Formula One 2011 - Sport Imitating Art?

Friday, February 4, 2011 Posted by the sportsloop team
The frenzy of new car launches, photo opportunities and press releases that surrounded the recent first F1 test session in Valencia left us in no doubt that F1 2011 is now upon us.

For F1 fans it is a wonderful time of year, new car images to pore over, live lap times from testing to follow, new driver / team combinations to speculate over, and of course the all too frequent regulation changes to absorb. However 2011 sees the introduction of what is quite possibly the first regulation that would seem more at home in a computer game.

For years F1 has struggled with overtaking, or more accurately the lack thereof. Recent surveys of F1 fans have found that the overwhelming majority would like to see more of it, with anecdotal evidence to also suggest that the sport would have an easier time of capturing the casual fan if this was the case.

To this end the driver operated movable rear wings (yes, it is a mouthful) have been introduced. This is how it works:

Each circuit will have a designated ‘overtaking zone’ of 600m on it’s main straight. If two cars are within one second of each other leading into this overtaking zone the following driver will be allowed to activate the car’s movable rear wing.

This will move the wing into a low drag configuration, with an estimated boost of 10kph – 15kph in top speed. This additional speed down the straight will greatly assist the following car to get past the car in front. This certainly fulfils the desire to increase the amount of overtaking, but will the sport be cheapened as a result?

Prior to 2011 overtaking moves had been something to savour, requiring large cajones, masterful car control and a little bit of luck in equal measure. The great moves vividly stick in the mind: Hakkinen on Schumacher, Alonso on Schumacher, Montoya on just about everybody.

Overtaking is obviously an important part of the sport, but it needs to be balanced so that the audience doesn’t become blas√© about it.  It has always been about having the nerve to out brake an opponent, or fox them into taking the wrong line into a corner.  Simply put, overtaking should be special.

A real fear from those involved in the sport (drivers chiefly among them), is that the movable rear wings could see overtaking moves simply involving one car sweeping by another on the straight, with no real skill required from either driver. 

The word ‘artificial’ has been bandied around quite a lot by some of the sport’s major players. The IRL introduced a similar rule some years ago, and it was scrapped after a single season as a race winning strategy generally involved sitting in second place leading into the final lap.

Quite incredibly the sport could find itself in a situation where overtaking has gone from too difficult to too easy. Fortunately the FIA has promised to review the regulation after 4 races and amend it accordingly. However, this being Formula One common sense doesn’t always prevail, so the sport needs to be careful that it doesn’t indulge in too much of a good thing and turn itself into an imitation of what is played on so many PlayStations around the world.

- JOB
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