The art of overtaking in F1 – How Ricciardo beat them all in China

In China on Sunday, it looked like it was
going to be a very dull procession with very limited overtaking opportunities then a Safety
Car at the half way point mixed up the tyre strategies and Daniel Ricciardo showed everyone
how it was done, making up five places to win the race.
His team mate showed an unfortunate comparison, botching two overtakes and ultimately getting
penalised for running into Sebastian Vettel. So how do you overtake? What techniques are
the drivers using to make up positions? First of all, let’s be clear – overtaking
at the moment is hard and this video isn’t going to address the current problems car
s have both following and getting past one another. I should also make it clear that
Ricciardo had a distinct car advantage on Sunday by being on fresher and softer tyres
than his rivals. But he still had to make some expert-level moves to get all the way
to the top. Here’s how it’s done.
First you have to set up the move Overtakes are rarely made in the spur of the
moment – even the ones that seem opportunistic. While spontaneous moves are made, most overtakes
are set up corners in advance and planned maybe laps in advance.
Watch your foe and find their weakness Are they braking earlier than you at turn
1? Are they struggling to get the power down out of turn 8? Where does their power unit
de-rate? Are their tyres holding up OK? If it’s mixed conditions are they having to
manage the temperatures more than you? From gathering information on your rival you
can work out where’s best to overtake and how.
Now, obviously most overtakes will occur after or through a DRS zone, or even down another
long straight – but not all overtakes will happen here.
Sometimes you’ll spot an opportunity to seize your advantage through a complex of
corners by out braking them and with better positioning.
We hear the phrase “out-braking” a lot but what does it mean when you strip the jargon
away? Well, when you come flying towards a corner
at speed you’ll obviously have to hit the brakes at some point. There’s an ideal turning
in point for the corner and at that point there’s an ideal speed you’ll want to
be at to take your ideal line as fast as possible. Bearing that in mind, there should be an ideal
point where you can plant the brakes so that – if you get the maximum out of the brakes
– you’ll get to your ideal speed at this ideal point.
Now, this perfect point at which you hit the brakes is highly dependent on how your brakes
and tyres are faring, and what temperature they are at. As a driver, you should be pretty
aware of this and the best drivers and constantly aware of the state of their brakes and tyres,
which affects their judgement about how early to brake and how hard to apply the brake pedal
through the braking zone. Cars on fresh tyres and warm brakes will have
a shorter ideal braking zone than cars on old tyres and overheating brakes, of course.
Of course, this is always still a judgement call. Play it safe and brake a little early
and you’ll take longer to get to the turn-in point, but you’ll be more able to hit that
turn-in point at the right speed. Play it risky and you could end up hitting
the brakes too late and overshoot your turn in point, or turn in too fast and run wide
on exit. Try to overcompensate by slamming on the brakes or start turning while the brakes
are loaded and you can lock the wheels, sending you flying forwards in a straight line which
limited control over your speed. So actually you’re unlikely to hit this
ideal point-to-point braking zone, but depending on your style and expertise your braking and
turn in points should happen somewhere in these fuzzy areas. If you’re not a great
braker but you play it safe, you’re more like to have a longer braking zone here, with
an uncertain but early braking point. If you’re better and more confident on the brakes you’ll
have a shorter braking zone, with more of an error margin for overshooting.
To put into perspective how important precise braking can be – imagine a sharp corner
at the end of a long straight. This is the Tilke era of F1 circuits, so that shouldn’t
be hard to imagine. Say you’re going 200 mph at the braking point. Well that’s 89
metres per second. So, half a second too late and you’ve overshot your braking point by
45 metres. Even a tenth of a second too late is nine metres, which is the length of 2 formula
one cars. And a tenth of a second two early is also a massive nine metres before the proper
braking point – if you braked early, you’d be down to turn-in speed nine metres before
you even reach the corner. Massive time loss. So to out-brake someone is to simply get closer
to this ideal braking-point-to-turn-in-point zone. If you can manage it better than your
rival ahead, you may be able to pull alongside. Getting yourself alongside is only part of
the battle. You also have to consider positioning. If you’re overtaking into a corner, you’d
ideally want to get yourself on the inside. As we looked at in our racing lines video,
the ideal racing line looks something like this. If you’ve manage to get yourself here
when your rival wants to turn in, you’ve disrupted their racing line.
You are now taking the dominant position through the corner and you can now force your rival
to concede to you through the exit by taking the ‘natural’ line (even though you entered
the corner much more tightly) and drifting wide towards the edge of the track. With your
rival high and dry, blocked by you, you’re in a position to control both of your exits.
