The Art of Defensive Driving – Success and failure in overtaking in Baku

The fast-but-tight street circuit in Baku
saw a surprising amount of overtakes and overtaking attempts and some very robust defensive moves
– a lot of which came from Max Verstappen. We’ll be looking at six moves from the 2018
Azerbaijan Grand Prix in this video to demonstrate some effective defensive technique, including
how not to do it. But first, let’s get straight the rules
of engagement. One: the braking zone should be a no-surprise
zone. The defending driver in particular should not be acting erratically, like suddenly weaving
or braking, once in or near to the braking zone.
The reason for this is fairly simple. As covered in the overtaking video, the general braking
zone is the area where you as a driver are basically committed to your trajectory into
the corner. You can’t brake any harder, you can’t really steer effectively. Once
you’ve hit the brakes, that’s it – that’s your destiny until turn-in.
Just before the braking point, you make the commitment to how you’re going to attack
the corner. Say you’re attacking and you decide, “I’m going to try and out-brake
them up inside”, you pick your braking point and position and go for it.
If, just before the braking point, the defending driver spots this and moves across on you,
there’s nothing you can do. The attacker can’t avoid the accident if the defender
has moved across in or close to the braking zone.
Two: If your attacker is alongside you, don’t act as if they’re not there. Even if you’re
ahead of them, you don’t own the whole track and can’t just move over on them. Don’t
cut across them if they’re on the inside. Don’t keep pushing wide if they’re on
the outside. The official rule is that you must leave someone
space if they are “significantly alongside”. There’s a nice grey area here about what
exactly this means. How much of their car needs to be alongside before you have to respect
their right to be there? The point of the rule being a little vague
is that, as a driver, you do have to concentrate on actually taking the corner yourself and
you can’t both drive the corner and look into your tiny pathetic mirrors to check if
a car is exactly 400 mm alongside or something. Instead, you have to make a judgement call
about where they are and, when switching focus to your own driving, keep an educated idea
in your head about where you expect them to be. Were they alongside enough that they will
likely still be there through the corner? That’s the call you’ve got to make before
getting overly aggressive with track space. Three: You can’t just block your attacker
by weaving all over the track to give them no place to go. That’s just unsporting,
like a bully holding a short kid’s ball out of reach. Before the braking zone, you
can move gently to try and cover the attacker off. Once you approach the braking zone you
have to make a decisive move in defence but you can follow this up by gently moving to
take your racing line. What you can do is break the tow, but you
can’t do this by weaving like a caffeinated cobra all across the track. What is braking
the tow? Well, this is all to do with slipstream. As
a reminder: at high speed, driving through air causes lots of drag as the air pushes
back on the car, slowing it down. By driving through the air at high speed, a car carves
out a pocket of thin air in its wake which is much easier to drive through as it causes
a lot less drag. This is the slipstream and an attacking car will tuck into this slipstream
to get an aerodynamic “tow”, gaining a speed boost over the defending car.
The leading car, in defending from this, can try to move across the track somewhat to make
it harder for the chasing car to stay in its slipstream. This is called breaking the tow
and if you’re going to do it, you have to do it without wild weaving as Lewis Hamilton
once tried on Vitaly Petrov. So let’s look at some examples of real world
tactics as seen in Baku. The general rule of defending into a corner
is that you want to compromise your attackers line. We know the fastest lines through a
corner from our discussion of racing lines. You want to position yourself so your rival
is forced to take the most compromised line and is therefore unable to overtake you.
On lap seven, Sainz had a run on Verstappen. Verstappen’s first move is to duck to the
inside. This is pre-emptively cutting off the better line as it’s easier to mount
an overtake from the inside. Sainz tucks in behind to hold the slipstream,
then goes for the move in the only possible place left – the outside.
Now from Sainz’s position he can work up to take a sweeping wide line through the left
hander and outgun Verstappen with momentum. As Verstappen is still significantly ahead,
though, he can still dictate a lot of the positioning. Verstappen moves back across
to the outside and squeezes – without literally forcing Sainz off track. This compromises
Sainz and Sainz now how his line dictated by Verstappen’s line – he’s literally
blocked out. Verstappen can now take a pretty good line
through the corner and Sainz’s best move is to tuck in behind and fight another day
as he would need a tremendous speed or positional advantage to swoop right around the outside.
Verstappen has the high ground here. Let’s contrast this to Verstappen vs Ricciardo
on lap 27. Once again Verstappen is on the inside but
the difference is he isn’t significantly ahead so he can’t coax them over to the
outside and take an optimum line as with Sainz. Instead Ricciardo keeps Max pinned tightly
to the inside which is bad for Max as being tight to the inside means he has to slow right
down to take the corner. In this position, Max brakes as late as possible
to block Ricciardo’s intended line. It’s more risky as getting the braking wrong could
send him soaring past the corner (as happened repeatedly to drivers through Free Practice
and Qualifying), but he successfully blocked Ricciardo and asserted his position on the
track, knowing that Daniel did not have enough of an advantage in position to be aggressive
around the outside. Again, Max’s rival is forced to tuck in
behind and try again later. Now let’s examine a third case where Verstappen
is defending from the inside. This time, on lap 12, Max is actually behind
Ricciardo as they get to the braking zone so he can’t just assert his position and
he’s very much on the back foot and potentially at the mercy of Ricciardo squeezing him tight
through the corner, as the leading car. In this case, Versteppend decided to take
a risk and brake as late as possible to throw as much speed into corner entry as possible.
