Nico Hulkenberg, Lando Norris, Bahrain International Circuit, 2022

Why F1 drivers gave some differing views on whether new rules made passing easier

2022 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Did the first race of the 2022 Formula 1 season prove the drastic changes to the technical rules had succeeded in making it easier for drivers to overtake?

The response from the competitors was mixed. McLaren driver Lando Norris was among those who expressed disappointment at how hard it had been to pass other cars.

“It was tough,” he said. “It wasn’t as good as I was expecting, which is a bit frustrating. I was expecting a little bit more.”

Norris found that once he drew close to another car, the loss of grip meant his tyres overheated and he was no longer able to attack.

“When you get close you still just light up the rears, as easy as you need to, and you lose the front. The tyres get hot, you just go off a cliff again.” He said the changes had made racing only “a little bit better.”

“You see how much of a train everyone was in at the beginning, there’s a bit more fighting then normal. But you still lose a lot of downforce. I would say maybe not as much as what everyone was hoping.”

However Kevin Magnussen was effusive in his praise for the shake-up of the technical rules. “Following the other cars is so much better,” he told Channel 4. “It’s going to be a lot better racing.

“There’s going to be tracks that we didn’t see any racing on in the past that now we can actually race on, I’m sure.”

But while the new rules have cut the negative effect of the turbulence from cars, Magnussen said they have also reduced the benefit.

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“When you slipstream someone, you catch them a little slower because the slipstream effect is less,” he said. “The DRS effect is bigger, actually, so on your own you have a bigger effect.

“It’s not so much easier to overtake but you’re just closer all of the time. You can stay there, your tyres don’t go off. So it’s a good change.”

Magnussen and Norris clearly had different experiences in the race. Magnussen was in high spirits after a strong fifth place, while Norris finished 10 places further behind. How their tyres behaved in traffic probably says a lot about how the well-sorted Haas treated its rubber compared to the McLaren.

Still other drivers saw the first trial of the new rules differently again. While Magnussen felt he gained more from DRS, Esteban Ocon said “DRS is actually less powerful than it was.” This is likely to be related to different set-ups on the cars, and how much drag each shed when they opened their rear wings.

Ocon concurred with Magnussen on other points, however. “Towing in general is less powerful than it was,” he said.

He also believes F1 has gone in the right direction with these rules. “You can follow, let’s put it like this, a lot closer than before, and the car is less affected by following another one. So that’s going very much in the right direction.

“It still does affect you a little bit but it has reduced the towing effect quite a lot, and the DRS was still powerful, but I didn’t feel as big as the previous years.”

Another complicating factor was the role of tyre degradation, which is always very high in Bahrain. This meant cars with much fresher tyres had a significant performance advantage over others, and were able to pass them easily at times.

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“I think what makes it very easy to pass and the moves you saw is probably the tyre difference here,” said Ocon. “When somebody is up to nine, 10 laps tyre difference and somebody pits with fresh tyres, there is no competition, it’s another category.”

His team mate, with over two decades of F1 experience, saw things the same way. “Following was definitely easier,” said Fernando Alonso. “We spotted already in the test that it was easier to follow cars.

“But overtaking is still not as easy as it seems on TV. I think all the overtaking that we saw today was because one car had two seconds’ more pace and newer tyres than others.

“So I met cars that I was two seconds faster than and I overtook in few corners. And I met also cars that were two seconds faster than me and they overtook me in two or three corners. So I think the tyre is the biggest differentiating factor still, not the following.”

As F1 motorsport director Ross Brawn said after the race, Bahrain was just the first of many data points which will reveal whether the new rules have worked. Next on the calendar is Jeddah Corniche Circuit, a track which was designed with the new generation of cars in mind. It will be followed by Australia’s Albert Park, which has been recently overhauled again with a view to improving overtaking.

“We need to see more examples,” Alonso concludes. “I know that it is tempting to write conclusions after one race… but I think we need to be calm.”

