Carlos Sainz Jnr, Renault, Albert Park, 2018

Analysis: Did Melbourne show passing is much harder in 2018?

2018 F1 season

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Overtaking got a lot harder in F1 in 2017. And judging by the comments of several drivers after last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, it’s got worse over the off-season.

With little change in the aerodynamic regulations, cars are now even more sensitive to running in turbulence. “You already feel some losses when you are three seconds away,” said Valtteri Bottas.

Alexander Rossi, Robert Wickens, IndyCar, St Petersburg, 2018
Is it fair to compare F1 with IndyCar?
Just 15 overtaking moves were recorded throughout the field by Mercedes in Melbourne last week. As many pointed out, IndyCar trumpeted 366 overtaking moves in its season-opening race on the streets of St Petersburg.

Formula One Management intends to address the problem but, according to Ross Brawn, is unlikely to implement a solution before 2021. Does it need to act more urgently? How much worse has F1’s passing problem got in 2018?

The picture isn’t as bleak as it may seem at first glance. Not least because the widely-quoted IndyCar statistic was calculated using a different methodology to the F1 data, and therefore included many passes which would not have counted towards F1’s figure.

More to the point, F1 tends to see fewer passes at Melbourne than other circuits. It was the case last year and many expect it to be so again.

Last year only one venue saw fewer passes than Melbourne: unsurprisingly, it was Monaco. And there was slightly more overtaking in the first race of 2018 than there was 12 months ago:

This may well be partly down to circumstance: Bottas started well down the order in a quicker car which which was always going to gain places. Arguably he should have picked up even more.

But many believe the difficultly of passing at Melbourne was largely circuit-specific.

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“Melbourne is really tough,” said Pierre Gasly. “You have like the start, lap one [to overtake] because it’s a mess. And then after that when everyone is settled, especially in Melbourne. I’m not ever sure if there was one overtake in the race.”

Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso, Albert Park, 2018
Gasly was one of several who found passing difficult
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes the importance of track position was “accentuated” in Melbourne and is optimistic the situation will improve. “In Bahrain you can overtake, in China you can overtake,” he said.

There’s no denying overtaking has become more difficult since the current aerodynamic regulations came in last year: the stark 47% drop in passes year-on-year from 2016 to 2017 makes that point indisputable. But it remains to be seen if that picture is significantly different this year.

Nor is it necessarily the case that aerodynamics are entirely to blame. Lewis Hamilton, who described his futile attempts to pass Sebastian Vettel in vivid terms, was one of several drivers who found they couldn’t run close to rivals for long because of rising power unit temperatures.

Melbourne has always been a tough track to pass on. The power unit temperature problems reported by Mercedes and Williams suggest the Mercedes-engined cars may have run too marginal on cooling in a race which saw slightly warmer temperatures than expected.

The next few races should give us a clearer picture of whether it’s become significantly more difficult to pass this year. And, as always, passing is just one element which can contribute to exciting races. The apparent closeness of the top three teams in race trim increases the chance we have an exciting championship to look forward to.

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2018 F1 season

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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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58 comments on “Analysis: Did Melbourne show passing is much harder in 2018?”

  1. Too early to jump to definite conclusions based on just one race. The next two races will be more representative and indicative of the rest of the season as BIC and SIC are more overtaking and close racing-friendly than Albert Park.

    1. +1 @jerejj – came here to say the same thing, that we need to see 3-4 races to be able to state with confidence if: a) overtaking is harder b) more importantly, if the field is closer to give good racing, irrespective of overtaking moves

      1. The drivers are saying it is, I’m not sure what more info you need. There’s a certain level of arrogance there to sit and say:

        “Well these guys with first hand experience of driving the cars this year and last year are saying it’s harder to overtake but no one will know for certain till I personally have watched a few more races so I can decide.”

        1. Did you see the number of overtakes in australia 2018 was higher than australia 2017? How is that harder? If anything, the field is closer, that’s what could make them harder, but doesn’t look like an objective argument seeing as overtakes increased since 2017 so far.

          1. @esploratore @phylyp @jerejj
            If the drivers say it’s harder, we should probably listen to them.

            Most of the overtakes this year were because of the VER spin, the Sainz off and Bottas starting so far back.

