975 Spanish GP



can you clear up a couple of things for me? (There appears to be nothing official yet on

Will the ban already apply this weekend for the Spanish GP?

Does the ban prevent a driver from keeping his foot on the accelerator while braking? If not, then this would be a simple way around the ban, would it not?

Also, will they use telemetry data to enforce the ban? Is this fool-proof? Will they allow a margin of error on the 10% value?


No. If a driver sticks his right foot down on the throttle and left hard on the brake tehn the engine will cut. I believe it’s a saftey feature incase the engine is stuck open


Post coming on this


James, your headline ‘Why the F1 Grand Prix at Barcelona is set to thrill for the first time’ really does shout as loud as can be why Ecclstone#s way is the wrong way.

Most tracks, even the best will from time to time serve us less than exciting races but tracks such as this (and Hungry for example) always serves us rubbish races so can anyone tell me why F1 still race (if we can call it a race) on them?

The FIA as the governing body should simply not allow F1 to be ruled by money alone and neither should the teams and FOM is only really interested in money.

I do hope the teams stick together & whatever they decide re the new concord agreement that we, the fans see a better F1 on better tracks that give good races (without the silly gadgets in favour today – they won’t last) that are also filled to the brim, with real F1 fans…..ZZZZZZZZzzzzz Wot!! Think I must have been dreaming….


Well don’t you think that the changes to F1 this season and the fact that we now get a decent race on any kind of track is the right way, in other words haven’t they addressed the problem?


I would have preferred the OWG to do their job rather than having to introduce the DRS. However I was prepared to forgive them as there were rumours about introducing ground effect in 2013. Now we hear the teams have dropped this because I assume it sounded too much like a good idea. Madness.



No I don’t, for me so many of the overtakes are false and for a leading driver to be a sitting duct as Alonso was for |Webber (recall Webber’s own comments) is a nonsense.

To see Vettel using DRS to overtake backmarkers is not what F1 should be.

Even with the current silly aero rules the good tracks still gave us overtakes, overtakes that were class and not if what, in tha main I’ve seen si far this year.

I’ve no problem with DRS so long as it was free for the driver to use as they saw fit, so many who watch today’s F1 don’t seem to appreciate that defending is just as much an aer as attacking though normally (on decent tracks) the top drivers will find a way past.

You’ll see the howls in 3 years time if we keep being severed this NASCAR type of racing, can you imagine what Senna would have to say?


Many fans are saying it’s the best racing they’ve seen in F1. Not all share your world view


Before the obvious comparison with our data arises, I should point out that Mercedes Motorsport were very kind to get in contact with us a few days prior to publishing this article, explaining how they had collated their data.

Suffice to say our figures and their figures are close, but not exact, and this is mainly due to methodology and interpretation. The underlying core methods are the same but they have counted some passes we haven’t, and vice-versa.

Like all fans we’re pleased to see more studies being made on overtaking, especially with the advent of DRS which has made such a huge difference.

Hopefully we will have a clearer picture on how it has affected this season compared to the previous 29, once it’s all done and dusted.

There is overtaking data back to 1982 for every Grand Prix here, you do need to register to see it, but registration is free:



Thank you so much for the link


I don’t like it when teams go running to the FIA to try to get this or that banned.


There’s no evidence that this happened. It could be FIA acting on their own initiative.


It seems weird to me that we are seeing the FIA take action on something that most teams have spent money developing (and therefore wasting resources) only for it to be going to be stopped.

Why can’t F1 be about innovation any more. It strikes me that every innovation created (other than fake ones like DRS) are banned.

How about the resources are capped (oh no thats right they already are arent they 😉 at a reasonable level and the cleverest guys with the best drivers win the race. Just like its been with most of F1s history.


But Andy, it’s not green! The FIA doesn’t want teams dumping raw fuel into the exhaust, but more importantly, they don’t want headlines on the news saying that Red Bull and Renault increased their fuel consumption by 10+% solely by dumping said raw fuel into their exhausts… 😉



I was speaking to Jo (Torrent) and some your other regulars on twitter.

