India in Depth: Why was overtaking difficult in India?

Posted on November 8, 2011


The simple answer is that it wasn’t. Not really.

Assessing how difficult overtaking is (or isn’t) is something that is of great interest in F1. We all like watching cars side-by-side through corner after corner battling away. We want overtaking to be difficult – all the best moves are the ones that just make it, and involve a little brinkmanship. But we don’t want it to be too difficult – like in Monaco where you needed to be seconds faster to even have a go.

In general, the overtaking in F1 this year has been about right – sometimes it has seemed easy, but when strategies differ, and one car is 2s or more faster than another, I’d like to see it get past rather than sit stuck. Especially as that would mean that real battles are pointless. Anyway, I digress.

There were not many successful overtaking moves at the Buddh circuit, and most of the successful moves involved cars passing Virgins or HRT cars, which I’ve ignored in this piece. So why so few moves? If we step back and consider that the tyre degradation was very low, quite similar to what was seen in the Bridgestone days, then we get part of the story. The low degradation meant that the pace advantage on new tyres was much smaller (a few tenths instead of a few seconds) than in most 2011 races. But it also meant there was no advantage in going long (except in delaying the change from soft to hard) as younger tyres gave less of a pace advantage. So it was difficult to manipulate a pace advantage to get past a rival. So we saw less overtaking.

But that’s only half the story. If we consider the overtakes we saw, and the pace advantage required to get past, we have:

Hamilton on Alguersuari (~1.2s)

Alguersuari/Buemi on Senna (~0.5s)

Alguersuari/Buemi on Sutil (~0.5s – although this is not easy to tell as Sutil was in tyre trouble and his laptimes were decaying)

Perez/Petrov on Di Resta (~0.5s – maybe a little more as again Di Resta was in tyre trouble)

Petrov on Kovalainen (~1.1s)

And where we didn’t see overtaking –  the pace difference at the end in the Sutil/Perez/Petrov train was about 0.3s, and Hamilton only had about 0.2s or so over Massa, and was still able to have a go.

I don’t think needing around a half-second per lap advantage to get by is too bad. Perhaps I should go and see what we had at other circuits this year.