2022 Bahrain Grand Prix

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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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42 comments on “Why F1 drivers gave some differing views on whether new rules made passing easier”

  1. Find it generally amusing that the new rules have brought such contrary opinions to the conventional wisdom that was prevalent before the cars hit the track.

    However, seems tyres will never cease to be the major factor impacting races and championships, especially with Pirelli’s approach.

    1. @f1g33k Not sure what you are saying is contrary between opinions before and after the cars hit the track.

    2. Tyres are definitely the worst factor in F1 racing, high degradation tyres have to go.

      1. Yep. Maybe have two tires, soft and hard, but increase the durability; it was certainly possible to build tires to last a race back in the day. The cars would be slower but possibly better racing; with only two options we might see more strategy and closer racing. Another benefit would be that Pirelli wouldn’t have to make and transport so many tires, reducing that so important carbon footprint……

  2. After one race, I’m quite comfortably predicting Imola to be the usual procession under these new rules, odd weather notwithstanding.

  3. It was quite impressive how closely cars could follow in the twisty part of the circuit. Zhou showed some good examples of that early on.
    But of course to overtake you need more than just being close; you need 1) a faster car (various example) 2) some smart driving (Bottas overtaking in turn 8), and/or 3) DRS (I could do without).

  4. And let’s keep in mind the goal was never to make overtaking easier. The goal with these cars was and is to promote closer racing…closer combat…more action. And as FA points out, it is early days. Let’s see how the teams evolve these cars. I’m 100% confident they have done with these drastic car changes exactly what they needed to do, and the only thing constant in F1 is change anyway. To stand pat is to go backwards in F1, and imho these cars are a great jumping off point for this new chapter, compared to cars that had only become more and more clean air dependent.

    1. So let’s go with the obvious and get rid of the melty tyres and mandatory pit stop. Go watch some classic racing at Goodwood to see how good racing can be on hard, skinny tyres. And no I am not suggesting F1 goes hard and skinny, just durable and consistent.

    2. @robbie Closer racing automatically means overtaking gets easier. With the vast reduction of the dirty air these new cars produce I was expecting overtaking to be too easy here, but for some reason it was just as before. Very disappointing.

      1. @f1infigures I think it depends on the cars. I don’t think closer racing automatically means overtaking gets easier if a driver’s ability to defend is also heightened. As far as expectations, I think it is too early days and we shouldn’t be going by one race at one venue of these brand new cars that the teams are still learning a great deal about. I would like to think that as the dust settles and the teams get to know more about these cars, and the tires as well, we can then see what DRS is doing and F1 can analyze where to go from there.

        1. @robbie True, it’s early days, but Bahrain is one of the best tracks for overtaking, so the end result was certainly underwhelming. It seems the cars could follow slightly more closely, but at the same time the slipstream effect was weaker as well, so overall nothing really changed. Tire degradation was higher than expected as well, which isn’t too unusual with less downforce, but it forced everyone to run more or less the same strategy. It might get better when the teams find ways to recover the lost downforce, but at the same time this might increase the dirty air problem as well.

    3. Coventry Climax
      22nd March 2022, 12:51

      In my opinion the only true way to figure things out, is to count how many overtakes took place overall and what percentage of them was with DRS.
      Do that for last season(s) and do it for this season. Yes, that means end of season; Alonso is, in a sense, right about waiting a little longer. There no harm however in already making comparisons circuit by circuit.
      To me, the ideal percentage of DRS passes is 0. (Get rid of it, Now!)
      Just guessing, but I’m afraid the percentage is currently still way over 80, just like it was, and as long as it is over 10, I deem the new aero regulations as failed, an improvement that has not brought the amount of improvement promised.

      1. Most overtakes take place down the main straights, precisely where the DRS zones are. It’s difficult to estimate how many of these overtakes wouldn’t have occurred without DRS.

        1. @F1 in Figures.
          I mean. What did you expect? It’s normal that cars overtake at turn 1 and 4 in Bahrain. Even without DRS cars would overtake mostly there.

