More passes, less competition? The impact of F1’s rules revolution so far

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Formula 1 underwent one of the biggest technical revolutions it has ever seen at the start of the 2022 season, with the focus entirely on improving racing by making cars easier to follow than ever before.

Many critics were sceptical we would see much change in the on-track action. After being banned in the 1980s, ground effect cars were back in F1, with the sport’s bosses keen to see closer wheel-to-wheel racing. Yet as the sport enjoys some summer respite but the return to racing looms on the horizon, have the change in regulations achieved their targets so far?

Max Verstappen and Red Bull ended the first leg of the championship on a high and, with it, grabbed an 80-point lead over Ferrari and Charles Leclerc in the standings. Such is his lead, the Dutchman can now finish second to Leclerc at every race, including the final sprint race of the season in Brazil – albeit with some technicalities – and still win the title for the second season in a row.

Yet despite one driver holding a hefty lead on paper, it’s fair to say we’ve seen some exciting races across the season so far – a sign that perhaps the new changes have indeed been working. Even Lewis Hamilton hailed the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, which saw six more overtakes in 2022 than the previous year, as “reminiscent of the karting days.”

This year’s Austrian GP had more passes than ever
The aerodynamic changes also saw a new front-wing shape, as well as alterations to the rear, with 13-inch tyres scrapped in favour of bigger 18-inches – all designed to make cars race closer and, in theory, easier to follow. However, some tracks are proving easier than others, which is unsurprising due to the nature of the sport.

So far in 2022 – across 13 grands prix and two sprint races – we have seen roughly 450 on-track overtakes after the opening lap where the pass resulted in a position change at the end of the lap. The Austrian Grand Prix saw 53 overtakes in 2022 over the 71 laps, which was more than the combined total of both races at the Red Bull Ring in 2021, which was roughly 50 – 23 for the Styrian Grand Prix and 27 at the Austrian Grand Prix. To go back further to the 2020 season, there were 22 passes during the Austrian Grand Prix, then 45 overtakes at the Styrian Grand Prix a week later. Yet the impact of the new technical regulations has still divided the paddock.

“The new rules? Yeah, I think they seem to be working,” came the assessment of Haas team principal Guenther Steiner ahead of the race weekend in Budapest.

“It is obviously a car in the wake of another one – there will always be a wake, we cannot get that one away – but it’s better than the old car, so therefore the drivers say ‘we can get closer’.

“We’ve definitely seen… I don’t know how many overtaking manoeuvres there are, but there seems to me there’s more overtaking going on. So I think they’re on the right step.”

Steiner’s view was reinforced later that weekend during an eventful Hungarian Grand Prix. In 2018, the same race had produced just 19 overtakes, with 31 the year after. In 2020, we saw 28 compared with 2021 – a wet-dry race – which produced just 16. Fast forward to the final race before the summer break in 2022 and the new regulations produced a striking 52 overtakes at the Hungaroring – a huge jump around a track considered one of the tightest and most technical on the calendar.

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The drivers themselves have also been largely positive in their feedback. Speaking on the new regulations at the French Grand Prix, Leclerc said there had been a trade-off. “I think these cars are much better to follow for high-speed corners especially,” he explained, “but for the low speed it is not that different.”

After climbing his way from tenth on the grid in Hungary to ultimately win the race, Verstappen agreed with his rival Leclerc’s assessment.

“It was a bit better to follow but still very hard to pass,” said the championship leader. “I think you definitely needed a bit of tyre advantage or like people struggling on tyres or choosing the wrong tyre.

“I think all of that played a role in the opportunities of overtaking compared to, let’s say, if it would have been a sunny day. And I think then it would still be quite a bit of a struggle to pass.”

(L to R): Max Verstappen, Red Bull; Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Hungaroring, 2022
DRS remains a major factor in overtakes
But despite the apparent increase in the frequency of cars passing each other, Formula 1 still runs into the issue of relying heavily on the Drag Reduction System to overtake, despite the technical regulations meaning cars generate much more downforce from the floor and underbody, rather of being hampered by dirty air over the body when following another car.

Verstappen admitted that F1 needs to do more to tackle the issues of overtaking when his DRS failed at the Spanish Grand Prix and he was stuck behind the slower Mercedes of George Russell, unable to pass.

“Well, if it’s not [on the car] anymore then we are just driving in a train,” Verstappen concluded. “I think I demonstrated that it’s really frustrating, so you need DRS at the moment with the cars.

“I do think the drag is a little bit less, you don’t have that slipstream effect like last year for example. And then you still need a DRS to be able to have a go into turn one.”

