Overtaking is one of the most important elements of motorsport. Being able to pull off a successful overtake requires a lot of skill and intelligence from the driver. However, an opportunity also needs to present itself on the track, and some F1 tracks are better than others for overtaking.
The 5 best F1 tracks for overtaking are:
- Monza, Italy
- Red Bull Ring, Austria
- Sakhir, Bahrain
- Interlagos, Brazil
- Spa Francorchamps, Belgium
There are a lot of factors to consider as to why a track would be good for overtaking or not. However, modern Formula 1 has added in some elements to help promote overtaking even further, as a way to liven up the spectacle of the pinnacle of motorsport, and we’ll discuss all of this below.
What Makes An F1 Track Good For Overtaking?
All racetracks are unique and have their own defining characteristics. This means that they all have their own benefits and drawbacks too, especially when it comes to overtaking. For example, Monaco is a spectacular racetrack that accentuates the glamor of Formula 1. However, it’s nearly impossible for Formula 1 cars to overtake each other on this narrow, twisty street circuit.
Another factor to consider is that modern Formula 1 cars are much larger and heavier than their predecessors. This makes it much more difficult for them to overtake as well. They produce a massive amount of downforce, which helps them to corner faster. Higher cornering speeds can make it much more difficult for drivers to overtake, but there’s another consequence of immense downforce.
The Effect Of Dirty Air
We’ll talk about why high cornering speeds hamper overtaking in a moment, but first we must consider dirty air. All of the aerodynamic components on an F1 car allow it to take corners at incredible speeds, while seemingly sticking to the track. But these components also throw a lot of turbulent – or ‘dirty’ – air off the back of the car through the corners.
This turbulent air means cars right behind them have their downforce producing capabilities significantly hampered, sometimes by up to 47%. This means the car behind has to either get past the leading car quickly, or back off and make a move on the straight, where the same components that create dirty air in the corners create a slipstream instead (more on that shortly).
Long Straights, Sharp Corners
One of the most important factors that influences overtaking on a Formula 1 track is the circuit’s layout. The type of corners can make a huge difference in terms of whether drivers will be able to overtake or not. More fast corners mean the effect of dirty air is more pronounced, while longer straights with sharp braking zones present great overtaking opportunities.
The best layouts for overtaking normally have long straights followed by sharp corners. These can either be hairpin corners or 90-degree turns. Whenever there is a corner with a heavy braking zone, there is a good opportunity for cars to overtake one another.
The key is to have corners where the cars need to slow down a lot in order to make their way through the corner. These heavy braking zones give drivers overtaking opportunities because the attacking driver can try to out brake the driver ahead of them. This calls for bravery, and it can make for some of the most exciting moments of races.
Long straights also give drivers the opportunity to use the slipstream effect to gain a speed advantage over the car ahead of them. Slipstreaming is when the car behind follows in the wake of the car ahead of them.
The leading car is essentially punching a hole in the air for the car behind. This means that there is less air resistance for the car behind to get through, resulting in the following car gaining speed over the leading car, closing the gap and eventually being able to overtake.
Slipstreaming is especially effective in Formula 1 because of the aerodynamics of the cars. The cars are already designed to produce less drag and to cut through the air with ease thanks to their sharp, dagger-like features.
With a car ahead of them, it’s almost like the car behind has ‘less air’ to go through, meaning they can reach higher speeds faster. A slipstream can give the following car an advantage of around 12 miles per hour or more in Formula 1, which can make a big difference in who gets to the braking zone at the end of the straight first, and who comes out of the next corner ahead.
This effect is multiplied further when cars use DRS. DRS stands for drag reduction system, and it is essentially a device that allows the trailing car to open a flap in its rear wing to reduce drag, increasing their speed relative to the car in front. They may only use this when they’re within one second of the car in front, and only at certain parts of the track, called DRS zones.