    4. EXACTLY! It’s not about easy overtakes. It’s about easiness of following another car, which should promote more genuine battles (if the limit the use of DRS).

  5. To be fair, that McLaren has some serious aerodynamic flaws, so I wouldn’t take what Norris said he felt as representative – especially when others had the opposite opinion.

    1. I think the biggest take away is that the Mercedes engine is now possibly the weakest of all manufacturers. Seeing 6 of those powered cars at the bottom during the race was very surprising. Ferrari power specifically has made huge inroads this year.

      1. With only one of the Red Bull powered cars making it to the finish line you could argue they are the weakest manufacturer at the moment :p

        1. From a reliability standpoint, absolutely. Something they didn’t suffer from at all last year, really.

          1. @asharpegret @furkmyster Reliability and performance are part of the same equation, at least up to a point: Super reliable engine? Turn it up and sacrifice some of the excess reliability. Dying engine? Turn it down and hope to live for a race.

            We don’t really know how reliable the engines really are yet, durability-wise. But if Mercedes inspects the engines and everything still looks great, you can bet they’ll be faster next race.

            OTOH, while the Red Bull engines certainly had problems, we don’t know if it is something that is fixable by changing a single part, or if reduced power is needed to fix it.

      2. I think while Renault power units are still on the grid.. they are by far the weakest. They might have made it through race 1.. but are still hands down the poorest in terms of performance and reliability.

  6. Was Jeddah Corniche Circuit designed with new car generation in mind specifically?
    I’ve never heard or seen something along these lines, although whether overtaking will be easier than last season is another matter, given limited space at places.
    As for Melbourne, ‘again’ how? Only this one configuration overhaul has occurred, but that circuit should give a better idea since passing has always been challenging on the Albert Park track.
    Imola & Montmelo are other examples, as are Hungaroring, Zandvoort, Marina Bay to a lesser extent, Suzuka, AHR, YMC combined with last season’s changes, & even Monza.
    I’m confident close racing will remain decently good throughout the campaign on various circuit types, with temporary ones a question mark.

    1. Coventry Climax
      22nd March 2022, 15:00

      Me too, I would like to see any references to Jeddah Corniche as being specifically designed with the new car generation in mind. That immediately disqualifies the circuit for other types of motorvehicles and -cycles, as well as when the rules change again. Just can not believe this to be true and hence I’m tempted to regard this as fake news, until proven otherwise.

  7. I went back and watched some OnBoards today & something I noticed is that when following another car through the turns 5-7 section they were still picking up some visible understeer through the exit of 7 & ended up having to get out the throttle & dropping back as a result.

    I also saw more than 1 driver try to stay in the throttle in that scenario & as they put on more lock with the understeer they then got to a point where the back end lost grip & they got a snap of oversteer.

    It seemed to go along with something i saw mentioned after the Barcelona test (Sorry shakedown) about how the cars are still affected fairly badly when in the 1-1.5 second range but are less affected than prior cars when more than 1.5 seconds back & not as bad if you can get within 1 second.

    1. Interesting, yeah, I also thought I noticed that @stefmeister; it was Leclerc who mentioned that bit about the in-between stage of 1-1,5s I think.

  8. Fernando is right. We need more examples. And he’s also right in that the tyre is the biggest differentiator, as it’s always been since Pirelli returned. If we had a tyre that last almost the whole race like the Bridgestones of old, then yeah, maybe we’d have a clearer idea with only 1 race.

    But having the cars closer can only be a good thing. It’s easier to put pressure on someone that way. And looks better on TV than having the cars 2 seconds appart…

  9. I can’t remember Turn 8 really being an overtaking spot with the old generation of cars, since you had to lift off massively when close to another car through Turns 6 and 7, but we actually saw Ricciardo, Bottas and Zhou follow very closely through 6 and 7 and make an attempt into Turn 8.

    1. @mashiat It wasn’t a common place to see overtaking in the past but it wasn’t unheard of to see overtaking into T8.

      1. @stefmeister It wasn’t before 2017, but I can’t think of any between 2017-2021 off the top of my head. I can think of several with the narrower cars pre-2017.

