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F1 authorities ban overtaking

No wonder F1 is so boring. The F1 authorities insist on blocking drivers from racing each other! The latest ruling on chicanes is just crazy and not at all thought through. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to last week’s farcical attempt to deprive Lewis Hamilton, McLaren and Ron Dennis of any chance of a fair crack at this year’s F1 World Championship.

In the pre-Schumacher days, weaving in front of a driver to prevent them overtaking was illegal. Then Schumacher came along, weaved often, and got away with it every time – as he got away with so many questionable things. When questioned about what was allowed, the authorities decided that making one move before positioning for a corner was allowed – ie you could block an overtaking attempt. Now we see drivers at every level of the sport doing the same, and racing has become even more boring.

Fast forward to the 2008 Belgian GP. Lewis Hamilton is closing fast on Raikkonnen in the rain. While fast in the dry, this year’s Ferrari is abysmal when the tyres are cold, and rain cools the Ferrari’s tyres faster than anything. The McLaren on the other hand gets lots of heat into its tyres pretty easily and is great on cool tyres. In the rain, the McLaren still has oodles of grip when the Ferrari has next to none at all. Of course, this means the McLaren wears its tyres out faster as we have seen, but the advantage in the rain means Lewis can brake far later than either Massa or Kimi which is why this year McLaren has done so well in wet races, and the Ferrari so poorly.

Just before the bus stop chicane, Lewis catches Kimi, Kimi brakes very, very early, Lewis’ momentum helps him scythe past, but in the middle of the chicane Kimi is trying not to be overtaken while at the same time dealing with much less grip, and his car runs wide, right in Lewis’ way. Lewis can allow the two cars to hit one another, or he can cut the chicane. He chose the latter, but this we already know. We also know that up until last week, the standard procedure to follow when you cut a chicane is to allow the person you just overtook to repass you. There was no “neutral” territory, you just had to let them past you.

So, Hamilton allowed Raikkonnen to pass him again, but suddenly the cars reached the approach to La Source. Raikkonnen had to brake earlier than Hamilton due to the lower grip he was getting from the Ferrari’s tyres. Hamilton was so close he nearly went into the back of Kimi, but swerved to the inside and braked later, passing him. The McLaren team asked FIA Race Control if Lewis needed to let Kimi past again, but twice they said no.

McLaren appealed, so to “write the rulebook after the event” so they had something to hit McLaren over the head with the FIA have come now out with a new rule – that a driver who cuts a chicane must allow the driver he has just passed to retake his position, and the chasing driver must not overtake until after the next corner. That’s daft. Although it is very convenient for Ferrari, it seems designed primarily to save face for the F1 stewards who have been villified since their unsupportable decision.

Why is it daft? Well, look at the circuit diagram of Monza for instance. Possibly the best overtaking part of the circuit is at the Rettifilio at the end of the main straight. But it’s a corner at which so many drivers regularly have to go off, either because they had no room, were forced off in the heat of the moment, or just out-braked themselves trying to avoid being overtaken. The start of the Italian GP is almost always like this. With the new rule any driver cutting this chicane will not be allowed to overtake the car in front until the Roggia. Cut here and they won’t be able to overtake until after the Lesmos, which basically means they will have to wait until the entry to the Parabolica since there is no real possibility to get past at the Ascari chicane. And we certainly won’t have those marvellous images we’ve had from previous years of cars going two abreast around the Curva Biassono.

You also of course get drivers who cut the corner to stay in front. Now, with this new rule do they have to give up their position? Or is nobody allowed to attack them for a whole straight and the next corner? What about a fit car trying to get past a mis-firing or mechanically challenged car – will they have to travel behind the sick leader at reduced speed just so as to not “gain an advantage” by overtaking them? Does this mean that the third placed car can then overtake both the sick leader and the regulation encumbered challenger?

What about the driver who doesn’t mind pushing a rival off-line, or even off-track? If they do this at a chicane and the other driver has to cut to avoid an accident, it won’t be his fault he went off-piste, but he will be penalised for having perhaps the better car or for driving better. Whatever, the FIA have now introduced another weapon into the arsenal of the unsporting race driver to stop a rival overtaking them: block at the non-chicanes, and force wide at the chicanes. That way, even if an enterprising and exciting driver can overtake you, they won’t be able to or be allowed to! I do wish rule-makers would remember the power of precedent.

What a stupid situation this latest rule adjustment brings. I thought the promoters of F1 (ie Bernie) wanted more excitement, not less… putting obstacles in the way of those wishing to overtake won’t help “the show” at all.

I may have said this before, but the lunatics are definitely running the F1 asylum.

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