Tracks with long straights therefore usually have long DRS zones. These are the areas where drivers can, when withing one second of the car in front, gain a further speed advantage on top of the slipstream by using DRS. Therefore, tracks with multiple, long DRS zones usually see the most overtakes.
How Important Is DRS For Overtaking In F1?
DRS is very important for overtaking in F1. In the majority of cases, using DRS will give a car an extra 12 to 15 miles per hour on a straight. DRS combined with a slipstream is a powerful tool that drivers use to make overtaking much easier during a race.
DRS has been a controversial element in Formula 1 since its introduction in 2011, with many drivers and fans complaining that the system makes the sport more ‘artificial’ and that the number of natural overtakes (without using DRS) has declined since the system has been introduced.
However, it has been a huge boost to the overtaking numbers in Formula 1, especially on tracks that are notoriously difficult to overtake on. But one drawback of DRS is that it becomes counterintuitive on some faster racetracks.
On tracks like Monza, it is not uncommon to see ‘DRS trains.’ This happens when there are several cars all within a second of the car ahead of them. This means that all the cars have DRS at the same time, making it fairly useless since none of the cars are gaining an advantage over the others on the straights. As long as the leading car can stay ahead, these trains can go on for many laps.
Why Fast Corners Are Bad For Overtaking
One of the most impressive aspects of Formula 1 cars is their ability to corner at impossible speeds. Some of the fastest corners on the Formula 1 calendar, such as 130R at the Suzuka racetrack in Japan, are taken at 190 miles per hour.
As spectacular as it is to see a Formula 1 car corner at these incredible speeds, it’s actually bad for overtaking. The first problem is that is simply not possible (in most cases) to overtake safely at those speeds on racetracks that are narrow and don’t offer much runoff space should the move not work out and the driver has to take a wide line, perhaps off the track.
As F1 cars take corners at faster and faster speeds, it’s almost like the track has been narrowed too. Essentially, there is no room for error at these speeds. Formula 1 cars are extremely fragile machines. The slightest bit of contact between two cars can rip off front wings or slash tires. This means that, unlike other forms of motorsport, rubbing is not racing in Formula 1.
Even the slightest bit of damage on a front wing endplate can cost a driver several tenths of a second per lap. Formula 1 cars are so reliant on the downforce they get from these intricate parts that if they are damaged there is a huge drop off in performance.
So, Formula 1 cars need enough space to be able to overtake without touching the other car or any barriers around the track. Narrow racetracks like Monaco are bad for overtaking because drivers won’t risk their cars and their entire race to try to make one overtake. Racetracks that have enough space throughout corners is where we often see the most overtakes.
Another element that promotes overtaking on a Formula 1 racetrack is runoff space. If there is space for a car to leave the track in case the overtaking maneuver goes wrong, drivers are more likely to take the risks to overtake. Walls, gravel traps and kerbs will deter drivers from overtaking at some corners.
Lap Time Difference
Another important factor to consider when it comes to overtaking in Formula 1 is lap time difference. Some racetracks require a massive difference in lap times in order for one driver to be able to overtake another.
This means that the driver behind needs to be significantly faster than the driver ahead to be able to overtake. Track layouts and other characteristics have an influence on this, as some cars can be better in one section of the track than another.
Each car has its own strengths and weaknesses, and over the course of a lap this will either make them faster or slower than the car ahead. If they are only slightly faster than the car ahead of them, they might catch up to the leading car without being able to overtake on the straight. Teams run countless calculations to understand where and when their cars’ best overtaking opportunities are.
Tire wear can have a big influence on a racetrack’s overtaking capability. If an F1 track has high levels of wear, it can mean that there will be more opportunities for drivers to overtake if they are on different strategies, as high wear can force teams to make two pit stops, meaning there is far more at play in terms of overall race strategy.
Drivers who are able to take care of their tires and reduce tire wear will be able to attack more and overtake others that have worn tires. The tire wear in Formula 1 is mainly affected by how abrasive the tarmac is on the track, and its layout. This depends on when the racetrack was built, how well it is looked after, and how long it has been since it was resurfaced.