I have a question for you. Do you sometimes feel like the guest writer on the “Jo Torrent on F1” blog at all? 🙂

Keep up the good work.




It turns out he is actually 2 ppl, which would explain a lot.


You don’t do so badly yourself…


If the cars passed the rules at the beginning of the 2011 Season, why change it now ?

I didn’t see Brawn remove the Double Diffuser when it was initially deemed a illegal then a creative interpretation of the rules at the beginning of their successful campaign when they ran away from the field early in the season – instead made everyone else change and catch up.

F1 have known about this since last year and a lot of teams have followed suit, so to benefit a team that has complained is interesting especially when teams who are “keeping costs down” now have to redevelop their aero mid-season – surly this cannot be a cost effective exercise.


‘Normal’ overtakes (ie non DRS and excluding the groups above) per race:

Australia, 12 (40% of total overtakes)

Sepang, 29 (41%)

China, 26 (29%)

Turkey, 31 (28%)

‘DRS’ overtakes:

Australia, 5 (17%)

Sepang, 17 (24%)

China, 27 (30%)

Turkey, 40 (36%)

That really say it all doesn’t it. In the two races claimed to be the most exciting this year both of them featured more DRS passes than real overtakes.


For the spectator at the track, it would be a great loss if the blown diffuser no longer produced what Ross Brawn describes as the ‘staccato exhaust note’.

A lot of fellow spectators I spoke to at the Singapore GP last year were quite vocal about how much better the blown diffuser cars sounded compared to earlier on in the year.

I got the same feeling in Malaysia this year. People are just amazed by the sound the F1 cars produce (especially those Renault engined cars entering the pitlane).

If the purpose of this ban is for the FIA to be seen as a green initiative, we can probably look at other areas (e.g. limiting the amount of fuel per car for the race).

Isn’t it reasonably unfair that too many decisions are being taken without the paying public’s approval (those that buy airfares, hotel rooms and race tickets)?

Something in me tells me Mr E would agree.


Let’s be realistic people, red bull fans are gonna be upset and mclaren/Ferrari/merc/etc fans are gonna be happy. Let’s not get all self righteous saying it’s forth good of the sport or that burning fuel for aero ist in the spirit of the rules. Winners in F1 have never been clean, Schumacher got a hand from his teammates and the FIA, mclaren got help a la Ferrari blueprints, Alonso had a mass damper… Blah blah blah, the losers have whined and will continue to whine.

I think this EBD crackdown could actually was it not just a month or two ago that James posted an article that the Renault V8 has fuel burn figures on the order of 25% less than competitors? So now that they aren’t pumping extra fuel into the EBD, reason would suggest they just tank the car up less than the others and take a huge weight advantage at the start on soft tires. Or alternatively pump a few more kilos in and turn the engine up to 11 and let it rip. Either way seems to slate the RB guys or even Renault at benefiting or at the very least not be as affected by this knee jerk.

Either way I caught at the end of James post that they had backed down on the rule for Spain so here’s suggesting Vettel makes it 4 this race just for insurance purposes.


McLaren have a copy of redbulls system, as do many of the others, so I’m not sure what will happen.

On the renault V8, I believe is better on fuel economy than the other engines, and what renault were saying was that although they used more fuel – I think about 10-15% more but dont quote me – (powering the EBD), the net weight against their competitors that already use more fuel was not too bad.


Great artical James, do you think the only chance any of the front running teams have against Redbull and Vettel, is to beat them to the first corner. That way Vettel will be forced into a battle causing tyre wear earlier than they would like?


I think strategy is the way, as we saw in China. The slightest mistake by RBR and Ferrari and McLaren have the race pace to pounce.


So, it appears the FIA have the power to just change the rules mid-season if they feel like it?

So that there’s not a continued runaway season for one particular team, I guess?