          2. I feel like your post sums up a lot about what is wrong with society today. People jumping to conclusions based on data they just do not have the intellect to reason about.

            Did you see the number of overtakes in australia 2018 was higher than australia 2017? How is that harder?

            Let me put this very simply for you. The amount of overtakes in a race is dependent on more than just how difficult it is to overtake. Given this fact I am sure you can answer for yourself how having more overtakes this year does not mean it is easier to overtake, and to draw that conclusion based on that fact alone is naive at best.

          3. I don’t know, I don’t recall seeing a lot of overtakes last year’s australian gp either, in fact I remember a hamilton being unable to pass a verstappen on a red bull back then 1 sec off the pace, as in the track plays its part, I don’t think we can say for sure it’s harder to overtake, I’m not saying it wasn’t, I watched the race, you needed like 1,5 sec margin on who was ahead of you to overtake, I’m saying it was hard already last year.

        2. a) The quality and enjoyment of a race is only very loosely related to the number of overtakes.
          b) Drivers often sell a team line to favour their team and its narrative, so I don’t blindly take what they (or team principals) say at face value.

          For instance, Hamilton attempting to chase after Vettel, and Ricciardo’s race were entertaining to watch, even if in terms of sheer numbers it was Bottas who had the most overtakes.

          1. This may seem a bit naive, but given that all F1 teams optimise their design for performance in clean air and thereby severely compromise performance when in traffic and dirty air?
            Would it be worthwhile for a mid field team to try and optimise performance in dirty air? Obviously, this would compromise their performance in clean air, in FP 1, 2 & 3 + qualifying, but it may mean they could pass more effectively in races and gain positions, pts and possibly extra TV exposure meaning they may be noticed more by sponsors and companies considering sponsorship?

          2. @phylyp

            I haven’t seen a single driver claiming that overtaking is easier and many have commented about the difficulty including the RB drivers even though RB is the main driving force behind the high downforce rules we’re living with right now.

            Ross and company have acknowledged it’s a problem they’re trying to fix…by 2021. So I don’t think there’s really a question of whether or not it’s an issue. The question is how aggressively can they fix it without breaking anything by moving too fast.

            As for Paul’s suggestion…I’ve wondered the same thing. I don’t know how you’d go about tuning for running in dirty air, but it seems a waste of time to tune for front running in clean air if you’re Force India or Sauber :)

    2. I’m with you.

  2. The cars and engine rules are a total disaster this year. We might have three teams close enough to fight for the championship but I’m expecting the vast majority of races to be boring.
    To top it all off, now they are talking about changing the lovely Albert Park Circuit to aid overtaking. The circuit was never the problem in the past as there have been many exciting races here, it’s the cars.

    1. Blame RB and Mercedes. Horner “convinced” fia to put more downforce and wider cars, and Mercedes created this PU regs and was able to keep it going even though Bernie wanted to bin it after 2 years, but it’s going to go until 2021, 8 seasons.

      1. @peartree Until 2020 actually, so 7 seasons to be precise, but regardless, Mercedes didn’t ‘create’ the current PU regs.

          1. @peartree All the engine manufacturers had precisely the same amount of time to prepare for the introduction of the current V6 turbos. The others seemingly just didn’t put as much effort into them as Mercedes did even though they had the time as well.

          2. @jerejj Do I have to tell you the whole story? The negotiations, the lobbying, who wanted what, who voted for what, what were the alliances. It’s not like Brawn hasn’t disclosed this, read his book.

          3. @peartree The funny thing is that I actually have a copy of his book myself (since December 2016), but I’ve still yet to read it, LOL. I’ll start reading it when I feel the time is right for it as reading any biography-type book requires quite a bit time to get through.

    2. Guybrush Threepwood
      1st April 2018, 21:46

      I’ve been attending the Melbourne race weekend for the last 10 years and even I will admit that it is a petty crappy circuit layout. It’s basically a series of 90 degree corners with a few bend thrown in. Everything beyond that is great though.

      I think they should increase(?) the radius of either T1 or T6 so the cars can go flat through there and get more of a slip stream. If not flat then at lest not quite as slowly. I’m not sure if the track positioning and run off areas allow for this.

