Mercedes explain why 2017’s first race had so little passing

2017 Australian Grand Prix

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The lack of overtaking in the first F1 race of 2017 was down to more than just stronger aerodynamics, according to Mercedes.

Formula One’s new technical regulations have been blamed by some, including Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, for making it more difficult to overtake this year.

However the world championship believe the new rules shouldn’t be judged on the first race alone and that some of the changes this year could aid overtaking.

“The Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit has never been great for overtaking,” noted Mercedes in their Chinese Grand Prix preview.

“If you go back to the last Australian Grand Prix run under a stable set of regulations, without any major incidents or too many cars starting out of position, you will find precious few passing manoeuvres to note. 2015 featured 13 overtakes – 10 of which were completed using DRS. 2014 was a similar story, with 24 total overtakes – eight with the help of DRS.”

Data source: Mercedes

Increased turbulence from the larger wings being used this year has been blamed by many for the lack of passing at Melbourne. But Mercedes believe “secondary factors” also played a role.

“There simply wasn’t enough degradation from the new 2017 Pirelli rubber to promote overtaking. Performance differentials become greater when tyres begin dropping off at different rates and this didn’t happen at Albert Park.”

While the amount of passing seen at Albert Park was “low by any measure” it “would not be right to take the season-opener as a definitive example for the rest of the campaign”, Mercedes believe.

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“From what we have observed so far, there are factors that will actually make overtaking easier this year.”

“The magnitude of the tow effect is stronger in 2017 thanks to the revised regulations. Bigger cars equal greater wake. When the cars are charging down the straights, there will be an accentuated difference in speed when they enter the overtaking zone.”

The FIA intends to evaluate whether changes should be made to the Drag Reduction System to aid overtaking following this weekend’s race. However Mercedes note that DRS has become more powerful on the new cars.

Vettel prowled but couldn’t pass
“Thanks in part to the larger rear wings the lap time benefit of DRS has increased over 30%. This again will promote overtaking – especially at tracks with long straights like China and Bahrain.”

“Furthermore, there’s one key learning from Melbourne that has largely been overlooked. Sebastian Vettel was able to stick with Lewis throughout the first stint. Had he spent 16 laps tucked up behind the gearbox of another competitor in previous years, he would have ruined his tyres. Attack, and the rubber would have gone off very quickly.”

“In this race, however, he was able to stay in the wake of Lewis’ car relatively comfortably and then push once he had clean air, ultimately taking the lead and the eventual win. That bodes well for closer pack racing this year.”

Although overtaking appears to have become more difficult, Mercedes argue it is now “the way it should be”.

“After complaints that DRS has made overtaking too easy in Formula One, we’ll now see overtaking as a real game of risk. Drivers are going to have to be brave on the brakes, look after the car and hold onto it.”

“If you’re going to overtake in this new era, you need to fight for it properly. That’s the way it should be. Perhaps it’s too early to write off F1 2017 just yet.”

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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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38 comments on “Mercedes explain why 2017’s first race had so little passing”

  1. It’s all a bit mixed really, isn’t it?

    See, I was in the positivity camp and was reminding people that Melbourne hasn’t been great for overtaking in some time, and that a huge positive is surely that Vettel kept behind Hamilton for some time during the race, which can only be a huge positive.

    But looking at that graph, it’s pretty alarming to see how much worse this year’s race was in comparison to yesteryear.

    I’m also a bit concerned to hear that DRS will infact be more effective this year. I heard from numerous sources that it would be weaker this year, and was very happy about it.

    Let’s hope we don’t see a bunch of highway passes in China.

    1. @ecwdanselby maybe we should have another graph showing the number of pitstops during the race, and another one with the number of cars taking part.

      Remember in 2012 we had 4 more cars than today, and 6 cars in the grid were a lot slower than the rest, so everyone behind had an easy go at them. And with the enormous variation in tyre performance, and so many pit stops back then, it’s normal to see such a big number of overtakes.

      1. That’s all very fair.

        I’m all about the quality of overtakes rather than the quantity, anyway. But at a glance, it did look a little worse than i’d anticipated.