And they’re going to measure this how, exactly?

Sounds like complete rubbish to me.


No change in the rules, just a change in interpretation.

If the throttle is now being used to allow air to go through the engine and out the exhaust for an aerodynamic effect, then the throttle is an aerodynamic device; as moveable aerodynamic devices are illegal (except DRS), then using the throttle as an aerodynamic device to enable off-throttle over-run to generate downforce is also illegal.

Same rule, just interpreted differently/more broadly.


Parse their words however you like but it still looks like rule-changing to me.

Whats next? “Well the driver, you see, turns a wheel which, as it happens, turns those really big wheels up front, thus altering their aero effects, and is therefore a movable aero device. Henceforth no drivers will be allowed to turn the wheelie thingie.”

(excerpt from FIA rules for 2012)


How are “DRS” overtakes and “non-DRS” overtakes defined here? Is it simply the location of the overtake (i.e. either inside or outside the zone) or more complicated?

I still think they’ve played a pretty important role in the overtakes to be honest. Yes the tyres have been very important too but in the past I remember races where one car has caught another (or others) on newer tyres at about 1-2 seconds a lap and not been able to get past (e.g. Australia 2010). I still think there would have been overtakes without it, but overall their respective roles are probably about equal. That said, you make a valid point about people being on tyres of different ages at different times and this playing an important role. But without DRS people may have had to work harder to get past and hence damage their tyres faster in the process and then who knows how everyone would have reacted?

I guess another conclusion to draw is how difficult it is, if the definitions are more complicated than suggested above, to try and “assign” overtakes to the different characteristics (i.e. to DRS or to the tyres or to KERS or whatever) but credit to Mercedes GP for giving it a go and thanks for sharing it with us.


Clearly DRS is only used in a specific place and it is only when DRS use was noted


If people are still talking about Catalunya more than a week after the race, with as many people saying how exciting it was as said it about the Cinese GP, then the new regs will have me as a convert.

I’m off to William Hills to see if they’ll take a bet against it happening.

James, have you any idea who instigated this rule limiting the effectiveness of the diffusers?


Can someone please explain in layman’s terms what “on the overrun” means? Sorry if that’s a stupid question.


Overrun = off throttle with the clutch engaged (so the engine is still revving, but there is no fuel or air going through the engine to produce power).

Now, with the exhaust-blown diffuser, what they are doing is when the driver lifts off the throttle pedal, they open the throttle “valve” that lets air into the engine, then delay the spark and continue to pump fuel in. This means that the fuel won’t burn in the engine, but instead it will burn in the exhaust pipes. What this does is creates a lot of heat and continues to pump lots of hot exhaust gasses out of the exhaust even when the engine is not producing power (i.e. when coasting or braking).

Of course, this is far from “green”, and the FIA doesn’t like that the top teams are consuming 10% more fuel than normal, especially when it is to dump raw fuel into the exhaust.


I think I may post this link here…

Best explanation that you are going to get. Scarbs is brilliant.


From my understanding, when the driver hits the brake the engine keeps belting away (without driving the rear wheels) so the exhaust can be blown over various aerodynamic surfaces, sticking the car to the ground even though it’s moving relatively slowly.


When you are in your road car and you see a red light ahead you take your foot off the throttle and allow the car to slow before using the brakes to stop the car – when the engine is turning but you have zero throttle that is the ‘over run’. If you were to push down the clutch then the engine would run at idle – not on over run.

In your road car when you take your foot off the throttle your engine managment system cuts the fuel supply so you use no fuel while on the over-run. On an F1 car when they take their foot off the throttle and hit the brakes the engine management keeps flowing fuel but when it burns the exhaust valve is open so no power is produced by the engine – but hot gasses keep flowing down the exhaust.

Did that make any sense?! Hope that explains what is happening.


Pretty much. A more technical explanation would be….