      It’s also not just the F1’s that have issues overtaking at Albert Park. Every category I’ve watched has always had issues at that track. The V8 Supercars are about as low downforce as you get around there and they’ve always had difficulties overtaking.

      Essentially it comes down to the length of the straight. I bet if Keith did an investigation he would find overtaking is directly related to 1) the speed at which a straight is entered, and 2) the length of a circuit’s longest straight.

  3. Invisiblekid
    1st April 2018, 13:24

    IF it really is harder to overtake, then this year we have cars that are worse at following a car in front, so more power required to over take but only three engines. Sigh, so now more than ever we have a team and driver debating on whether to overtake (if thats even possible) or subject one of their three engines to more stress. Yeah F1 is rocking.

    1. As I commented immediately after the Albert Park
      fiasco, the situation regarding following/closing/overtaking
      in F1 has now reached critical mass. If Liberty are
      as switched on as they seemed to indicate before their
      takeover, they simply don’t have three years to get
      their act together on this utterly vital area.
      If there are not clear signs in this coming year that
      they have some very far-reaching changes to the
      formula of Formula 1 which will radically change the
      set-up we now have in aero design and application than
      Liberty could very easily find itself with an unsaleable
      shambles on it’s hands as the fans use their brains, their
      cash and their feet to look elsewhere for motorsport

      People do not want to watch race-long processions of the
      worlds most expensive racing machinery. It’s as cruel and
      simple as that.

      1. Loen (@loen)
        Totally agree with your comments. The problem for Liberty though is, can they actually change anything substantial between now and 2021. I suspect if aero changes are to be done, will they not need unanimous support from the teams? I can’t see Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes, agreeing as they have too much to loose. Also, we have to be careful what we wish for. Ross Brawn is on record as saying he does not want changes rushed through without been fully aware of the consequences (qualifying format changes 2 season ago for example). As fans we might have to put up with the present situation until all the research is done, and Ross Brawn and his team come up with viable aero formula that actually allows the best cars and driver to race.

        1. @bonbonjai

          Couldn’t agree more with all your response to my
          own comment. Aero and associated design are what
          make F1 cars as fast as they are and also exceptionally
          stable at high speed. The sheer scale of what would
          need to be achieved by all the manufacturers is simply
          staggering. But the thorn bush has to be grasped by
          someone, and Ross Brawn is the only man big enough
          in every sense to carry out that ugly task.
          None of us must ever forget that we are dealing with
          nothing less than the absolute pinnacle or high-speed
          engineering by the top motor manufacturers. These
          guys do not play games with the futures of their
          powerful automotive companies. They will seek
          answers for the least cost and the least forced modification.

          But they also know they are faced with a fundamental
          issue that will not simply go away on it’s own. F1 cars
          MUST become capable of closing onto the tail of a
          rival car, of staying there, and of passing when
          opportunities occur to do so. At the present time,
          no F1 manufacturer has come even close to resolving
          this crippling situation. If even the abilities of brains like
          Newey and other brilliant F1 engineers like him can’t crack
          this fundamental problem then we are, sadly, in for a
          very long haul.

  4. It must be noted that those 366 overtakes in the Indycar race include passes on backmarkers. The actual number of overtakes was something like 80 or 90 I believe, which is about the same as we had in the more exciting races during the Pirelli era.

    Historically, Albert Park has never been that bad for overtaking, it’s just that the overtaking figures weren’t inflated very much during the Pirelli era. A combination of short straights (and therefore inefficient DRS) and low tyre wear has made this track one of the worst tracks for overtaking, especially since 2015. This year, the softer tyre compounds were supposed to create more strategic possibilities, but tyre wear seemed even lower than last year, which led to a very static race.

    By the way, which were the 15 overtaking moves? I can only remember Ricciardo passing Hülkenberg and Bottas overtaking a few cars, but that’s about it.

    1. I read your name as F1 in Fuge, now I wish it was, sorry

    2. i am afraid the passing of Sainz by Alonso ( caused by a off track excirsion by Sainz) and the passing of the spinned Verstapen are counting heavy in this calculation.

      1. Indeed, I guess they are.

        1. Also Bottas starting so far back in the order with a far superior car. His passes also inflated the numbers and he spent the whole race making them when in the past he could have done that in 3 laps.