Track conditions can affect the overtaking on an F1 track too. Sometimes, when there are tricky conditions on track, you’ll see more overtaking because of drivers making mistakes or struggling with the conditions on track.
This can be anything from rain to dust, or even a greasy surface. Newly resurfaced tracks have a slippery and greasy surface because of the oils released by the new asphalt. This can make the track more difficult to drive on, which may lead to more overtakes from those that have greater control in the tough conditions.
Wind direction and strength is also important to consider. Formula 1 cars are extremely sensitive to wind, and a slight change in the direction of the wind can cause a driver to brake too late or too early for a corner which will present an overtaking opportunity for the attacking car.
So, with all of these factors considered, what are the best F1 tracks for overtaking?
The 5 Best F1 Tracks For Overtaking
1. Monza, Italy
Monza is a racetrack in Italy, known for its high average speeds. It is the fastest track on the Formula 1 calendar, with an average speed of 163 miles per hour. The long straights followed by tight corners make this track ideal for using the powerful slipstream and DRS effects.
There are also several heavy braking zones into three chicanes that create the perfect overtaking opportunities. The best overtaking opportunity is down the main straight into turn 1, as cars reach speeds upwards of 210 mph before braking to about 50 mph in the space of 120 meters.
2. Red Bull Ring, Austria
The Red Bull Ring in Austria was absent from the Formula 1 calendar for a few years. However, it returned with a bang and showed exactly why it is one of the best tracks in the world. It might be one of the shortest tracks on the calendar, but there are three long straights with heavy braking zones and 90 degree corners that are perfect for overtaking.
The twisty middle sector is ideal for bringing the cars closer together and preparing them for overtaking opportunities on the straights. The elevation changes at various points on the circuit also present opportunities for drivers to misjudge braking zones, opening up the chance for cars behind to overtake.
3. Sakhir, Bahrain
Ever since the Bahrain International Circuit was added to the Formula 1 calendar it became a firm favorite for many drivers. The layout is unique, and it offers four long straights that are ideal for slipstreaming and DRS (on three of them). Each long straight also has a heavy braking zone with either a hairpin or 90 degree corner, making it perfect for overtaking.
The circuit is also unique in the sense that several drivers use different racing lines throughout the lap. This is something that you don’t see often in Formula 1, and it makes a huge difference in the opportunities drivers get to overtake one another, as drivers that are comfortable taking a different line to the car in front can use it to get past them.
4. Interlagos, Brazil
Interlagos is a classic F1 track that has been a part of the Formula 1 calendar for years. The Brazilian circuit has seen some special drives from the likes of Ayrton Senna, Sebastian Vettel and most recently Lewis Hamilton, where they have gone through the entire race overtaking almost every car on the grid.
The layout of the Interlagos circuit makes it a naturally overtake-friendly circuit. There might only be two long straights with heavy braking zones, but the elevation changes make this an especially challenging circuit. The tight and twisty middle sector also presents some overtaking opportunities to many drivers that are brave enough.
5. Spa Francorchamps, Belgium
Spa is yet another classic racetrack that is loved by every Formula 1 driver on the grid. It is the longest and most challenging racetrack on the calendar. We often see some unpredictable weather conditions at Spa, which can lead to a lot of overtaking as drivers are prone to making more mistakes.
Because of the exceptional length of the racetrack – it’s the longest on the calendar – it can be easy to get caught out on the wrong tires and have to slowly make your way back to the pits to change to the correct tires. Spa also has a number of long straights with heavy braking zones that have seen many overtakes, and of course some famous moves down at Eau Rouge into Raidillon.
When it comes to determining which F1 racetracks are good for overtaking, there are a lot of different elements to consider. Track conditions, driver ability, and the track layout all play key parts in terms of how easy it will be for drivers to make overtakes during a given race. However, the 5 tracks above are where you’ll usually see the most overtakes in an F1 season.