Fernando Alonso, McLaren, Circuit de Catalunya, 2017

Drivers “even less important” in new cars – Alonso

2017 F1 season

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Fernando Alonso says Formula One’s new cars for 2017 could make it harder to tell which drivers are performing best.

Speaking to media at the track on Monday, Alonso described how the increase in downforce will make engine performance a more critical factor this year.

“The importance of the ‘driver percentage’ that we talk about sometimes, I think with the technology and aero packages we have now, with the power units we have now, the driver is even less important.”

“You need massive power now with this level of drag and downforce, you need good harvesting and deployment because the straights are a little bit longer now than last year. Some corners will disappear, will be flat [out], so the straights will be even longer because of that.”

“So if your are 20 horsepower down last year you were losing two or three tenths, while this year maybe you are losing half a second.”

“I think the importance of some of the technical aspects of the car are even higher this year. The driver can do until one point miracles, cannot do any more.”

However Alonso said he is pleased Formula One has abandoned the high degradation tyres used since 2011.

“I think in the way of pushing your car and being able to express your driving style I think yes, a little bit more than the previous cars that you were constrained to drive and save everything,” he said.

“Sometimes last year the slower you drove the better lap time you could do because you were saving the tyres, or maximising the stint. This year it seems you are able to push the car a little bit more and use your own driving style a bit to maximise the timed lap.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 52 comments on “Drivers “even less important” in new cars – Alonso”

    1. Well I suppose if your car can’t do more than 5 laps without breaking down, it doesn’t matter all that much who drives it.

      1. nor does the tyre degradation even come into play @petebaldwin.

        I sure hope Honda gets their stuff together, because it would be a sad sight to see a driver like Alonso waste his last year in the sport (surely he wouldn’t want to hang on for more after that, would he?) going out before lap 10 more often than not with a car that is agonizingly low on power too, like we saw in the first year Honda came back.

        1. I’d be surprised if FA left F1 after this year. I think he’ll seek a better ride for next year though…unless of course somehow McHonda pulls a rabbit out of their hat.

          1. I think it’ll be Bottas’ seat or WEC next year for Alonso. Can’t see him going to Red Bull or Ferrari.

    2. I’m worried. This sounds like the speech Fernando will reference when he announces his retirement in a few months. I hope I’m wrong and he continues, but he sounds really unhappy with the situation, and McLaren-Honda probably isn’t the team to be at to be shown that the importance of the driver’s contribution will increase…

      1. OmarRoncal - Go Seb!!! (@)
        1st March 2017, 11:51

        Agree. It sounds better and PR-allowed to say “cars” in general, than to say “this car that downgrades every year, not being comparable even to a GP2”.

      2. My exact thoughts.

        Or… he’s signalling to Merc to keep that seat for him.

      3. Sadly @alianora-la-canta, you wrote down what came into my mind too upon reading that. Not a happy time for Alonso or McLaren at the moment.

        1. Better to be unhappy now than mid season

          1. @Dan That is true. I just worry he might be happy then either, as there isn’t likely to be a mid-season shift in the car/driver contribution balance…

      4. Yup, he’s not happy.

        And consequently we the fans are not happy.

    3. That’s what I’d say if I had his car

    4. Must be frustrating to know that 20hp could cause a deficit of 0.5 seconds a lap… so imagine the nightmares he must be getting when his Honda engine is at least 100 hp down on Mercedes. That’s a 2.5 second deficit just from the engine (if it even works).

      I’d expect him to throw in the towel and hand the car over to JB before we even get to Barcelona.

    5. I was actually thinking this exact thing last night, is it not possible that the complexity of the aero may require greater driver strength but assuming all 20 drivers meet the physical requirement it is really the car doing the work and so the engine and aero of the car that becomes the most important factor, not the driver.

      I only started watching F1 after there was this switch to more aero so could some one explain to me what was wrong with the period of less aero and why hasn’t/doesn’t the sport just revert back to less aero?

      1. Simple
        Poor leadership.
        The obvious thing to produce better racing, where drivers made more of a difference, was to reduce down-force, not increase it.
        The powers that be just made a knee jerk decision based around “what can we do about Mercedes dominance?”. They chose to increase aero in the hope Red Bull would have a chance. Quite frankly I think that was an abhorrent and disgusting choice. Ross Brawn would have played the long game and framed some rules that would everyone a chance. Lets hope he gets his way.