          1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
            2nd April 2018, 12:01

            This is an interesting point. Williams in 2014 may have been pretty strong, but not the strongest. Bottas started 14th and finished 2nd. Now he’s in the best car (at this track anyway), after starting 15th, he finished 8th. But likely would have been 10th if not for the 2 Hass retiring. |I don’t think it is Bottas’s driving skills that has stopped him getting a better result.

          2. @thegianthogweed

            I totally agree. I don’t think this was Bottas’ fault. I think this is almost totally down to the “force field” of dirty air surrounding cars. I’ve seen simulations showing that they can lose as much as 30% of their front wing downforce in dirty air. Imagine trying to make a pass in that situation.

    3. Even though the actual Indycar overtake figure is considerably lower than the headline would lead you to believe, there were still a lot of overtakes for a tight concrete lined street circuit. If Liberty want to reposition F1 as entertainment first, sport second and ask me to pay for it it had better be a damn sight more entertaining than the competition. Which it currently isn’t.

    4. @f1infigures

      I have found the lap by lap chart for the Indycar race at St. Petersburg which shows which laps are under yellow and which laps each driver went into the pits.

      From that you can see, not hundreds, but at least scores of meaningful passes for position.

      1. @mrmuffins

        Not to mention it was a tight street course with little room for passing in many places. Dozens of meaningful passes was extraordinary.

      2. @mrmuffins
        Thank you! I saw the race yesterday. I thought it was pretty much like Formula 1 a couple of years ago. The cars could follow each other closely and there were many different strategies. I think the safety car uncertainty really made this race interesting. Tyre degradation was high as well and the two compounds were quite evenly matched (the soft tyre was better after the restart, but the tyre was the better tyre in the long run), which made it hard to predict who would benefit from the pitstops. Overall, the race was much more action-packed than modern Formula 1 races, which is clearly visible from the lap charts as well.

  5. I think Lewis was one of the first to point out, if you increase downforce how does that make for better racing

    1. @alebelly The amount of downforce isn’t the problem, though, but how it’s generated. All that really needs to be done to make following another car closely easier is to shift from a predominantly wing-dominant downforce (and or simplify the wings) to a less clean air-dependent method of producing the DF.

  6. Invisiblekid
    1st April 2018, 13:52

    Inc pit lane overtakes possibly? OK so there was one pit lane overtake that was quite important to the race, but it doesn’t count in my book.

    I’m on here it was mentioned I think 5 overtakes on track? Ether way it was a poor showing on an admittedly poor overtaking track

  7. Neil (@neilosjames)
    1st April 2018, 14:13

    Are Mercedes counting stuff like cars passing Verstappen when he spun, and Sainz when he ran off, or counting first-lap position changes, and counting the Alonso/Verstappen safety car line mixup as two overtakes?

    Unless the producers were several steps below useless, there’s no way there were 15 normal overtakes in that race.

    1. @neilosjames, given that the producers tend to prioritise the front runners over the midfield pack or the back markers – after all, most fans mainly seem to focus their attention at the top half of the field, if that – there have been times when passing moves occurring further down the field have been missed if the cameramen were focussing on a scrap occurring at the same time further up the field.

    2. @neilosjames, of course they are counted as well as “passes” on slowing Ericsson or Gasly on the track. Every change of position that happened on the track. If, for example, Vettel and Hamilton tangled on the restart and fell to the back but continued, we would have 30 overtakes counted on that lap.

  8. Cooling problems are easily solved but teams chose to run marginal apertures which appear to have affected following distance and consequently overtakes. That’s the teams fault, not DRS, Pirelli, the track or drivers.

    1. @blik
      The apertures and cooling problems are not the cause, they are an effect. The cooling problems happens because they can never overtake and instead spend dozens of laps right behind a car in dirty air and never actually make a pass in most cases.

      1. Exactly, so the teams that overheated when following made a mistake. They never allowed for enough cooling when in the wake of another car. They can fix that and would have done so with hindsight.

  9. 366 overtakes in Indy? Was that race on an oval track? No disrespect to Indy but its not my thing- tried very hard a few times over many years to grab an interest but couldn’t. Best of luck to them though- I hope the fans enjoy it!