Speaking in Montreal ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel shared a similar sentiment. “Obviously, the cars have less drag, which means we have to follow closer as well otherwise we won’t make the overtaking,” he said.

“We still rely on DRS. Ideally, we find a set of regulations where we’re not relying on any assistance to overtake, but let’s not forget where we are coming from.”

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But Hungary gave fans and statisticians alike another insight into the cars and how the new regulations are evolving. The porpoising and bouncing, which had plagued teams like Mercedes, seem to have been dramatically reduced in recent rounds and Hamilton and Russell have made a string of consecutive podiums.

(L to R): Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes; Max Verstappen, Red Bull; George Russell, Mercedes; Adrian Newey, Red Bull Chief Technical Officer, Hungaroring, 2022
Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes dominate the podium
Mercedes’ resurgence has only highlighted what drivers such as Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly have pointed out as being arguably a more important issue – the lack of competition at the front with midfield teams virtually never able to break through onto the podium. Even Hamilton had to accept that the gap between those at the front and the rest of the pack had widened this season.

“The rule change I think has been positive in many ways,” Hamilton said. “However, it’s not necessarily really changed the order as such.

“If you look, there’s always been two teams most likely at the front and there’s been that middle-pack gap and even coming into these new rules, regulations, you’ve pretty much seen that same thing. So I’m hoping that the rules progress and improve and the teams can all be a little bit closer.”

Wheel-to-wheel racing is set to resume when racing gets back underway next weekend for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. If the current patterns are anything to go by, the only way is up for on-track action in Formula 1.

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Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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45 comments on “More passes, less competition? The impact of F1’s rules revolution so far”

  1. F1 is back. Things are vastly improved. DRS is still a disaster and even if the only fluke of the season was sainz jr winning, I’d say there is more competition.
    Hopefully the new rules won’t ruin f1.

    1. It’s boring at the front though. RB and Ferrari are miles ahead of anyone else and the title race is non-existent. It’s a one horse race.

      1. While there has been some good racing from 3rd/4th back, I have to agree the championship’s ended as a one horse race given their advantage.

        1. But that is hardly a result of the regulation change. It is purely an effect of poor Ferrari team performance

      2. I am happy it is two teams at the front instead of just one for 7 years. I can not imagine how the rule change could make things worse after a decade of borefest Mercedes domination. The only way was always going to be up for F1, unless you only want Lewis to win everything of course.

        1. I enjoyed 2017 and 2018 more than this year—more of a closer title battle

          1. @amam Until post-Monza & pre-summer break races, respectively.

          2. (@jerejj) See my response below

        2. To be fair.. in 2017, 2018 and most of 2019, Mercedes weren’t miles ahead of the rest.
          In 2017, it was pretty even in terms of performance between Ferrari and Mercedes, up until the last 6 or 7 races.
          In 2018, I honestly thought that Ferrari had the better car, or at the very least, an evenly matched car to Mercedes in terms of performance. Heck, Kimi was winning races at the end of the season. Vettel dropped the ball massively that season.
          2019, Ferrari were genuinely quick for the first half of the season. Which was visible in his pole tally. They just didn’t develop the car well enough and capitalise on opportunities.

          It was Ferrari just being rubbish as usual. We could have had a championship battle for 3 of those 7 seasons if it wasn’t for Vettel and Ferrari.

          I reckon, that if we stuck with the same regulations, we would have had a closer championship battle in 2022 between the top 3 teams. From what I’ve noticed so far, massive regulation changes don’t shuffle the pecking order much. Generally, one team gets it right and the gaps between all the teams are larger. It takes them a while to get the most out of the regulations and develop their car in a similar manner to rivals, and then the racing gets closer. So, I wasn’t a fan of this regulation change from a championship battle point of view… but yes, cars are able to follow each other closely, so maybe that has improved the quality of races slightly.

      3. @amam generally it is a one horse or 1.5 horse race.

      4. Gavin Campbell
        19th August 2022, 21:37

        But this is historically the case in a rule change – it’s actually unusual that the last two have had the World Champion team coming out on top.

        Normally the second season of large rule changes is the better season to make a judgement. Especially in the budget cap era teams will have baked in deficiencies that they can “bake out” next year. But it’s not worth the spend to fix this year.

        What the FIA/Liberty have to do is keep their fingers out of the pie for a while (which they already seem incapable of doing).

      5. indeed. This season might go in F1 history as the most boring, and that has nothing to do with the drivers. Once Pirelli wanted those small walled tyres, I knew it would be a disaster. There is no real ‘ground’ effect’, there’s only hurt (physical) to the drivers. Maybe young spines can keep up with this for a few years (even Max) – they will damage them beyond repair.