Exit positioning isn’t always that simple, though. If you’re overtaking into a series
of corners or a chicane your rival may benefit from being on the outside of you. If the next
corner switches back the other way, their position on the outside of the first corner
becomes the inside of the next and they can do exactly what you did to them through the
second corner and exit. If the second corner swings the same way as
the first, the driver on the outside may still be in a better position if are able to keep
you squeezed through a tighter inner line, using the faster momentum of their wider line
to exit the corner faster than you. On corner entry you can also try and move
from the outside, though this is much harder as your rival has the high ground. But either
you need to try and drive right around the outside of your rival – and this almost
always depends on you having the confidence of a stronger car at that time – either
an outright chassis advantage (think Mercedes coming through the field from the back) or
by having fresher tyres at that point in the race. OR you need to hope you can frighten
then into a mistake. If they brake too late, lock up or start to lose balance they will
overshoot the turn in point. You can start wide and hook in, aiming for a late apex and
strong, early acceleration point that will give you getting oomph out of the corner than
your mis-positioned rival. Also remember if you’ve scared your rival
to the inside, their braking point needs to be earlier than you are they have to take
a tighter line. If they’ve moved to the inside at the last minute to block you then
they have a greater chance at overshooting by not braking as early as they need to. Not
to mention that the inside of the corner is dirtier.
As you both exit the corner you may be along side each other. The leading car (hopefully
you) needs to leave adequate space. The rules are deliberately foggy on this but essentially
if the car is significantly alongside you, you can’t just move over on them and claim
all of the track for yourself. But you can push right to the edge of acceptability.
As long as you don’t force them off the track you can move wide on exit and disrupt
their ability to accelerate properly out of the corner.
If this first corner leads into another, you also want to compromise your rival’s ability
to take an ideal line. If they are forced to the very very inside of the next corner
then they’ll have to take a much slower line. But try not to chop across them as you
take the corner. That way punctures lie. Now employ the art of surprise
Of course, even with all the planning, set-up and positioning you don’t want your rival
to see your move coming. Naturally if you’re more likely to overtake
in a post-DRS braking zone than they’ll be wary of you making a move but that doesn’t
mean you should barrel down the track alongside them, showing your entire hand!
Staying tucked in until just before the braking zone give you the slipstream for the longest
possible time, yes – but it also forces your rival to pick their position first. If
they cover the inside, you can leap to the outside or go deeper inside if you’ve got
the space. They aren’t allowed to sweep across the
track once you’re near the braking zone so at some point they have to commit to their
defence. Ricciardo is good at leaping out from behind
at the last minute and leaving rivals looking to a wall of Red Bull instead of the apex
they were aiming for. But not every move is planned.
Opportunistic moves can be the best you can hope for in a race where overtaking opportunities
are proving rarer than French steak. Making a spontaneous attack requires constant
vigilance if you’re close behind, hunting. Your rival may make a mistake, run wide, struggle
with traction, have to dodge backmarkers, lock a wheel, etc, and you won’t know when
that might happen (though you can start to make educated guesses if you’re paying attention)
You have to be ready to seize the moment and throw yourself into a braking zone, slingshot
around the outside or zip through the inside if you see an open door.
Of course, this is prone to risk. Reactive moves don’t have the same time to assess
whether the move is worth the work. In China, When Max spotted Lewis was slow
out of turn six he realised he could out accelerate Hamilton and possibly come right around the
outside through the long turn seven on his grippier tyres.
You can see him assessing it throughout the move and he has plenty of opportunity to concede
but ultimately he’s frightened off the road when Hamilton starts to slip wide.
Later, Verstappen lunges down the inside of Vettel. This was an opportunistic move though
he’ll have been ready for any opportunity when chasing him down the back straight.
He saw Vettel go too deep so he just went for it, knowing his better, softer tyres would
give him a massive advantage. Unfortunately, Vettel got slowed down far
more effectively than Verstappen thought and Vettel started to turn into the corner from
his long position. Suddenly Verstappen is barrelling towards the side of Vettel and
has to tighten his line and brake a bit harder but it wasn’t quite to be.
Decisions made in split seconds are improved by better instincts and instinct is honed
on experience. Let’s compare this with Ricciardo’s move
on Bottas into turn six. Now you don’t necessarily expect to make a move here, though it’s
possible. Ricciardo move inside but only as inside as much as he needs. There’s only
a breath of space between them, even as Bottas starts to squeeze. Ricciardo also doesn’t
brake as late as possible – he brakes later than Bottas and continues to squeeze and squeeze
just enough to gain position on Bottas through the braking zone.
So those are the main technical points of overtaking
On paper it seems simple enough, but on the track it’s about knowing what your car can
actually give at any given point, having a feel for the changing track conditions, and
being hyper aware of your rival – figuring out where they leave opportunities for attack.
And on top of all of this, they have to battle the inherent regulatory problems that have
stymied overtaking. But that’s another story.

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