        China really is the test, but even then, you could just have a ‘bad race’. I’d rather FIA held off til a few races more before modifying the DRS.

    2. Hans (@hanswesterbeek)
      3rd April 2017, 15:44

      If you find this graph alarming, I advice you to take some basic lessons in statistics and data visualisation.

      1. Hans (@hanswesterbeek)
        3rd April 2017, 15:45

        *advise (autocorrected).

      2. @hanswesterbeek I advise taking a basic lesson in how to conduct yourself publicly and to try to stop being so patronising.

        I took a look at the graph, and at a glance, it was surprising.

        Why is that such an issue to you?

        1. Hans (@hanswesterbeek)
          3rd April 2017, 16:49

          It’s not an issue.

      3. Instead, how about we look at the bottom line:

        AUS 2017 had fewer passes, by a statistically significant amount, than any year in the past 5 years.

        And a major percentage of those were DRS passes.

        If anything, 2016 should probably be considered an outlier.

      4. @hanswesterbeek I think it’s clear the graph shows a consistent trend towards fewer overtakes, and the numbers for 2013 and 2016 are merely anomalous blips caused by unique conditions (weak super-softs and the Alonso red-flag, respectively). Don’t know about you, but I find this alarming, and I’ve spent plenty of time analysing data, thanks.

        1. Hans (@hanswesterbeek)
          4th April 2017, 14:49

          I see what you mean. But I can’t spot a trend based on 6 data points. This is one of the problems in F1 currently- people see trends they want to see.
          And then there’s the question whether number of overtakes is a measurement that makes a meaningful contribution to the overall construct of “quality of F1”.
          What I am trying to say is that I don’t agree with this practice of interpreting a hand full of data points measured on one variable of which we don’t even know if and to what degree it contributes to a factor (e.g. entertainment quality) that may be a predictor of an overall evaluation of quality of the sport.

  2. As I understand it, the cars are carrying more speed into most corners than previously. In Melbourne there are precious few heavy braking zones to provide overtaking spots. Also looking at the qualifying gaps between team-mates in places it’s quite clear that these cars are going to take some time to get used to before we get dramatic dive bomb moves.

    When you compare this to China, where you have the heavy braking zone into the hairpin at the penultimate turn, I’m confident we’ll see more overtaking.

    Having said that, I still don’t understand why for some people ‘overtaking’ directly corresponds to ‘better race’. Personally I enjoyed the tactical battle between Mercedes and Ferrari in Australia and the fact that overtaking is more difficult is a massive plus for me. Clearly, nobody wants a procession, but I’d sooner have a faster car swarming the back of his competitor, creating tension than cruising by after a single DRS zone. There’s something to be enjoyed in every Grand Prix for me, whether there are 100 overtakes or none.

    1. @ben-n There is some optimum where overtaking is not too easy and not too hard. I think Hungary 2014 or Spain 2016, for example, were pretty good races because overtaking was hard, but not impossible (at least it didn’t feel that way). However, in Australia, due to the short straights, it was impossible to overtake even a car that was like 2 seconds per lap slower, so then all overtaking was via pitstops. Although I like strategy, I don’t think it’s a good thing that teams have to rely on pit strategies to gain positions.

      1. it was impossible to overtake even a car that was like 2 seconds per lap slower

        @f1infigures drivers have grown used to DRS, they would close in wait for DRS zone and overtake. Nowadays we don’t see them approaching corners to have different exits to the opponent in front, and put them under pressure, they have this bad habit and then complaint that is impossible to overtake. Surely if someone is 2s faster somewhere around a lap he would find a place to overtake or at least put pressure and make the other guy have a bad exit for the straights.

        If overtake is in fact harder, that’s a good thing, the fact that the car behind has a pace advantage of 10s doesn’t entitle it to the position, but unfortunately that is what DRS gave us, and if they drivers can’t get it they complain.

        I’m still optimist, and I think that if necessary Liberty will take the right measures, even if they take 2017 to study what they need to do.