    2. It’s still one anda half teams at the front. The gap to the first driver is just as enormous as any other dominant car/driver year too. There is nothing to watch at the front. Ferrari trips over themselfs and Max cruises to the wins. If it werent for the midfield shennanigans it would be for a boring season.

  2. A drastic rule change has almost always meant a year of “less competition” because one team got it more right than the other teams. The fact that this season has shown multiple concept to be competitive is a good sign. And next season will definitely see the field closer together again.

    It’s not like the engine formula introduction along with a development restrictions (remember the dumb points system) that basically locked us into 7 years of Mercedes dominance. This time, I don’t expect anyone to have a one second gap on the competition. They don’t even have it now, so definitely not for multiple years on. The only reason Max is running away with the championship is human errors.

    What the new rules did accomplish was how much easier it is to follow another car closely for extended period of times. No more need for do-or-die divebombs, you can take your time, evaluate the other driver’s moves and then try a calculated overtake. It wasn’t so much the DRS-part of DRS overtakes that made them so boring. It was, one, that DRS Overtakes were the only overtakes that were possible. And, two, that overtakes were either made or the attacking driver would likely have to back off and cool their tires, recharge their batteries, hope there would come another opportunity.

    I don’t mind DRS helping in an overtake necessarily. As long as the racing around said overtakes are entertaining. And I think this season has definitely delivered that entertainment up and down the grid.

    1. I think you are correct @sjaakfoo. The rule changes have resulted in most races being a two horse race, but that’s better than just one team having a big advantage as we have seen some other times with major rule changes. There are signs now as well that the two horse race is being joined by a third i.e. Merc. OK the constructors and very likely the WDC are over already but there has still been some competitive racing at the front.

      As time/seasons goes by, gaps between the best teams and those behind usually close up so I am quite hopeful for the immediate future i.e. 2023 to 2025.

    2. How dare you make a reasoned and cogent argument, @sjaakfoo ??!!

      If Ferrari’s mistakes were fewer (not even taking into account reliability) this would be a pretty solid season at the front. If the next season or two tighten up (as they should, as you note), I think we’re okay.

  3. Impossible to say as the smart drivers will still always wait for the easy DRS pass. As Leclerc’s race in Canada also shows, the pace delta needed to overtake is still huge and largely reliant on Pirelli rather than any fancy aero-regulations.

  4. Not enjoying this year. The title race has quickly become a boring 1 horse race. At least Ferrari gave Mercs a better run for their money in 2017 and 2018.

    1. I’m always surprised that some F1 fans only care about the title fight.
      In runaway title fight years I can get as excited about the single race wins, or fights between other drivers/teams.
      F1 is more than only seeing who wins races and titles, IMO.

  5. Despite the lead Max has, there has been more competition this year than in any of the years 2014-2020. I would say the rules have been a success so far, and if it wasnt for Ferrari’s self destruction we would be having an EPIC title race this year (and to be fair, we still could yet) And the quality of the races this year have been a massive improvement. The cars can clearly follow each other much better.

    1. 2017 and 2018 there was more competition than this year-certainly at the front. 3 teams were capable of winning. And the title race was closer. In 2017, Vettel went into the summer break ahead of Hamilton and was ahead of Hamilton more often than vice versa. In 2018, Vettel was ahead for the entire first half of the season. There was only a small points gap at the summer break, so it was far from done and dusted. And the the Sf70/SF71/Wo8/W09 were well matched. Contrast this year, despite well matched cars (RB and Ferrari) Verstappen is going into the summer break with an almost unassailable 80Plus point lead.

      1. edit

        3 teams were capable of winning*

        *a race

    2. Gubstar, in terms of the points advantage that Max has over Leclerc, his lead is far bigger than any driver during the 2014-2020 period had over their next nearest contender in the championship.

      If you were to compare the gap between the leading driver in the championship and the third placed driver in the period from 2014 through to 2020, Max’s lead is more comparable to the difference in points between the leader and 3rd place during that period. In 2014, Ricciardo in 3rd was 72 points off the leader in the championship, in 2015 Vettel was 49 points off the leader, in 2016 Ricciardo was 81 points off the leader, in 2017 Bottas was 41 points off the leader, in 2018 Kimi was 85 points behind the leader and in 2019 Max was 87 points behind the leader. Only 2020 saw a much larger gap, but 2020 was an extremely abnormal season for a lot of reasons.

      Your hopes for “having an EPIC title race this year” would be comparable to expecting Raikkonen to suddenly have overturned the similarly sized deficit that he had in 2018 to go on to take the title that year.

