(Associated Press) — The Formula One season comes to an end at the Brazilian Grand Prix with drivers raving about the rule changes that were aimed at encouraging passing and improving racing.
Although Sebastian Vettel dominated the season and easily won the title with four races to spare, there was plenty of excitement on the track throughout the year, with a significant increase in passing in nearly all races.
A study by Mercedes released ahead of Sunday’s Brazilian GP showed there have been more than 800 overtaking maneuvers in the first 18 races, reaching “record levels” in F1.
Nearly half of those passes came thanks to the new drag reduction system (DRS) implemented by FIA this year, which allows drivers to adjust their rear wings to increase speed and facilitate passing.
“It is to me very obvious that we have improved big time,” Mercedes driver and seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher said Thursday. “We’ve had incredible races this year. It doesn’t always work out perfect, there is some room for improvement, but in general it has contributed a lot for some great racing.”
The excitement on the track also came as a result of the return of the hybrid KERS power-boost system and the new Pirelli tires, which produced more pit stops and more late drama as drivers had to manage wear more aggressively.
“If you watch every race this year there have been some amazing overtaking manoeuvrs,” 2009 world champion Jenson Button said. “Most races had you on the edge of your seat. It’s very unusual to have that. This season we’ve had so many special races. They’ve done a good job with the regulations.”
Even tracks which used to produce dull races in the past saw an increase in passing and in excitement, with drivers switching positions and battling wheel-to-wheel more often than in previous years. Not even the dominance of Vettel and Red Bull, who won 11 races and 14 pole positions, kept races from being entertaining.
The study showed the total number of overtakes reached nearly 1,500 when considering all circumstances in which cars were passed, including at the start, because of damage or involving the three slowest teams (Hispania, Virgin and Lotus).
“I think people are enjoying it,” said McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton, Button’s teammate and the 2008 F1 champion. “I really have enjoyed it.”
Mercedes said the data from its study was calculated using a combination of video, timing data and GPS technology.
The study showed Schumacher was one of the top overtakers this season with 111 passes, behind only Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi (112).
The race in Turkey produced the most passes with 85, followed by Canada (79) and China (67). The fewest passes came on the tight streets of Monaco (16), Australia (17) and India (18). The average of clean passes reached 45 per race, 25 normal and 20 with the DRS enabled.
Drivers say the DRS has been the main reason for the increase in passes because the drag reduction system gives the trailing driver a significant advantage over those in front.
The adjustable rear wing is set by the push of a button from inside the cockpit, lowering a flap and increasing straight-line speed. The technology is made available at specific track sessions — normally one or two straights — every time drivers get within one second of the car ahead.
Many drivers and teams were skeptical of the DRS when it was first announced, saying that passing would become too artificial, and some still think it has made overtaking too easy in many occasions. FIA has said the system was a success, although it admits some minor changes in the coming years.
“Obviously there have been races where you think it’s too easy to overtake, there is always going to be negatives to something like that,” Button said. “But the positives outweigh the negatives. I think we’ve had some great racing this season on circuits where we never had overtaking before, especially with two competitive cars. You can have a bit more of a fight now.”
The rear wing cannot be used over the first two laps for safety reasons, but KERS — which debuted in 2009 but was temporarily abandoned last year — was available throughout this season. The system stores kinetic energy generated in breaking, allowed drivers to transform that energy into more power for a few seconds at the push of a button.
Pirelli replaced Bridgestone as the series’ sole tire provider and introduced compounds that brought in-race strategy back to F1. It deliberately designed tires that degraded more quickly, prompting an increase in pit stops and in the number of strategy options.
“Pirelli has done a good job to help (racing),” William driver Rubens Barrichello said. “Together with the DRS and the KERS, I think the show has improved. Let’s hope that’s the way Formula One is going to be for the long term.”
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