The Dark Art of Overtaking

Posted: May 30, 2011 by thevillainf1 in Insights

Well it’s done and dusted, the Monaco Grand Prix is over and Vettel just seems unstoppable this year. For once he does not dominate a race, lady luck comes and help him out to snatch yet another win. I don’t believe he would have kept his lead under normal race conditions untill the chequered flag, as we already saw Alonso getting closer and closer and his fateful lunge would have decided the race. Button would have taken Vettel almost certainly, yet Alonso on slightly less worn tires may just have held off the charging Brit. Unless of course Alonso’s move on Vettel – which I have no doubt would have come had the race not been red flagged – saw them both end up hugging the barriers.

But I’m not going to write a race review, more qualified people have already done that everywhere on the interwebz, today I’m looking at the dynamics of those fateful lunges we call overtakes, which in the narrow streets of Monte Carlo almost always boil down to do or die moves with a high chance of ending in tears.

What are the overtaking spots in Monaco, if any? St Devote is high risk but doable if you get a good drive out of Anthony Nodes, especially this year with DRS. The uphill and Casino section are just too tight and fast so next up is braking into Mirabeau, where we’ve seen some great passes in the past but where Kobayashi got it wrong this year as he bumped Sutil and gained a spot from him in the process. The Loews hairpin was the centre of attention in the 2011 race but is far from a favored spot on this track. Next spot is the chicane at the end of the tunnel, where a brave outbraking move is probably your best shot at overtaking on the whole track. Anthony Nodes was deemed impossible untill Herr Schumi pulled an amazing move on Alonso there last year (only to get absurdly penalized for it later).

Even though this Monaco GP saw loads more overtaking than many expected you can put as many rocket boosting gimmicks on F1 cars as you like and have them race on tires that last 2 laps, the track is just soo tight that any overtake needs a bit of cooperation from the guy in front. Obviously it goes against any racers’ instinct to make life for his opponent easier in any way, shape or form, but in Monaco the sensible and fair usually prevail in the end – or at the very least it saves you a trip into the barriers.

Much of this year’s controversy is centered on Lewis Hamilton’s overtakes and subsequent penalties incurred for the contact, but first let’s look at the incident that cost Di Resta a drive through. At the Loews hairpin, he lunged over the kerbs trying to get up but slammed into the side of Algersuari as a result. Algersuari was minding his own business taking his usual line, Di Resta lunged from quite a bit back and thus was given a penalty for causing an avoidable collision. Personally I found this a pure racing incident  because let’s face it, any contact between cars is in essence ‘avoidable’ – you avoid it by not trying to make a move. In these cases what is overlooked is the behavior of the guy in front, who shares part of the responsibility to make sure an overtake is ‘clean’. This is not so on most tracks, but it certainly is on Monaco.

Schumacher pulled a brilliant opportunistic move on Hamilton on the first lap at the hairpin, who as he realized Schumi had his nose next to his car, took a wider line into the hairpin and let him through. Fan or not, we all know Lewis Hamilton is a hardcore racer and will certainly not have enjoyed seeing that Mercedes slither past, yet he still made sense prevail here. Had Hamilton turned in more agressively resulting in unavoidable contact, Schumi would have gotten the same penalty Hamilton and Di Resta had, yet because Hamilton did not slam the door shut, we all agreed it was a brilliant overtake. Schumacher repeated that move on his teammate later on in the race, and again it was clean because Rosberg gave him some room.

Fast forward to the Di Resta incident, perhaps he was indeed too optimistic, as he admitted himself later, but Alguersuari could have also done his part to avoid the contact yet did nothing. Then the Massa-Hamilton hairpin incident. I find it blatantly obvious looking at the footage that Massa turns in even tighter than his usual line as soon as he noticed Lewis was there – so in effect doing the opposite of what Hamilton did with Schumi. Even more crucially in my opinion, Massa had not yet started to turn in as Hamilton got his nose alongside. Should not some of the blame for this contact then be laid at Massa’s feet as well?The biggest problem with these stewards decisions is that they seem to let their decision depend on whether an accident was avoidable or not. Did Lewis do everything he could to avoid a collision? No, he tried to make a move, which is risky on any track in any corner. Did Massa do everything he could to avoid contact? No, he turned in sharply knowing full well he’d have contact with Hamilton whereas he could have taken a wider line and avoid contact. Who then is to blame for causing an ‘avoidable’ collission?