      1. There’s imo a very simple reason why 2020 had a huge gap: not only was merc dominant but hamilton’s team mate wasn’t rosberg, so there was neither inside-team competition nor outside, which didn’t happen in any other year, although in 2015 rosberg was poor.

  6. I can’t help wondering whether or not things this year would have been even more interesting had they dropped DRS completely.

    There have been some excellent passes (and close racing) during periods when DRS has been disabled brought about by the ability of cars to follow more closely but there’s also been some examples of ridiculously easy passing when DRS has been enabled, most of which just don’t excite me in any way.

    I truly believe that there is no need any longer for DRS, the good drivers will still make it through the field and the midfield battles will spice up considerably instead of just turning into “Trulli trains” as they are now,

    1. Exactly! DRS is no longer needed for passing and should be removed asap.

      A skilled driver can defend throughout most of the track only to be passed by a driver on easy mode. Its making the sport look ridiculous!

    2. Totally agree. It’s time to ditch DRS (it was never time to introduce it, but that’s a separate topic).

      To have battles for position, a few things are helpful, but one thing is absolutely necessary: a faster car needs to be behind a slower car. There are many ways this situation can be created, most of which are unpopular – like reversed grids.

      But it can also be promoted. One of the ways is to have fewer practice sessions (a great side-effect of the sprint race weekends) and to have less qualifying chances as well (make Q3 a single lap shoot-out, which has the added bonus of being able to see all of the fastest laps of the weekend in their entirety).

      Another way is to make it harder for the ‘normal’ order to reassert itself when a fast car ends up behind a slower car. This is where getting rid of DRS can achieve great results, and it prevents the now common ‘second half slump’ where nothing much happens after lap 20 and the commentators are hopefully shouting for a safety car every time someone skips a chicane.

      People might argue that a driver can then get ‘stuck’. But… so what? That’s the team’s problem, not the viewer’s. Having a few good battles in a race, and maybe even one or two that forces a driver to be creative, is certainly better for the viewers than to have the rules written in a such way as to ensure the finishing order best matches the simulated race times of the top teams.

  7. If you want the midfield competitive, stop changing the aero rules every season.

    They’re spending all their resources just keeping up with the season-to-season changes, and don’t have the resources to refine their designs to the level the big three are capable of.

  8. The rules have worked (leaving aside the purpoises, which can be humanely dealt with).
    What hasn’t worked is Ferrari.

    1. What hasn’t worked is Ferrari.

      Let’s be blunt, Ferrari hasn’t worked properly for years.
      Even the 2017/2018 seasons were false news – that Ferrari engine power wasn’t legal

      1. …it was 2019 Ferrari had a dubious engine (not 2017-2018)

        1. Yeah, that sudden power boost they gained between 2016 and 2017 had nothing to do with the illegal tech in their car.

          Oh wait– we don’t know that, because we don’t know what the FIA discovered.

  9. For me there have been 2 immediate positives from the new regulations.

    Firstly that cars are able to follow closer & secondly that they are also able to push harder for longer when following another car without the tyres going off within a few laps.

    However the biggest disappointment & frustration for me us that it still feels like overtaking is too reliant on DRS & if anything may be more reliant on it than was the case in the past & battles are still been dictated by it far more than I would like to see.

    I’d just like to see races where we’re not having to focus basically only on just the parts of the track that are DRS zones or where we are constantly watching gaps at detection points & looking at wing flaps at activation points. One of the things I loved about Imola before DRS was switched on was that we weren’t just focussed on the DRS zone, The whole track was in play with drivers looking for (And making) moves elsewhere rather than just focussing on been within 1 second at a detection line to go for a more straightforward pass in the DRS zone. Thats what I miss about the pre-DRs days, I miss the focus been on the entire circuit rather than just a small section of it & on racecraft rather than gaps, lines, buttons & wing flaps opening.

    In terms of the top teams still having an advantage over the mid-field, I was never really expecting that to change & to be honest i’m not sure it ever will even with the cost caps & stuff because the top 2-3 teams will still have better engineering teams, facilities & will still attract the best people & that will still give them that bit extra over the rest. And I don’t think giving everyone the same budget to spend will necessarily change that anytime soon.

    And then the mid-field is just as close as it typically has been so I don’t really think the new regulations changed much there. The slowest team on any given weekend is maybe closer to the mid-field but thats about it.

