He who seeks the undercut, shall be rewarded graciously. He who forsakes the undercut, shall suffer gloriously.
This is known.
-Racer’s Bible 6:9
Welcome to the next edition of Steve’s Personal Opinion (SPO), where if you hadn’t guessed already, in this post I will be talking about Formula
Yawn 1; specifically about pit strategy.
Now, disclaimer: The above passage from the divine wisdom of the Racer’s Bible is not actually a thing, I just made that up. However, if there was such a thing as a racer’s bible, it should DEFINITELY be in there.
This year, we have a new era of chassis design; longer, wider, shorter and faster. Praise be the lord with the tinted visor. Except, is it really doing any favours for the racecraft this year? I say that after 4 races, the answer is a huge “HELL NO”. I think we’ve seen maybe 2 passes all year long on track, and they came from Bottas’ incredible start last weekend where he jumped both Ferrari’s en route to victory.
Now why is that? Well, as was suspected by knowledgeable people like Craig Scarborough and Sam Collins (among others, I personally like these guys the best for this sort of thing), the more intricate front wings would make it harder for the would-be passer due to the lack of aero efficiency in the corners. This makes sense, as we already had this issue before these new batch of rule changes. So why, oh why, did we go to this formula? In the name of speed. Yes, the pace is significantly quicker, nearly as quick as the mid 2000’s. The Australian GP finished something like 25mins faster than 2016. Now this creates for really exciting qualifying sessions, watching the drivers navigate their carbon fiber chariots. However come race time…
No more definitive proof of this was in Melbourne, where Hamilton pitted early due to poor tire wear, only to come out right behind Verstappen. Hamilton was 1.5s per lap quicker but was stuck behind him for a half dozen laps until Verstappen pitted, himself. Which begs the question: How do you pass, then?
The answer is the undercut; the principle where you pit earlier than the car ahead of you, in order to gain more of an advantage in clear air. If done correctly, the driver who pitted first, with fresher tires, usually gets ahead of the car once they have pitted. Boring? FUCK YES! I’d rather see Sainz impale his Torro Rosso into Stroll’s Williams than an anti-climatic pass in the pits.
Of course the answer isn’t always undercut: You have to consider overall race strategy, and how many pit stops you plan on making, versus the other cars around you. However, the undercut is the only real way of passing now, unless you are (even a turtle) passing a perfectly unhealthy McLaren-Honda, manned by the Stig himself.
So, if I’m a race engineer at a Formula One team, I’d be looking to pounce on the undercut, even if that means having to save tires for a few extra laps. Clearly, unless you have a significant disadvantage in a straight line (*cough* Honda *cough*) you should be able to keep the car behind you, even if traditionally they have the overcut (fresher tires after pits) working for them.
Hopefully, we’ll see more undercuts until the F1 technical body can implement some ground-effects-centric rules which will allow for more passes.
Until then, I will patiently wait for a day we can have some epic on track battles once again.
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