        Patience my fellow fanatics, patience.

        1. Shaun Robinson (@)
          3rd April 2017, 13:30

          Yep! Whatever happened to the phrase ‘catching a someone is one thing, but overtaking them is completely different’. Drivers, teams and fans have gotten used to it being easy!

          1. @robinsonf1 But in the past that saying meant the driver in front could defend his position. Now though, that driver either doesn’t have to defend his position because the turbulent air does it for him, keeping the faster driver stuck 2 seconds behind. And on tracks with longer straights the driver ahead can’t defend his position at all thanks to DRS, and infact has become too dangerous to defend position in the braking zone like drivers did in the past (like Verstappen still does) because of the huge speed difference between the DRSing car and the defending car ahead.

            For me the driver racing has almost completely gone, the racing now is manufactured by aerodynamics and pit strategy.

  3. More aero, less tyre degradation and almost no cars that were out of position (there were no position changes in the top 5 for example, which is rather uncommon), those factors explain why there was almost no overtaking compared to previous years. The first two factors are structural, but the last one probably isn’t, so the next races will likely be better. Also, last year we had over 160 overtakes in China I believe, so only if next weekend’s race is disappointing, then we’re screwed.

    By the way, why isn’t 2011 included in the graph?

    1. @f1infigures My guess, Keith made the conscious decision to pick ‘this year’s race plus the last 5’. :)

  4. I think it’s fairly easy to overlook the fact that Vettel was able to stay close to Hamilton because his Ferrari had greater pace than the Mercedes, proven by the fact that once in 1st place Vettel was able to pull away. Not so sure that had the performance of the 2 cars been equal this could have happened

  5. What I saw during the Austrian GP, most of the drivers do not have the courage to overtake in the corner due to a wider car. 1 race isn’t enough to judge the number of overtaking for the whole season. The drivers have to get used to the wider cars.

  6. Mercedes need to tell their star man that, Hamilton has been very defeatist these last few years as far as overtaking is concerned.

    1. Only on the days when he’s had to try to pass someone. On those days ‘they had a cakewalk’ and on the days he’s lead for the win, ‘You don’t want to be my teammate’ is more the attitude.

    2. You are confusing defeatist with realist there’s a difference.

  7. Shaun Robinson (@)
    3rd April 2017, 13:24

    Don’t know about you guys, but I liked it. It’s pretty unheard of, at least in the last few years, that a car has been able to follow so closely to the guy in front and actually have tyres in BETTER condition than the guy in clean air. These drivers that are complaining may have just forgotten what racing in dirty air is like.

  8. I hate DRS. Because of it, we see a lot of overtaking, but no more battles.

    That said, with the aero regulations we currently have (and the difficulty for cars to get close to each other), maybe it would be a good idea not to increase the length of DRS, but increase the “1s gap and you can use it” to 1.5s for example.

    With that, if we reduce the length of DRS zones, maybe we could turn this “push and easily pass” gimmick into a “get close and fight” one.

    But I repeat: I hate DRS and wish we get rid of it as soon as possible.

    1. Amen to that.

  9. It’s worse than I had feared, we’re right back to the mid 00’s level of procession. This is going to be a dull year for wheel to wheel action unless we get a lot of rain :|

    1. So you’ve chosen to ignore completely the suggestion that it is too early to tell after only one race. How do you even know how the rain tires will affect the racing? This hope for rain that so many people carry is just a symptom of a bad product on the track.

      So far this year I am glad to see them finally back on real tires, glad that the drivers are working harder, glad that SV was able to follow LH closely, and glad that Brawn has talked of the sensible movement toward a proper mechanical to aero grip ratio and the eventual removal of DRS.

      They’re heading in the right direction and the only thing they need now is the time and patience under new management to evolve it, like F1 always has evolved. Let’s see some more races this season, then let’s see what they do with awful DRS as that is something easily tweeked and is a bandage anyway, and then let’s see Brawn affect better tweeks for 2018 and beyond that see the gradual removal of DRS.

      1. Yep, I saw enough to draw my conclusions :) I’ll be pleasantly surprised if things improve, but I’m fairly sure they wont.

