Overtaking is not the only key to a good F1 race

I’m not for a minute going to argue the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix was the best race of all time, or even a classic – because it wasn’t. However it illustrated a very important factor that many on Twitter and other platforms seem to forget – the fact that Formula One is a sport. And a sport made up of championships of which one takes place over the course of one year. What this means is the championship takes place over many days, weeks and months with an array of intriguing and intertwined stories and prospects all converging at the end into one single story – when a champion is crowned.

The weekend’s grand prix had so many unbelievable twists and turns (literally and figuratively) that have subsequently forced the championship fight completely on it’s head. As Max Verstappen leads the way with 105 points (ahead of Hamilton on 101 and Norris on 56) – the first time the Dutchman has ever lead the standings in Formula One. It would be foolish to overlook how Hamilton was heralding his best start to any season after the Spanish Grand Prix, illustrating Red Bull’s upturn in form.

“our constant pursuit of overtaking may be coming from a blinkered outlook”

Valtteri Bottas’ insane retirement in the pit lane, as the wheel gun machined the wheel nut to pieces ensuring the nut clamped firmly to the front axle, teamed with the heartbreak of Leclerc’s DNS, Hamilton’s poor qualifying and subsequent strategy woes, Norris’ utter domination of Ricciardo, Vettel’s newly found mojo, and some interesting broadcasting blunders meant the weekend as a whole was one to remember.

Put simply, you don’t need an influx of overtakes for an exceptional motor race. Ofcourse overtaking is welcome and crucial in the sense of allowing the best to rise to the top, but a good motor race doesn’t *have* to be a mass of position changes. An exhilarating late dive into the Nouvelle Chicane or a seemingly impossibly tight squeeze to the inside at Rascasse is always unbelievable to watch and can make a race truly spectacular. But take the 1992 Monaco Grand Prix, featuring a battle for the lead so good F1 chose to feature it in their pre-race ‘Action Zone at Rascasse’ sequence. Williams’ Nigel Mansell was thought to be 5 seconds a lap faster than McLaren’s Aytron Senna on worn tyres, but Senna managed to hold off Mansell for the win in an epic battle of intelligent driving from both sides. Yet there was not one overtake recorded between them.

Aytron Senna makes his McLaren as wide as he can in the middle of the Monaco streets to prevent the charging Mansell passing. Image: f1-grandprix

Nowadays DRS makes overtakes a more likely prospect, but unfortunately leads to another issue. If you can simply wait for the next DRS zone to breeze past your competitor in front, why would you make that daring move that everyone would remember? There’s a lot less risk for you and everyone else on the race track to sit it out until the next straight. The intrigue that DRS can bring occurs usually around lapped traffic, or when a train of cars forms – therefore the car you want to overtake also gets DRS from the traffic ahead. Unfortunately this is a circumstance rarer than a one-on-one situation and could probably only be increased in likelihood if the dreaded blue flags were removed from the sport. The leaders would then have to fight their way through slower traffic (creating pockets of entertainment in otherwise processional stints between pit stops) – the outrage from the drivers could be too much to bare for the FIA though if not researched properly.

In the case of Monaco, the racing itself was fairly subdued but the sheer amount of stories was brilliant. Even a week before the Grand Prix, McLaren deployed Zak Brown’s marketing genius once again and unveiled the one-off historic Gulf livery for the upcoming event. And all (photographer’s) eyes were on them throughout Thursday practice. Furthermore, Ferrari’s inherent pace was looking less and less like a fluke the closer we got to Qualifying – the opposite coming true at Mercedes.

Mick Schumacher’s struggles, in contrast to his teammate Mazepin, caught the eyes of many too. Soon followed by Leclerc’s Q3 crash at the second Swimming Pool chicane and the comments of certain rivals on the convenience of it’s timing. Therefore it was a somewhat busy weekend for journalists covering the Grand Prix which had all the hallmarks beforehand of a fairly tame weekend.

Leclerc’s crash on the exit of the Swimming Pool complex halted Q3 with only 18 seconds left on the clock. Image: Autoweek

Those calling for the removal of the race from the calendar perhaps should consider the importance of the Monaco Grand Prix on the sport, and the principality. Everyone knows about the heritage, the glamour, and the incredible scenery and yearly glimpse F1 fans get into the lifestyles of the super-rich. But of arguably higher value to the fan watching at home is the sight of the 20 best drivers in the World pushing themselves and their phenomenal machinery to the edge of adhesion, millimetres from the armco barriers at every entry, apex and exit. However much modern onboard cameras, power steering and paddle gear shifts have masked the challenge, Qualifying at Monaco is nevertheless truly staggering to behold.

The tight streets create their own unique circumstances and racing – proving that our constant pursuit of overtaking may be coming from a blinkered outlook. 2022’s reduction of dirty air should be a stark improvement in that area anyway. F1’s improvements in social media and Netflix’s Drive to Survive series has lead to a heightened interest in off-track shenanigans, making the races even more interesting. Further improvements on the media side should always be a huge positive to the sport.

So from that point of view, I don’t see the idea of changing the Monaco format to force overtaking or removing it from the sport altogether, as welcome options. Formula One would rightfully miss it.

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