When you lift off the throttle the revs start to go down and you start to slow. The fuel that is burnt at that time.. i.e. the fuel that is chucked into the engine but not going to power the wheels (i.e. closed throttle) is the overrun.


This is very good news – we may see the drivers using their great knowledge of this track to especially good effect this time.


James – the fast corner onto the straight is now easily flat because of the chicane before it, isn’t it?

I do recall that the Spanish GP of 1997 was a somewhat reasonable race, as Bridgestone and Goodyear brought tyres that were marginal and began to blister, promoting overtaking opportunities.

After Turkey, we might be thanking the Barcelona circuit for not being too easy to pass on! Either way, it’s another race to look forward to and it shows that in 2011, we’re never sure what we’re going to get.


Smell’s like the consequence of a McLaren protest.


McLaren never contests, they ask for rule clarifications.


As do ALL the teams! That’s the way it works.


Or even a Ferrari one!


“We’ve already pinpointed the fast corners onto and off the pit straight as the main reason why it is so hard to pass.”


Fast corners off the straight make it difficult, but Turkey showed that a fast corner onto a straight is not a problem (one of the theories behind the design of Zandvoort > fast corner onto long straight into tight corner = passing).

There were lots of passes exiting corner 8 at Turkey, where they were able to slipstream and out-brake into 9.

Personally, I think a major help would be to tighten the first corner of the chicane, perhaps into a corner that is somewhere between a 90-degree corner and a hairpin, and forget about the chicane between the last two corners.

The first chicane at Catalunya is terrible for passing because of the early turn-in and apex combined with late-braking for a high-speed chicane; there’s simply no room (or time) to drive up the inside of someone else.



I disagree with that. The only reason why Barcelona doesn’t have exciting races is because the teams test there all the time. The drivers and engineers probably know this track better than any other, so there is no real unpredictability or challenge. Suzuka and Spa are loaded with fast corners, and they’re lauded as two of the best tracks on the calendar. But if teams tested on those tracks as heavily as they do at Montmelo they’d be pigeonholed as boring too.


“Suzuka and Spa are loaded with fast corners, and they’re lauded as two of the best tracks on the calendar.”


they are considered 2 of the best tracks, however there is actually usually not a great deal of passing at either.

overtaking figures at both trcks usually just about get into double digits. there was only 8 passes at suzuka last year and 11 in 2009.

intrestingly bahrain which is usually slated by fans for producing no overtaking often produces more ontrack passing than either spa or suzuka.

there was 21 passes for position at bahrain in 2010 for instance yet fans complain there was no passing?


exactly. a testing track should be just that and not used for races. I’m an Alonso fan but Barcelona and Valencia are extremely boring. We’ll see how they both go this year but those 2 are at the bottom of my favorite tracks.


Hi James

Am I correct in thinking that the blown defuser is an area that Mercedes are yet to fully exploit and so they may well be one of the teams due to bennefit most from this rule change.



and HRT


weren’t they bringing a new exhaust to Spain? Seems an FIA ban would send a lot of work to the recycle bin, without Merc having any advantage during a race.

We should watch out for Merc this weekend while the teams have a reprieve on the ban… I think they *might* bother the front.


that was my belief too. I think we could see them at the very front in Barcelona if thats the case. You would assume that with Red Bull being the pioneers that everyone’s copying, they have the most effective system and therefore will suffer the most…I hope =P




I did wonder about the overrun exhaust gasses as it is not very ‘green’ to be burning fuel in the exhaust for no purpose other than downforce – not the way the FIA wants the sport to go I think.


I agree with you over with the green issue. However, I also quite like the concept of generating downforce from something that isn’t aero related. If a significant quantity of downforce can be generated from the exhaust gasses then the turbulent effects of following the car in front can be reduced (by a small quantity).


I said this on a another thread a while ago: burning fuel just to create downforce is rather like the Brabham fan car using a secondary fan to suck the car down onto the road (and is therefore rightly to be banned). Physically different but politically similar — if you get my meaning.