He may be compromised at the exit but he might give himself a better position to keep the
fight going. He actually locks up and, due to his speed
and slight lack of control he takes a very shallow line through the corner. To this end
he actually hits Ricciardo, who’s take a wide sweeping line, and Daniel is shoved into
the wall slightly as they collide. At no point into or through this corner has
Max pulled back ahead of Ricciardo but he’s compromised Daniels enough to be able to continue
his defence through the next through corners instead of conceding the place.
This move was right on the line of acceptability. Any more of a mistake under braking – as
a lesser driver would easily have made – and he would have collided with Ricciardo.
OK, now let’s look at some cases of defending from the outside then
Now as we saw with the last move – being on the inside can lead to desperate errors
under braking. On lap 48, Vettel makes a move on Bottas for
the lead into turn 1. Bottas is on the outside but – not particularly aggressively – keeping
Vettel inside. By Bottas’s braking point, he’s got his
entire car ahead of Vettel, so when Vettel makes a late lunge by braking much later,
Valtteri holds his nerve, leaves Vettel space to overshoot his line and then takes his normal
turn in to the corner, tucking inside the stricken Vettel.
Vettel has completely stuffed his line – by overshooting he has to turn in much later
and therefore accelerate much later than the cars around him that were able to take the
corner normally. Valtteri was far enough ahead at the braking
point that he felt confident that only an over-exhuberent (and therefore mistaken) lunge
would beat him into the corner so he allowed enough room for that mistake to happen without
he himself losing speed. When defending from the outside, if your rival
doesn’t make a mistake you need to attempt to constrict their line as much as possible.
The inside can be incredibly slow cand you can out pace them from the outside with a
wider, smoother line. But even if you’re ahead, you can’t sweep across as if they
aren’t there. On lap 1, Raikkonen attempted a move up the
inside of Ocon. Now, Ocon was about half a car’s length ahead, meaning Kimi was ‘significantly
alongside’. Kimi is not in a great position – he’s boxed to the inside approaching
a tight 90° bend with barriers at the track limit.
Ocon is ahead to the degree that Raikkonen will be unlikely to keep himself alongside
unless he pulls some mad, unwise braking manoeuvre like Verstappen did earlier in this video.
Nonetheless Raikkonen will obviously still attempt to take the corner without yielding.
Ocon could take fairly middle line, keeping some speed while leaving room for Kimi but
instead he moves to normalise his line, aiming for the apex and completely cutting over Kimi
who has nowhere to go. Remember, there’s a barrier here and Kimi
is committed to his braking trajectory. If someone is alongside you as you enter the
braking zone, expect them to be there through the corner.
And finally let’s look at that crash between the Red Bulls, shall we?
This involves some analysis of both the overtaking and defending at play.
So it begins with Daniel Ricciardo catching some slipstream from Verstappen down the straight
before making a move to the outside. This is a dummy – a false move to coax Max into
defending the outside and opening up a space on the inside.
The instant Max moves to defend, Ricciardo switches back to steal the space on the inside.
At which point, Verstappen realises what’s happening and he starts to move back to cover
the inside again. Now, you’re not technically supposed to
weave all over the place or make multiple moves close to the braking zone, but Max only
lightly covered the dummy before committing left. The problem – and this is with both
drivers – is that this is all happening way too close to the braking zone.
Max has to hit the brakes while he’s still cutting across Ricciardo. Ricciardo was aiming
to brake into an empty space and is surprised when it’s suddenly full of Max and he slams
into the back of him. Part of the reason Ricciardo hit Verstappen
is because as Max cuts across, Ricciardo falls back into the slipstream. Drag plays a huge
part in the initial phase of braking and with severely reduced drag, Ricciardo simply couldn’t
decelerate as effectively as Verstappen. And a collision was inevitable.
Defence wise – the defending driver will be aware of dummy attempt and try to cover
all bases by gliding to half-block the dummy while being ready to block the true attack.
The problem in this case comes if you make your final defensive move so late that the
attacking driver has to take extreme action to avoid an accident – if they can avoid
it at all. Daniel Ricciardo’s problem was that he made
his attacking dummy-n-dive way too late and started this whole sequence of attacking and
defending so close to the corner that they both had to hit the brakes in the middle of
it. We’ve praised his overtaking judgment a
lot but he was so desperate after fighting Max all day long that he took a risk too far.
So, in summary: Try and compromise your attacker’s line
by squeezing them into a position where they can’t get a good run on you
Position yourself so you’re an annoying road block to their ideal line
Don’t muck about in the braking zone Don’t run people off the road
Do know when to concede and when to set yourself up to defend into the next corners. By my
extremely complex calculations – it turns out crashing gets you fewer points than losing
one position.


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