        1. @Sean ”The obvious thing to produce better racing, where drivers made more of a difference, was to reduce down-force, not increase it.”
          – The real problem is how the downforce is implemented, not the amount of it.

          1. I heard this argument before but I’ve never heard it well justified, but at least you realise there is a problem. You cant change the laws of physics/aerodynamics. Producing down force through corners when there is a car directly in front is hellishly difficult. Down force produced from under the car is less affected by dirty air but it is still substantially affected. Taking away down force is a much easier, fairer and surer method to allow cars to run closely together in corners.

        2. Bruce Godwin
          2nd March 2017, 15:16

          Formula 1had a problem with engines so to fix it they changed the aero that coupled with owners that just want money and don’t care about fans that why they are getting more like nascar they both suck.

      2. Short answer, and there are folks more expert than me of course…aero has been around for decades and works wonderfully in getting cars around a track fast. It’s a fascinating science and is a big part of the industry of F1 and it would seem they have an addiction to this science…hard to ‘unknow’ what they know.

        But of course more and more we know that aero is great for getting a car in clean air around fast, but is harmful to close racing. Thankfully Brawn gets that and is taking about a better mechanical to aero grip ratio.

        Many would agree wings make the cars look better, and they also make for more advertising space. I don’t think they’ll ever ‘get rid of’ aero, or remove wings, and I don’t think they have to…just ensure a better ratio of mechanical grip to aero so the cars are much less disturbed in dirty air…much less clean air dependent.

    6. Surely the increased aero, cornering speeds and therefore g-forces involved this year means driver fitness and endurance plays a bigger part in overall performance? How can the driver be LESS important?

      1. Fitness isn’t the issue. Talent is.

        Judging by Fernandos comments one would guestimate that if one driver drives 3% better than the next, the lap-time improvement may be a few tenths. If his cars aero is 3% better than the next, the lap-time difference might be a second.

      2. @ninjenius All the drivers on the grid are fit enough for these cars, its not exactly Lauda and Gerhard berger that does the driving.
        With the very low power compared to grip these cars are slotcars more than half the lap and thats not exactly an challenge for the driver.

      3. @ninjenius
        You don’t get motorsports, do you?
        The level of fitness doesn’t make you drive the car faster! All a driver can do is to have the required level of fitness (mainly stamina) for his performance not to deteriorate due to fatigue after a larger number of laps. Nothing more than that. Once you have that, your fitness cannot carry you any further.

        1. @damon Wow, so because of what I said, I “don’t get motorsports”? Bit of an unjustified and excessive accusation to make.

          All I’m saying is, the mind and body of a driver (when I said fitness I meant mental as well as physical) are dependant on one another. Take the sweltering heat of Malaysia for example, a driver that is better prepared mentally and physically for racing in those conditions, will be able to get the extra performance and consistency out of what the car allows them. Adding these new reg changes on top of all that, it will lead to faster cornering (meaning drivers will be needing to employ quicker reaction times than last year) and added strain on the neck and other muscles due to increased g-forces. I’m not saying that drivers aren’t already fit enough as it is, just that fitness will make a difference when you look at time lost over the course of an entire race.

          An interview with Rosberg earlier today. Forward it to 28 seconds and listen. I take it Nico doesn’t “get motorsports” either? I’ve been an avid follower since 1996 (aged 7) by the way.

          1. Also, you do know why drivers bother with these intense winter-training regimes, do you not? I shouldn’t imagine they’d be going the extra mile if they didn’t think it would help them eek out that extra performance from themselves and therefore the car.

            1. Same reason as designers and engineers spend all year designing and building ever-faster cars. The issue here is that the designers and engineers’ work is making more difference than the drivers’ work…

      4. What Alonso is talking about here is that there is less scope for the driver to contribute to how fast a lap is.

        When there is less grip, the way to be fast is to maximize the grip you have. The drivers have to let off the gas a little in order to stay on the track. Drivers who are able to control the car right on the edge of adhesion can carry more speed through the corners, and thus start the straights with an advantage. Better drivers are able to get that much closer to the edge.

