2017 saw a bit of an overhaul of Formula 1. Bernie left, the cars got faster and the tyres got wider. This would be good news – fans had been calling for all of these things for many years – however whilst lap times fell, they weren’t the only thing to fall last year.
Pit stops; the one area of a race where a team can easily find or drop time, fell. The number of pit stops fell from 933 in 2016 to 533 in 2017, with the average falling from 44.4 pit stops per race to just 26.7 last year. That’s nearly half the chances for teams to make up time and, though that figure will undoubtedly be “helped” both by Manor leaving and McLaren rarely seeing the flag, is still a disappointing one to see.
The pit stop is an integral part of racing, and can really add some excitement to a race. A perfectly-timed undercut can turn a boring race into a nail-biter, whilst a tiny mistake by one of the pit crew can see leads cut in half and a nailed-on win turned into a battle to the end. Seeing the number fall so drastically is depriving fans of the unpredictability that comes with them, and seeing them rise in 2018 would only be a good thing.
That said, whilst pit stops are one interesting aspect of F1, they’re not the reason we watch. That’s overtaking. And it’s overtaking that gives us the most shocking statistic. We all knew that overtaking fell last year, but the amount it fell by is the interesting part.
The number of overtaking manoeuvres plummeted from 866 in 2016 to 435 in 2017. The fewest number of overtakes in a dry race also dropped, going from an already unhealthy ten at Hungary in 2016 to just one in Russia in 2017.
This fall in overtakes is largely due to the updated regulations that came in for the 2017 season. Cars were afforded more downforce and wider tyres, making them both harder to follow and faster.
Whilst the cars being harder to follow can be seen in the number of overtakes, the increase in speed can be seen in the lap times from the year; qualifying times shrunk by 2.450s, whilst fastest laps got 2.698s faster. Cornering speeds also grew, with cars travelling 18mph faster through Copse (for a staggering 180mph, the fastest corner on the calendar) and Spa’s daunting Pouhon saw cars travelling 22mph faster than the previous year, reaching 179mph.
Whilst these numbers make for sobering reading, and the Halo is coming this year whether fans like it or not, there is a silver lining to this cloud. Changes are afoot.
Liberty Media have made the sport more open than ever, giving fans access to more content than we had been seen before, allowing teams to upload content as and when they please (even during testing) and running the wildly successful F1 Live event, allowing everyday fans (not just the paying elite) the up-close and personal interactions we’ve been shouting for all these years. This is a great step forwards, and one that is indicative of the new era of fan becoming the focus. Bernie is out, and fans are in.
Another positive is that, whilst the changes haven’t returned Formula 1 to its glory days, Liberty know there are issues and want to fix them. They know cars have to be more raceable, and they want to make it so. And with a man like Ross Brawn looking after that area of the sport, you know it’s in safe hands.
A final thing to consider is that even though overtaking, pit stops and raceability is down, the outlook is up. Liberty know what we as fans want, and are willing to give it to us. With their first season out of the way, they’re in prime position to make Formula 1 the sport it was, the sport it could be, and the sport it should be. It may not be perfect, but 2018 will be a glimpse at the future of the sport. And it’s just a few months away.