        “They’re heading in the right direction”, So you’ve chosen to ignore completely the suggestion that it is too early to tell after only one race? ;)

        I think we’re going to be seeing more DRS under the new regs, not less, because the cars are more dependant on aero than before.

  10. Tommy Scragend
    3rd April 2017, 14:15

    “If you’re going to overtake in this new era, you need to fight for it properly. That’s the way it should be.”

    This should go out as a memo to all drivers.

  11. “Performance differentials become greater when tyres begin dropping off at different rates and this didn’t happen at Albert Park.”

    So why did you pit HAM so early then?

    1. Yes, that is a good question. Right from the Parade Lap Hamilton had been complaining about the level of grip his car had. I guess he thought if he pitted and got new tyres then it wouldn’t be difficult to get the lead back. Would Mercedes have pitted Hamilton with the benefit of hindsight? When you look at the radio transcript on lap 9 Hamilton says “28.0 is not possible” (“1 minute 28.0 is not possible”?), yet the time on his final lap was 1:28.1, while Vettel’s lap time was 1:28.7, so achieving 1:28.0 wasn’t necessary for first place. I can’t help but think a lap time of 1:28.0 was more for glory than necessity.
      Looking at the lap chart I do wonder if Valtteri Bottas might have won or finished second had they played his cards a bit differently. Again, one has to wonder why Mercedes didn’t see the way things were panning out, they pitted him, let Raikkonen in front, and a few laps later Vettel was in front and stayed there to the end of the race.
      The big lesson from Melbourne is if you end up in front then you should try and stay there.

  12. using 2015 australian GP as a measuring stick is proof that Mercedes does not want to leave this f1 era. Sure Melbourne is not great for overtaking, but it’s been great not only for spectacle but also close racing, this race was not terrible, 2015 was worse, 2014 was okay but it was as 2016 marked by big gaps that are natural to regulation changes and normal for their respective seasons.

  13. It seemed to me that in the article the key to passing in previous years was based on tire/tyre degradation. So if the tires last longer there will be less passing? In the event that the mandatory tire change rule goes away that could mean even less passing due to tires lasting a very long time in the race…………. Thanks, RacerNorriski

  14. The total number of overtakes start is useless. It need to be total number of racing overtake for position.

    Most of the overtakes previously were cars on different strategies who weren’t racing each other or overtakes due to pit stops. What we need to know are genuine on track overtakes.

  15. not entirly relevent to this post – but this was the nearest one on overtaking i could find. who else agrees with me that this statement fron the F1 website is correct?

    “Drivers are going to have to be brave on the brakes, look after the car and hold onto it. If you’re going to overtake in this new era, you need to fight for it properly. That’s the way it should be.”

    back in the day we didnt compalin that overtaking was hard becuse it kept the excitement level up, well im ok with that even if it does come from the mid feild rather than the front – a battle for midfeild points is always more interesting anyway (well nearly :) )

  16. There is hope yet for close-quarters racing in a season where regulation changes ensure a hectic pace on the development front. The durability of the tyres should not be a hindrance, but Merc will know their “dirty air” woes still seem greater than those of their rivals. I hope some Newey magic and a step forward by Renault are in the offing to bring Red Bull right into the mix. Game on!

  17. Wide cars with more complex engines, more down force and more weight. Half of them barely finished let alone kept up with the front.
    Doesn’t take a genius to see why…

  18. Mildertduck
    6th April 2017, 7:52

    If you watched the BTCC this weekend, you will have seen lots of overtakes, some of which were quite physical, including cars nudging others to make them unstable and drift wide, allowing the inside line to become available.

    There was a fantastic overtake in the Australian GP, which was Perez overtaking Sainz. Perez pushed close to Sainz, forced him to take a tighter than normal line into the corner, and pushed across the front of him so he had to brake harder and get out of it to avoid a crash. Proper attacking driving, which we need to see more of.

    Perhaps the F1 drivers need to watch the tape of the BTCC drivers passing into Clearways…

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