        With the changes this year though, there is so much aerodynamic grip that they literally cannot use it all. Even at full power, you aren’t getting close to the grip limits, so corners that used to require you to balance on the edge can just be run flat out. The difference in skill between a good driver and a great driver never comes into play because both of them are just running at full throttle all the way through the turn.

      5. Because a driver should first be there for driving skills not athletic ability.
        And this cars put more demand on the physical condition of the driver but less on his driving ability since they have more downforce and they are more on rails and they can handle the power coming from the engine easier.

        What is easier to drive? A beast with 1200hp and no wings or a super downforce car glued on the road with less power. The first will be all over the place. You will need balls and ability to keep it going straight and take the corners but you will never feel like you are hitting the limit because it never is stable enough and you are always correcting something for it not to run out of the road.
        Only the ones with the best feel for a car and driving ability will get good laps out of it and the difference between drivers will be bigger(That is why Senna could qualify more than a second in-frond of Prost in the same car while Hamilton could at best manage 3 or 4 tenths to Button or Rosberg).
        Every bit of better driving ability will give more time.
        On a high downforce car that has more power in keeping it self glued on the road than the power the engine can produce to make it destabilize then you don’t really need that much driving ability since just turning the steering correctly will be enough, the car won’t be hard to handle, any over-steering or under-steering will be as limited as possible, the only thing you need is a thick neck.

    7. Tony Mansell
      1st March 2017, 12:30

      Welcome to f1 Freddie!

    8. going back to the 90’s there was a big gap between the teams as the same downforce meant powerful engines ruled. it’s nothing we havent seen before. have to hope for a few wet races :D

    9. Wasn’t the situation with downforce and drag the same in the 00s?

      1. No I don’t think so. The cars and tires were still narrow so I don’t think there was so much drag.

        The cars and tires have been this wide before but never with these torquey pu’s so this really is uncharted territory.

    10. A bad package will always be a bad package. No amount of regulations will help that without reducing Formula 1 to a spec series with perhaps a few very limited areas for development (which it sounds like is the direction Brawn wants to push things).

      It’s not the regulations fault if your team makes a bad car, and you can’t expect to be competitive with a bad one either. F1 has always been the combination of man and machine. I really doubt the “driver percentage” is much less than it’s ever been, it only ever really comes in to play when the car performance is on par.

      1. @tristan The driver percentage is lower the more downforce thats added and the more flat out the cars go. Just look at the rainraces when the skilled drivers all have christmas.

        1. I disagree with the first point really. An excellent driver is an excellent driver, they don’t become less excellent just because there’s more aero. I think the second point helps prove my point really, there are good drivers all over the grid, but it’s not unusual that they rarely get the chance to show it because of their machinery, this has been common for many many years, nothing different because of the new regulations.

    11. Alonso needs to make his mind up, we get it Fernando you are in a shocking car……

    12. Something I was discussing with somebody yesterday kind of relating to this was that a lot of the higher speed corners that are now going to be flat out will require less driver skill.

      Look at Eau Rouge for example, It’s easy flat out now so the drivers have no significant input that affects there speed through it. In the past when it required a lift the best drivers with the most confidence lifted less than others & therefore found time. Yes what car you were in & setup also played a role but there was still a fair amount of driver skill involved in getting through there.

      You see it with corners like Copse in recent years, A corner that required a lift where it was easy to lose time by lifting too much or missing your line slightly which forced you to lift more than you want. It’s actually pretty likely that copse will be flat out this year which from a ‘spectacle’ point of view may look great, But if it’s easy flat for everyone as I was told to expect it to be then the drivers are then making less of a difference which isn’t really what you want.

      It’s the same thing you saw in the IRL era of Indycar some years ago where they were racing with tons of downforce on some of the ovals that was resulting in everyone able to run flat out all the way round every lap. The drivers were making less of a difference & you saw the sort of pack racing that car package created, Everyone bunched together unable to pull away or make a real difference as everyone was flat out running at the same speeds.
      Before that in CART & in the current Indycar series they have it setup so you can’t run flat all the way round during the race & it’s gone back to drivers having a larger role in raceday performance & the racing is not only better for it but you know that the drivers running towards the front are there based on skill more than anything else which wasn’t always the case in the IRL era.

