“Formula 1 is getting boring these days” is often a cliché, but like most clichés there is at least some element of truth in it. Concerns about the lack of overtaking in F1 races have been prevalent since at least the mid-1990s, and on several occasions in this time design regulations have been rewritten seeking to alleviate the problem. The changes have had patchy impact though, while the Drag Reduction System (DRS) and more fragile Pirelli tyres which have boosted overtaking numbers have been criticised as “false”. For the forthcoming season F1 makes its latest attempt with simplified front wings and bargeboards introduced, prior to a more fundamental overhaul due in 2021. Both will seek to tackle the problem via aerodynamics that are less disturbed by the wake of a car ahead and are framed by an F1 R&D team led by ex-Benetton, Renault and Williams technical chief Pat Symonds.
The boss of the Toro Rosso team Franz Tost has said though that F1’s rulemakers should be bold, and slash cars’ downforce by up to 50%. “We have so much downforce, which means high corner speeds, no one can follow because of the dirty air behind and we have hardly braking zones,” he said. “How should you overtake? That means the FIA, FOM–and there are the experienced people over there, like Ross Brawn, like Pat Symonds–they know exactly what you should do: to come down [reduce] with aero side, with the downforce. I would cut minimum 40-50% of the current downforce, to make the car much more unstable in the corners. Then people see that drivers have to fight with the car. Cars will be much faster on the straight, you have chances to overtake someone–because of [longer] braking [zones]–and you can follow in the corners. This regulation could be easy to be realised. They just have to want it.”
Tost believes however that many F1 teams are against his advocated change, and added that F1’s management should therefore present the regulations on a take it or leave it basis. “Never ask the teams,” Tost continued. “[F1 rulemakers should] come with the regulations, [and say] ‘accept or go’. But they ask the teams. They come to the Technical Working Group. Who is in the Technical Working Group? Engineers. Never ask the engineers!”
The current F1 car spec was introduced in 2017 though the changes were aimed primarily at increasing cars’ speed and appeared counter-productive for boosting overtaking. At the end of that ’17 season Pirelli analysis indicated that passing had dropped by almost 50% with the new cars compared with the preceding campaign. F1 commentator Martin Brundle took to Twitter to express his support of Tost’s view. “Franz is right,” he said. “The drivers love the grip, pleasing 20 people, but unless you’re trackside the tens of millions of fans who really matter can’t appreciate the speed of a car apparently on rails. I would add ‘generate the remaining downforce mostly from [the] venturi underneath the car’.”