x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Yas Marina Circuit deserves its pass marks

The introduction of significant aerodynamic packages to the cars has made the past 20 years processional; overtaking anywhere in the field was rare, changes at the front rarer still.

Does Formula One need overtaking to be successful?

That may sound like a strange question, especially given the lengths taken and rule changes made by the sport's ruling bodies in an attempt to encourage on-track passing. But it is a relevant one.

For years the talk has been of how more-frequent overtaking needed to be made to improve the show.

The introduction of significant aerodynamic packages to the cars has made the past 20 years processional; overtaking anywhere in the field was rare, changes at the front rarer still.

Last year's championship was one of the most exciting in recent years, with an unprecedented four drivers in contention for the title going into the finale in Abu Dhabi. But the majority of races, at the front anyway, were dull, with positions rarely changing after the opening laps.

Despite racing that critics considered boring, television audiences across the globe remain huge for the sport, with an estimated 200 million people worldwide watching the action at every race during the season.

Sponsors are still coming into the sport, or into some of the bigger teams, anyway; the majority of races are well-attended and a long list of countries are fighting for a chance to host a grand prix in the coming years.

This for a package that, more often than not, offered a race on Sunday with limited action.

A lot of fuss about overtaking was made at the end of last season when Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who was fighting for the championship, lost his chance for a third world title as he was unable to pass Vitaly Petrov's Renault at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

The track came in for criticism from the world's media and some F1 personnel for not giving Alonso an obvious opportunity to pass a car that had been more than a second slower in qualifying.

Oddly, no one was complaining four months earlier when Alonso had successfully kept Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull Racing car behind him for 40 laps at the Hungarian Grand Prix, despite the Ferrari having been 1.2 seconds slower in qualifying.

Perhaps the Yas circuit just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The lack of passing there was no worse than the action in Bahrain, Spain, Monaco, Valencia, Germany, Hungary, Singapore, Japan and Brazil that year, but it received more attention for its apparent failings because of the fact it was the final race and Alonso's inability to pass cost him the championship.

Yas Marina officials, to their credit, have read the critical response to last year's race, and are planning changes to the layout. But, as noted, other tracks are far more guilty of offering no passing.

If F1 was genuinely concerned about more overtaking, Monaco would not be on the schedule. The narrow, winding streets in Monte Carlo make it impossible for one car to pass another unless a rival makes a mistake.

Monaco makes the calendar because of the history and glamour it brings, but as a racing spectacle it is a bore and the organisers know it. But F1 officials and organisers don't mind because of what else Monaco brings to the sport in exposure.

The new rules this season have livened up the sport with lots of overtaking, but even that has its detractors, with some drivers and the media complaining that overtaking is now too easy in places, and that the big increase in pit-stops make it hard for people at home to follow the races and what is going on.

F1 doesn't need overtaking to be popular, as has been seen in the past, but the sport has to be admired for its attempts to improve itself on track.

The new rules will need fine-tuning as the year goes on; certainly in the last race in Turkey it was too easy to pass.

Considering how popular the sport has been with dull racing, just how big can it grow with genuine entertainment to promote?

gcaygill@thenational.ae