      1. Wouldn’t it just be a shift though? Sure some corners which were previously touch and go would now be flat out, but then other corners which were definite light braking will now be touch and go?

        I’m hopeful the good drivers’ talents will shine through having more durable rubber personally, being able to brake later, get on the power sooner and carry more speed through the corners without as much care for durability has to be a plus for showing a true racer’s skill.

        1. Agreed @Tristan Like at Suzuka for example 130R used to be a horrific corner but ever since the early ’00 it’s just an easy flatout left. Instead Degna 1 and 2 (prior to going under the figure of 8 crossover) are intensely difficult now.

    13. Well according to Gary Anderson Hamilton was having to lift at turn 3 during his race-sim today, this corner should be flat in these cars.

    14. Looking back to the 2000s (prior to the regulation changes in 2009), one could also make the argument that F1 drivers had minimal/diluted input — especially with the presence of electronic gizmos such as traction/launch control, automatic gearboxes(?), 2-way telemetry, etc.

      As Peter Windsor (I think) once wrote in F1 Racing back in 2005: modern racing drivers are no longer the apex of the pyramid, where everyone works for their benefit and they harness the efforts/resources of the team; but rather, they are the final link/block of a complicated process wherein everyone has a valuable input. (or something along those lines)

      I think this is just Fernando being frustrated, since from the looks of it, Honda’s re-designed V8 have torpedoed McLaren back to 2015. If the engine was performing reliably and competitively, I’m sure he’d be signing a different tune and would be praising the renewed level of physicality the 2017 cars bring.
      I am a big fan of Alonso, and as much as I would love to see him win that 3rd world title, it looks more certain now than ever that he’s run out of time to achieve that goal.

    15. Good thing McLaren hired a “marketing guy” to run the company, because McLaren is going to have to do an awful lot of “marketing” to make themselves appear attractive to potential sponsors.

      1. Well… their new title sponsor is a quick fix I recon: Instead of McLaren paying Honda, Honda should pay McLaren $100m+ to use their shitbox engines.

        1. @jeffreyj, Honda are already paying McLaren more than that (Honda’s support for McLaren is estimated to be around $150 million a year) – McLaren would be in deep financial trouble if Honda wasn’t pumping cash into them. They virtually admitted as such in their financial accounts for 2014 when they revealed that they’d made a substantial loss and that they were “anticipating a substantial increase in revenue as a result of our partnership with Honda”, IIRC.

          1. I would like to pump something into McLaren and it aint cash!!!! After 2 years they are still abysmal! No wonder Dennis got the boot……….he was obviously a tool with no purpose. Bring back Martin Whippedarse……..he could have done a lot better without Dennis finger up his sphincter!!!

    16. Even in your hayday this was the case Fernando, as you wouldn’t have won the championship in a 2006 Honda either.

      Unless you are driving a stock series like Indy Car, Porsche Super Cup or GP2 this will always be the case.

      In F1 a great package (including the engine it uses) is worth several seconds compared to a team with a bad package (like McHonda), whereas a great driver vs a lesser driver is worth several thenths of a second (in qualy, perhaps more in wheel to wheel racing).

    17. Spoken like someone who’s been irrelevant for the last 4 years.

    18. Unfortunately does not sound like a guy confident about the upcoming season. I think it will be a real shame of Alonso walks away without at least a competitive season. For my money, still one of my favorite drivers to watch working on the track.

    19. I’ve been following the testing via the team’s twitter accounts on the handy http://www.f1twitterfeed.com and McLaren seem to have once again put themselves on the back foot through annoying mechanical issues. I know testing is supposed to help detect and get rid of these gremlins but any idea why McLaren seem to (at least recently) get these more than most?

    20. Fudge Kobayashi (@)
      2nd March 2017, 3:35

      I can’t help but draw comparisons with Mclaren in 2017 with Red Bull in 2014. They had an abysmal start with horrific reliability and yet, that car won races that year… It could happen.

      1. Fudge Kobayashi (@)
        2nd March 2017, 3:36

        *horrific reliability in testing that is.

    21. He would say.that would he? Then demand 25M sallery just because he also says he is the best.

      In the end McHonda team just cannot get it toggether.. For now seemingly third year.

      His only redeeming fact would br that Ferrari have not yet won a championship…

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