    To say we need to change the Albert Park track to get more overtakes is just a little silly isn’t it?? (but as per my last post it is possible). Yes we do get few overtakes in Albert Park but we get fewer in Monaco – so we need to change that circuit as well………….. oops, no we cant!

    The answer is so simple but we cant get that until 2021- less hope Ross Brawn brings home the bacon and lessens the aero part of F1 (and they FIA actually implement his recommendations as Liberty don’t make the rules) . Problem is F1 has out smarted itself- its so determined to be the best of everything its made the racing a little boring at times. We F1F’s love it, no matter what, but a casual race fan doesn’t care if an twin turbo V6 1.6 litre is the most efficient engine ever, they want to see fast cars racing hard, overtaking and occasionally crashing.

    Fix the cars and you will fix F1- overtaking certainly isn’t everything- far from it really- a well prepared, positioned and executed overtake is worth more than 1000 under the DRS! But currently we cant get that.

    1. @garns, as mentioned in the opening paragraphs, Indycar have taken quite a few liberties in the way they define an overtake and include a lot of moves that wouldn’t count as an overtake in F1 (or, for that matter, in most other motorsport series). I believe that, for example, Indycar classed gaining a position if another driver had crashed out or broken down as an “overtake”, whereas in F1 that would not be classed as an overtake.

  10. Vettel fan 17 (@)
    1st April 2018, 18:32

    I think the three engines rule is playing a part in the less overtaking.

  11. While we should wait for another couple of races to judge properly overtaking….the early sign is not good…..We were told a few seasons back that they were working on this issue, so drivers can follow close behind another car, and take advantage….now we look to be in a situation where (possibly) the extra downforce now generated, this is even harder than ever….so barring a VSC or mishap, we may end up with qualifying deciding the results….
    When Nigel Mansell was in a 2nd place, he gave it his all to get past, right to the flag….he didn’t drop back to save the engine….guess which one of those keeps us entertained and watching F1.
    We have the halo which no one likes….we have 3 engines for a whole season…some tracks we fuel get grid penalties for sneezing… just gets worse

  12. Among those 15 overtakes was every position change that happened on the track, including passing slowing Ericsson or Gasly when they were suffering mechanical problems. There were 5 legitimate overtaking manouvres: Bottas passing Stroll, Ocon and Vandoorne, Leclerc passing Stroll and Ricciardo passing Hulkenberg. The same algorithm was used at every 2017 race, so for example they counted about 10-15 overtakes on Vettel in Japan. The number of real overtakes was clearly lower.

    1. And verstappen passing hulkenberg after restart? That’s just what I remember ofc, there must be more, the graph says 24 even, not 15!

  13. And, as always, passing is just one element which can contribute to exciting races.

    True but with no passing, there is no excitement at all, surely. Formula 1’s wider appeal problem is undoubtedly the lack of overtaking.

    Two immediate solutions spring to mind: Pirelli chooses tyres better, making sure at least 3 sets are needed at all races and that these sets are significantly different, meaning that the pace difference allows enough to make a pass even with the current aero. The other solution – not in the least likely to be introduced – would be to ban all computer fuel and tyre simulations, delta times, etc. and any other tactical input to drivers during races. Let them work it all out. No they won’t be able to very well. So they’ll make big mistakes with fuel, brake, engine and tyre wear, etc, and ensure more passes become possible.

  14. Nice article.

  15. The circuits are the same, the cars are getting faster, the laptimes keep falling every year. It means that the passing window keeps getting smaller and smaller. The time needed for the cars to get closer to the cars in front is getting tighter, let alone passing.

  16. These data are coming out of nowhere! 14 overtakes in 2017? 18 in 2018?
    The real figures are the following:
    AUS 2017: 2 overtakes (Stroll on Ericsson, Perez on Sainz).
    AUS 2018: 5 overtakes (Bottas on Ocon, Perez and Vandoorne – Ricciardo on Hulkemberg – Lecrerc on Stroll).

    Overtakes cannot be counted easily by a computer, there are too many distortions. Usually, overtakes are counted by watching the race + onboards + charts.
    The passes that occur on the first lap or thanks to pit stops, driver’s error and car issues should not be counted.

    RaceFans, you shouldn’t count on these figures because they are misleading.