        1. @mashiat 2017-2021 cars shouldnt even be taken into consideration because those cars were not even designed for racing. They were designed purely for speed. Worst cars in F1 history.

          1. @apophisjj I don’t think those cars were that terrible, especially the last years (2019-2021) were pretty good I think. It seems the new cars aren’t much of an improvement at least, which is disappointing (I was hoping we could get rid of DRS).

  10. Towing and slipstream being less makes sense and is a good sign, if the wake is being pushed up above the cars as is the goal then the air not being “broken” by the car ahead which is what leads to that effect.

    This probably means DRS is here to stay as losing heavily on the straights would be contrary to the overall aims of “closer racing” for better or worse.

    1. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
      22nd March 2022, 15:52

      @skipgamer
      The other solution is to get rid of DRS and use a “push-2-pass” type method like Indycar. I view DRS as an unfair advantage. Where as “push-2-pass” is limited and can be used “strategically” as it has limited use over a race. Plus, the push to pass could promote passing in area’s that we never really see with the DRS era because it can be used anywhere on track and not in specific “zones”.

  11. The stated aim was to allow cars to follow more closely and to reduce the dirty air effect. On both counts everything I saw would say that these new cars are a step in the right direction.

    Overtaking is a different story altogether. Many have said it before and I’ll say it again, if you’re going to line the cars up in order of fastest to slowest then logic says no matter how easy overtaking is there won’t be much.

    Unless of course there are variables such as cars out of position, degrading tires, mandated pit stops, safety cars, rain, etc.

    The reduced effect of the natural slipstream does seem to imply that DRS is here to stay. Let’s see what the next few races tell us.

    1. The reduced effect of the natural slipstream does seem to imply that DRS is here to stay.

      Let’s not forget that Domenicali wants to use DRS as a drag reducer for all cars to improve fuel economy.
      Not only does that lock DRS in for the long term, it would also just about kiss overtaking in F1 goodbye altogether.

      Then the argument for a better approach to F1 tyres flares up again…

    2. Many have said it before and I’ll say it again, if you’re going to line the cars up in order of fastest to slowest then logic says no matter how easy overtaking is there won’t be much.

      100%

      If you really want to promote racing, either the cars need to be very close to each other in terms of performance, or they need to not be lined up in speed order on the grid.

    3. @aussierod F1 has lined the cars up faster to slower via solo timed runs in qualifying always. For sure that right off the bat is going to limit overtaking and F1 has always been fine with that. It has never been about sheer numbers of passes in F1.

      “Unless of course there are variables such as cars out of position, degrading tires, mandated pit stops, safety cars, rain, etc.” There’s also a driver having a particularly good day or feeling particularly hooked up with his setup, there’s how different cars treat their tires differently, there’s how some cars are better at some types of tracks than others, there’s whatever might be going on with the other cars in terms of their performance, or clashes they have had etc etc.

      S I don’t get what would have us kiss overtaking in F1 goodbye altogether.

      @drmouse Yes the cars should be heading closer together in performance and racing is already being promoted with these new cars, but it’s also early days for now.

  12. Passing shouldn’t be easy. What should be easy is to follow the car in front for a long period of time if you are fast enough. Then you have to create the overtake by finding a gap of putting pressure to force an error.
    I think DRS created a wrong concept of racing, it looks like the goal is to just get close enough so, having the extra speed, you can pass the guy in front of you.

    1. This!

      The best races have been where 2 cars are very close in performance, and have lasted several laps, with the car behind looking for potential passing places in lots of different corners. The overtake has often happened because the car in front has been pressured into making a mistake. These are great fun to watch, and take far more skill than just getting close to the car in front and pushing a button to give you more speed.

      I think, without DRS, there’s a decent chance we would have seen that on Sunday between Max and Charles. Probably the main thing standing in the way right now (apart from DRS still being there) is that the tyres can’t be pushed for more than a few laps before they give up.

      1. Agreed, you two.

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