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October 6, 2014 4:43 pm

Fall and rise of overtaking in Formula One

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Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are locked in battle for the 2014 Formula One drivers’ championship. With little competition from elsewhere, their duels over the remaining circuits are liable to have the biggest impact on the final outcome.

Their tussle jumped from the metaphorical into the physical earlier this season when Rosberg was disciplined by the pair’s Mercedes team after he damaged Hamilton’s car in a collision for which he later took responsibility.

Just a few years ago such close quarters combat was beginning to look like a thing of the past. Between the early 1980s and mid 1990s, the average number of overtaking moves per race fell from more than 40 to around 10.

But then in 2011, the introduction of the drag reduction system (DRS) – which allows drivers to adjust the angle of their rear wing – reversed the trend immediately, elevating the number of passes per race to 59.

As a result, recent Grand Prix dominate the historical list of races with the highest ratio of overtakes per lap, taking up 15 of the top 20 spots. But some tracks have proved resilient to the change.

What Monaco gains in the glamour of its surroundings, it loses in passing opportunities – the race sees the fewest overtaking moves per lap of all Grand Prix for which data are available, at just 0.13 per lap.

And it is not only street circuits where overtaking is at a premium – the Hungarian Grand Prix is an out-of-town affair, but the meandering Hungaroring track limits passing opportunities, giving it an average of just 0.22 per lap.

The ability to secure pole position may also prove a big factor in deciding this year’s title. Catalunya, Singapore and Monaco are the current circuits with the greatest winning-from-pole percentage, excluding cases where the driver on pole has not finished. This year the driver at the front of the grid has won all three.

Next month’s Brazilian race is the only track remaining where the driver on pole has a more than 50 per cent success rate, which sets up an exciting final qualifying session at Interlagos.

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