Declining overtake stats confirms driver fears that cars are hard to follow

Sam Cooper
Oscar Piastri leads McLaren team-mate Lando Norris in the grand prix. Saudi Arabia March 2023

McLaren driver Oscar Piastri leads his team-mate Lando Norris in the grand prix. Saudi Arabia March 2023

As engineers become more familiar with the change in regulations, the ability to follow cars closely behind has reverted to that of years gone by.

The 2022 regulations were introduced not only to shake up the existing order, but to promote closer racing by getting rid of some of the disadvantages of following closely behind another car.

Last year, this was widely praised with plenty of drivers stating that the change in regulations had achieved the desired effect but, a year on, it seems the sport has regressed back to its old ways.

At the opening grand prix in Bahrain, there were 30 overtakes, fewer than half of what there were in 2022. In Saudi Arabia the numbers followed a similar pattern with overtakes falling from 38 to 33 despite Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc starting halfway down the grid.

It seems with a year of work on the regulations under their belt and the perfect set of data that comes from an entire season of racing, the team’s engineers and designers have modified their cars to gain more aero performance but it has come at the cost of the cars behind them.

According to Auto Motor und Sport, it is something the drivers have also noticed.

“I could have gone a bit faster, but when I was closer than a second to Carlos [Sainz], you felt the turbulence of the car in front of you,” Leclerc said while Verstappen noted he could feel the turbulent air impact when travelling at high speeds.
Sainz went as far as to say it was “like the old cars”.

But what specifically has changed? Well it starts with the front wings and, in particular, that of Ferrari’s.

PlanetF1 recommends

Verstappen camp reportedly not happy with Nico Rosberg’s critical comments
The next five Fernando Alonso landmarks after 100th F1 podium
Who are McLaren’s new tech chiefs following James Key’s departure?

The Italian team caused a bit of a stir before the season got going after they unveiled a front wing with small wings which looked suspiciously like the Mercedes design that was banned at the United States Grand Prix. Ferrari though were allowed to run it after a change of regulations over the winter break and this has helped with the car’s air flow.

The wings direct bad air away from the outside of the wheels and while that helps the car they are attached to, it is less than beneficial for the one behind.

But the reason that teams like Ferrari, Red Bull and Aston Martin have had to find these new ways of improving the aero is because of the drop in performance as a result of raising the floor.

To combat porpoising, a problem Ferrari and Red Bull in particular had little problem with in 2022, the FIA ordered teams to raise their ride height by 15mm and while this has cut down on the problem, it has meant the FIA has had to allow engineers to have a bit more freedom when it comes to aero regulations.

But should racing continue to suffer as a result then Auto Motor und Sport also report that the sport’s governing body would be willing to step in and intervene in the same way they did with porpoising.

Watch this space, perhaps…