    1. The real “real” figures are the following:
      AUS 2018: 6 overtakes (Bottas on Ocon, Perez and Vandoorne – Ricciardo on Hulkenberg – Verstappen on Hulkenberg – Lecrerc on Stroll).
      For some reason Verstappen his pass on Hulkenberg is completely overlooked, but Hulkenberg is the only driver who has been passed twice on a track where overtaking is near impossible. Perhaps shedding some light on the reason why Hulk has never been on a podium in F1.

      1. Verstappen was almost overtaken by Hülkenberg, but Hülkenberg coouldn’t complete the move, so it wasn’t counted.

  17. Most comments are too soft on this issue. F1 must change quickly or it will die a silent death. I like the cars and the technical methods used to bring up the performance they have. But as a race it is boring to watch. It has become a sport for people who have nothing else to do on a Sunday..

  18. AntonioCorleone
    2nd April 2018, 21:49

    What the hell is wrong with all these people talking about no overtaking, and how should make something better, and how this isn’t good, and this and that… Personally I always find something interesting in a race and I don’t brag. For example in Australia Vettel won and it wasn’t fair that the VSC rules are like they are and how unfair was for Hamilton who was much faster lost the win etc… If there was no VSC and Hamilton won the race, then we come and say its going to be a boring season, Mercedes is dominant, we gonna stop watching… Always something ain’t gonna be right, like in life, so better accept it as it is and it gonna be easier on your brain. Dont complain, noone likes people who complain, 100%

  19. In my opinion rules should be in F1:
    Principles F1 should follow: 1. safety 2. close racing 3. world’s fastest cars 4. efficiency 5. optimizing 1-4 points.The most fans want to see close racing among the best drivers in the fastest cars. How can we solve it? This is, decision makers and engineers should work for. I think it isn’t impossible.
    Some possibilities we have to consider:
    1. Less differences between cars in lap times.
    Some teams are better in PU and others in aero but we need less differences in lap times. I think we should introduce +weight/point system in short term (for example +20dkg/point or ~+0,5 pound/point, less or more) because it is a simple, cheap, fast, effective solution to decrease dominance and differences and we don’t need unification or freeze development. Smaller teams get the same PU (hardware, software, etc) as manufacturers. Decrease money/revenue allocation differences and decrease costs. I think it would be ideal if cars are close to each other in lap times but some cars are faster in straight and others are faster in corners. The slower teams get more test days.
    2. Less dirty air and less sensitive cars for dirty air in corners but fast cars: more mechanical grip, less or same aero downforce, the sport needs make it easier for cars to follow each other closely during races
    A, simpler front wing and aero B, (more effective diffuser) C, better tyres D, more powerful and effective PUs (natural development) E, slight changes in technical regulation year by year (differences will naturally decrease) and more freedom in development until regulations allow F, DRS? (open DRS time/race and drivers manage it) G, refuelling? (Cars can be faster and drivers could push harder during races but there would be less safety and more ’overtaking during the pit stops’) H, narrow cars I, less weight
    3. Increasing the role of drivers: A, drivers make decisions on strategy B, less radio instructions from engineers to drivers during races (maybe only safety reasons) C, minimum weight for drivers (for example 80kg with ballast less or more) but no limit for cars D, push on the limit as long as possible, and save (fuel, tyres, PU etc.) as short as possible -> faster lap times during races E, It should be more challenging to drive physically and mentally F, drivers manage ERS instead of a program (like they used KERS earlier) G, so more challenge physically (drivers own strategy) and mentally (more G force until it is safety) as well for drivers.
    And what else…?
    Let’s see the advantages and disadvantages of +weight/point system in short term. (+20dkg/point, less or more. It means if a driver has 10 points he has to carry +2kg as a minimum weight for the car.)
    Advantages: 1. Less differences between cars in lap time and close racing. 2. Fast, cheap, simple, effective solution. 3. We don’t need unification or freeze development 4. Finally the best team wins.
    Disadvantages: 1. Unfair? I don’t think (or partly) because finally win the best and if you have the best team and car you have to work harder to remain the best.
    Or at least this +weight/points system should be tested in smaller categories.
    Optimizing them!
    Brawn is working to make overtakes easyer but I think F1 needs some (smaller) changes as soon as possible before 2021.

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