Why are things like this not just classified as racing incidents? Do we still want these guys to race on the edge with their balls hanging out of the cockpit or do we want them meek like lamb hoping they will win races on strategy alone?

The incident with Maldonado was largely similar though at higher speeds obviously through Ste Devote. Despite having a car alongside him, Maldonado takes an extremely tight line on the apex which can only end in contact. Do we say that Hamilton had no business being on the inside there? Or do we say, if Maldonado wanted to go defensive, he should have done so before the corner. Failing to have taken a defensive line knowing he had a faster car behind him, should he not have taken a tad wider line instead of squeezing Hamilton well into the corner as Maldonado still dived for the apex, effectively blocking the corner for Hamilton, resulting in unavoidable contact? Take a look at this frame by frame comparison of the schumi and maldonado overtakes , for a telling illustration of just how much Maldonado cuts into a car who he must know is alongside him, while Schumi knows if he turns that sharply in it’ll end badly so he gave more room on the apex.

We all -rightfully- scorned Schumacher for his outrageous move last year on Barichello as in his desperate defense he damned near run Rubinho into the wall in Hungary so somewhere there does exist the notion that a lead driver does share responsibility as to what happens during the overtake. Kobayashi got a mere reprimand for bumping Sutil as he lost control of the car trying to overtake in Mirabeau, passes Sutil as a result of it, and then he only gets reprimanded? In the penalized incidents discussed above the overtaking driver never lost control of the car, which in my opinion is what should really determine what collision is avoidable and what not. If a driver is out of control during an attempted overtake and there is contact, then I would definately argue for a penalty.

Looking at these Monaco incidents I really start to wonder, is the guy doing the overtake always at fault, no matter how the contact happens? It is a murky area, and usually not very much of a factor at the conventional race tracks, but in Monaco the lead driver shares a good amount of responsibility for avoiding ‘avoidable’ collisions, and it is unfair to put all of the blame on the guy who tries the overtake, which is what we all desperately want to see in F1.

  1. ninja90 says:

    Schumacher on Hamilton only happened, because Schumi knew Hamilton wouldn’t turn into him, because Hamilton wanted to get clean through the first laps to eventually fight back. He was faster than Schumi anyways.
    Alguersuari (Massa) wouldn’t let DiResta (Hamilton) pass, because he knew, DiResta (Hamilton) were faster and they wouldn’t be able to catch up.

    So much for the perspective from the guys in front.

    The one who wants to overtake has to know how the guy in front is going to react based on this.

    I’m not saying who would have to get punished for what.
    Just saying that Hamilton should have seen coming what eventually happened and not done that.

    I think that’s what people (atleast me) are really having a problem with. Hamilton is too aggressive, where he shouldn’t be. Everyone knows that you can’t overtake that easily at a track like this.
    Look at Alonso how to do it. He knew when to back off.

    Just my two cents, nice article and a big talking point for races to come in my opinion.

  2. baz says:

    I agree with you, but I think we’re in the minority.

    Ultimately, Mclaren messed up their quali session, putting Lewis too far back, causing most of this.

  3. Gareth says:

    One thing I’m glad of is that at least the racing is not predictable, even if the eventual winner has been. It sure looks like Vettel will be taking the title, but Montreal (and Spa later on) should be tracks where Mclaren should take it to the Bulls.

  4. thevillainf1 says:

    Indeed, even though the WDC looks a shoe in for Vettel this year, the individual races are still very exciting. Quite the opposite of last year, where most races were quite dull, but the WDC was very exciting lol. I just hope they let the guys race to give us that excitement instead of cringing for an incoming penalty every time a driver decides to make a move.

  5. Pietro says:

    I think hamilton was twice overenthousiastic and both his accidents with massa and maldonado are his faullt

    • d2bl says:

      but if you look at the replays again its clear that both massa and maldonado turned in earlier in an effort to cut hamilton off; massa must have heard of the di resta penalty earlier, and maldonado about hamilton’s penalty and both thought that they could get away with it

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