James – I’ve just read a tweet from Oliver Kay reporting that off-throttle blown diffusers are to be banned from the Spanish GP onwards. Have you heard about that?

That would shake things up this weekend!


Here’s hoping it “shakes things up” as a result of a legitimate rule change rather than some entertainment_factor leveling of the playing field. Weren’t we just saying a week ago that the DRS at times was artificial enough.


Yes, it’s in the piece at the end but it’s only a reduction in the gases blown on the overrun, not the rest of the time.


Hi James, I’m a new convert to the F1 religion from 2005 season to be exact when Alonso pulverised Schumacher flabbergasting reign of terror on track. From then on I have not looked back, and as an avid disciple of your articulate articles I’m amazed at the depth of knowledge you share and the educative comments from the rest of the parishioners.

Just a question on bodywork aero gadgets: what does the regulation stipulate on the use of aero toys on the bodywork of the car. Cars up to 2008 looked more like spaceships compared to current cars, with all the blades sticking out all over the body. I see that McLaren has some kind of wings above the U-shaped side pods. Could they be doing this as a teaser to see if anyone frown at them while it has little effect on their current performance, maybe fully implement solutions around their U-shaped side pod later in the season when they know that it would be impossible for other teams to emulate it. My thoughts are based on the fact that we have not yet seen or heard anything about the advantage of their radical design, and they just might be sandbagging their aero developments for later advantage. If so, reduction of the overrun gasses may just play into their hands as they’d already have basis to harness more downforce.

I’m just thinking out loud…


Thanks. Complicated subject. Best thing is to go to and download technical regs.


Just how custom is the “standard” ECU? Anybody know, is it alterable by a sophisticated set of throttle maps / custom parameters? Or can the teams still write the software, but on standard piece of hardware. In which case presumably the FIA can inspect the source code and police the overrun.


Sounds like something for another post James?


No it’s tightly controlled. It was one of the real sticking points for manufacturers like BMW and so great care went into it. But now no-one talks about it

Michael Prestia

I hope this knocks Red Bull down a peg and makes the field more competitive… I read this: under braking, the throttle input can now be no larger than 10 per cent of its maximum. Some outfits had been gaining aerodynamic benefit from keeping the throttle flow at 100 per cent under braking.

My question is how are they going to police this new regulation?


Ahhh thanks, got it now. The ECU is still completely standard but the teams were “fiddling” the throttle sensor input to the ECU get the overrrun.

From what I could find out about the ECU, the telemetry back to the pits is also part of the standard kit, so everything is on show to the FIA.


By monitoring the telemetry.

Michael Prestia

Reprieve on the new Rule changes… FIA look ridiculous in all this… why come out with an announcement about a rule change and then back down on it.


It’s gasses on the overrun that are the bad idea. Creating downforce by ‘wasting’ fuel is inappropriate in these times of energy shortages. I’m pleased with this ban.


Nonsense! If you’re worried about wasting fuel “in these times” then just stop going in circles!



but for pure speed the drivers need extra-downforce in the corners, when they’re in the overrun.


On Limited Blown Diffusers


I think that the FIA did the right thing. Engines are there to give power, not to work as active aero-device. The teams burn extra-fuel for the sake of aero which clearly not the engine role.

Renault forward exhaust might result in the biggest loss I think and is a big blow for them. As for the others it’s more or less close and I doubt RBR will loose the advantage in Spain.

Let’s wait and see.

How did the FIA manage to enforce the ban ? normally it requires unanimity to have rule change unless for safety.

P.S : you’re firing on 8 cylinders these days James, a lot of posts recently.


As Ferrari is far behind I don’t wonder about the rule change


…and hopefully he will be able to keep all 8 cylinders going, even with rule changes.


But hopefully not with an exhaust blown diffuser! 🙂


Exactly – which is why DRS can be kicked into the articial grass where it belongs.


Agreed! I think we are seeing more overtaking due to the tyres than anything else, so no artificial DRS needed.

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