Lu­cas di Grassi


The For­mula E ace ex­plains why aero is not the sole cause of pro­ces­sional races

Although I did not watch all the For­mula 1 races in 2018, at the US Grand Prix in Austin it was very clear to any­one that even a faster car could not over­take a car in front eas­ily be­cause so much time was lost by be­ing in the tur­bu­lent air in the cor­ners.

It was the same when I raced there in LMP1 – we could not get closer than 1.5 sec­onds away from the car in front un­less there was traf­fic. The cars have be­come so re­liant on down­force that you can­not over­take – you can’t do any­thing.

Peo­ple of­ten blame the aero­dy­nam­ics of cur­rent cars, but what is of­ten over­looked is that there is a strong cor­re­la­tion be­tween how ex­cit­ing the race is and the lay­out of the track. For me, Austin, Barcelona and Yas Ma­rina each have one flaw in com­mon, which is that the bal­ance of drag and down­force re­quired is not work­ing in a way to fa­cil­i­tate over­tak­ing. In other words, the time you gain from be­ing be­hind a car on the straights is less than the time you lose from be­ing be­hind the same car in the cor­ners.

If the tracks were de­signed in a way that you could gain a lot by be­ing in slip­stream or tur­bu­lent air and then not lose so much in the cor­ners, it would have a much more com­pet­i­tive out­come. The faster the cor­ners are and the more down­force-de­pen­dent the track is, the more gim­micks you’ll need to in­vent to cre­ate over­takes, like DRS in F1. It would make a huge dif­fer­ence if we had more cor­ners with dif­fer­ent pos­si­bil­i­ties of rac­ing lines, and where it would be pos­si­ble to do the same lap time by us­ing any of them. Imag­ine if, for ex­am­ple, in Abu Dhabi where you have the hair­pin be­fore the long back straight, you could have dif­fer­ent cam­ber an­gles where if you went on the out­side in­stead of the in­side, it would pro­duce the same cor­ner time. There wouldn’t be a sin­gle line that every­body takes on a typ­i­cal cor­ner, which is usu­ally from out­side to apex to out­side. In­stead, driv­ers would take a dif­fer­ent line, sim­i­lar to the way Indy­car driv­ers do on an oval, ben­e­fit­ing from less down­force loss on the cor­ners and the same ben­e­fit of los­ing drag on the straights, with many pos­si­ble lines gen­er­at­ing the same lap­time.

There are lots of other things you could do, such as mak­ing cir­cuits ge­o­met­ri­cally op­ti­mised to en­sure the rac­ing line does not go to the edge of the track. But that’s a topic for an­other col­umn.

If they want to keep the tracks as they are, they will have to do some­thing with the cars. From what I can see, the 2019 For­mula 1 wings will make al­most no dif­fer­ence again.

It’s too small a change, and it will not be enough to re­move the DRS and still have mas­sive amounts of over­tak­ing. They have to change the whole con­cept of aero car de­sign. En­gi­neers would go mad with the idea of cre­at­ing in­ef­fi­cient aero­dy­namic cars just for the sake of over­tak­ing, but

“The time you gain from be­ing be­hind a car on the straights is less than you lose from be­ing be­hind the same car in the cor­ners”

that is nec­es­sary if you want to re­move the over­tak­ing gim­micks such as DRS and cre­ate ‘pure’ over­tak­ing like we used to have in the past.

It’s not a bi­nary thing, how­ever. It’s not just the car and not just the tracks – it’s a com­bi­na­tion of both. We have to look at the whole pic­ture and un­der­stand why there is a level of im­bal­ance in the down­force and drag we ob­serve at Tilke tracks.

The old tracks with long straights such as Spa and Ma­cau are per­fect ex­am­ples of nat­u­ral over­tak­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties with­out cre­at­ing any gim­micks. We all wish more tracks would be like that.

Even say­ing that, the to­tal amount of over­takes now is far greater than we had in F1 20 years ago when Michael Schumacher won five ti­tles in a row. As a prod­uct, F1 is still very good and there are a lot of good fights in most of the races. Peo­ple are just hun­gry all the time to make it bet­ter. And too much ex­cite­ment is never enough.

Oval cir­cuits have a va­ri­ety of rac­ing lines

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