  10. Hate DRS though, its too easy to pass with DRS, the zones need to be shorter or the gap on the wing smaller.

  11. Ask this question again when DRS is gone and they make decent tires.

  12. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
    18th August 2022, 18:53

    I think the new regs have a been brilliant. Much closer field spread and if Merc get sorted it could be a three way battle. As always new regs need time to settle and the teams to find their feet over a season or two. The tyres are much more fit for purpose and not just being destroyed by dirty air, much closer racing and cars that look a bit more physical to drive (and much better looking).

    However I still think these cars are giant and was even more blown away attending live at Hungary. When you watch classic racing from the noughties the cars are half the size, much more nimble, lighter. I know the hybrid power and safety directives have made the weight necessary to an extend but I can’t help but wonder what the racing would be like if the cars were scaled down in size and weight by a third. Chuck in some 3l V10’s on sustainable fuel for dinosaurs like me as well ha.

    1. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
      18th August 2022, 18:55

      I meant to say if the cars were smaller and lighter along with the new regs it would prob remove the need for DRS.

  13. The fact that the cars still apparently need the Dumb Racing System is a damming failure of the new regulations as finally getting rid of that awful gimmick should have been the primary goal & if the new regulations have not achieved that they as far as i’m concerned they have failed to create better racing.

    But clearly creating better racing with actual exciting organic overtaking isn’t what Liberty or the Netflix fans want. They just want more of everything and as long as the stats show that more cars swapped places during a race they don’t care how many boringly easy push of a button highway passing there was as long as there are loads of them because clearly more automatically means better to Liberty and the modern Netflix fan.

    I mean who cares about quality when you can just have quantity right?
    Who cares that nobody will remember any of the 50 highway passes an hour after the race as long as the stats show there was 50 passes because more is what counts now regardless of quality.

    The move to ground effects and The move towards cars that can run closer are the right moves. But sadly they have come too late because DRS is here to stay and all those Netflix fans who have come about the past decade know nothing else so will always block its removal & since thats who Liberty listen to we will sadly never get back to proper racing & real overtaking because to the Netflix fan more is better regardless of quality & that is a shame for the sport.

    Real quality racing is over because the sport is gone as it’s all about been a quantity driven show now.

    Quality Over Quantity Please!

    1. I mean who cares about quality when you can just have quantity right?

      Subconsciously, a lot of people care. None of the moves Leclerc and Verstappen pulled on each other is going to be remembered years from now. Perhaps a lot of viewers couldn’t even name them now. Undermining each of those moves is the knowledge, realized explicitly or not, that it was never really a fair fight to begin with because one of them had an artificial and huge speed boost. That’s partly why there’s this unending need to distract people with superfluous sideshows.

    2. DRS doesn’t do much as several Drivers complained with DRS there is not much difference between the cars (For example Ferrari and Red Bull in begin of the season as Charles had trouble to overtake Max even with DRS.

      1. Ferrari has less top speed than Red Bull, so the DRS only makes it somewhat equal. That’s a setup choice, and one that’s paid off for Red Bull as Verstappen has usually had little trouble overtaking the Ferrari’s even when starting behind: in Saudi Arabia, Miami, England, and almost in Bahrain as well. The reverse happened in Austria where Red Bull got their tyres wrong and Leclerc was able to overtake Verstappen a bunch of times.

  14. Well there is still an alternative that will
    1. decrease costs and increase performance across the teams
    2. eliminate porpoising
    3. hopefully remove the need for DRS.
    Bring back the fan-car !

    PS. that is a car that uses a fan to reduce pressure under the car,not a car driven or sponsored by fans.

    1. Most know that car if memory serves me once time they weren’t allowed to race with it after the practice rounds of the first race.

  15. In general I think this has been a great season, as most races have been very exciting and we have had usually two, sometimes three teams in the mix. It hasn’t been as good as 2021, but only one season in F1 history was better than 2021 in my opinion, and that was 1976.

    But, as others have said, I am sure it is time for DRS to be scrapped in 2023, as the new cars are much better at following closely and so we can still have close battles without it, and giving the teams notice would give them time to build their cars for next year knowing that they will need to be able to follow closely and slipstream to overtake.

    But no DRS would make overtaking harder and defending easier, so the art of racecraft would be far more important. Jarama 1981 is an example of a race that could never happen with DRS. The Spanish GP in 2022 was also an example of this because, on a track that is hard to overtake on anyway and with Verstappen’s DRS faltering, Russell was actually able to defend his position despite being slower, and it made for a longer period of good racing. Perhaps we could try a phased scrapping of DRS with only certain tracks allowing it, and that can start with no DRS zones at the final race at Spa-Francorchamps next weekend, a track where it has always been far too powerful.

    1. Yes, I think spain proved that we should do without drs, quality over quantity and drivers should be able to defend.

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