Smith: How the Chinese GP debunked F1 2017’s overtaking myth

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When we entered the 2017 Formula 1 season and defined it as the beginning of a new era, it would not have been unfair to say we were overplaying things. Hyperbole always makes for good headlines, but things wouldn’t change that much, surely?

For cars that were meant to be multiple seconds per lap quicker, more challenging to drive and more exciting to watch, some fans were left a touch disappointed by the season-opener in Australia two weeks ago.

Sure, Mercedes had been beaten soundly for the first time since Singapore 2015, and sure, the cars certainly looked quicker, but the preseason concerns about the trouble drivers would have overtaking and the lack of significant (as in, really big, not just big) uptake in lap time left some disappointed. Perhaps new-style F1 wasn’t so new after all.

And then Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix happened.

While the race won’t be remembered as a classic, there were a number of standout moments that will be remembered fondly. But most importantly, it went a long way to debunking some of the myths that lingered after Australia about F1 2017.

Let’s face it: new-style F1 is not only new, but it’s awesome.

One of the biggest worries about the new cars under the 2017 regulations is that they would make overtaking much harder. Although the cars had more downforce, thus making them much quicker through the corners, this also meant there was more downforce to lose when running in the dirty air of another car. As a result, it would be harder to follow and get close to rival cars, therefore making it harder to pass.

It was hard to make any firm judgment in Australia. Sebastian Vettel was able to get relatively close to Lewis Hamilton, but made his pass through the pit stops. There weren’t a huge number of overtakes, but Albert Park has rarely been conducive to back-and-forth racing.

Shanghai was always seen as being the true test for F1 2017 – so how many overtakes were there in 2017 compared to 2016?

2016 Chinese GP Overtakes: 128
2017 Chinese GP Overtakes: 54

Less than half – so maybe the naysayers are right? Maybe it is more difficult to overtake?

They are right. It is more difficult to overtake. But that is a really, really good thing – because it has made overtaking an art form once again.

It’s difficult to remember much about the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix in terms of on-track action. Hamilton fought back from an engine issue in qualifying that left him at the back in easily the quickest car; Nico Rosberg won. But there aren’t any overtakes that immediately spring to mind.

This year’s wet-dry race in Shanghai was packed with them though. Drivers were no longer simply waiting until the long DRS zone on the back straight and then zooming past (well, except for Valtteri Bottas on Fernando Alonso, the latter’s Honda engine looking desperately feeble); they had to fight for places. DRS did its job of allowing drivers to close on competitors, but they still had to do the hard work under braking.

The challenge of overtaking was best displayed on the restart following the early safety car period. Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen were both lacking pace, with young upstart Max Verstappen – more on him to come – making light work of his Red Bull teammate, diving up to second at Turn 6.

Raikkonen was left to battle with Ricciardo, but an engine mode issue meant he could not get close enough. This in turn left Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel scrambling behind until he had enough and bolted past his teammate at Turn 6 as well. Both Verstappen and Vettel’s moves were divebombs; true late-braking contests. There was nothing easy about it.

But the best was yet to come.

With his Ferrari engine functioning just fine, Vettel was able to get closer to Ricciardo, with the faster SF70H making its advantage clear. Wise to the move that Verstappen had pulled, Ricciardo was careful to hug the inside at Turn 6 so that Vettel wouldn’t perform a similar trick – only for Vettel to respond by sweeping around the outside of the tight corner.

“When I was behind Daniel I saw him blocking down the inside because I had a good run out of Turn 4. I said ‘OK, you have to try it around the outside, brake really late and hard’,” Vettel explained.

“Fortunately he didn’t lock up. I had him in the mirror, checking, otherwise I have to open immediately before he would make contact.

“Then on the exit I was a bit compromised, a bit in the dirt, getting a bit of wheel spin, but then I got a bit my elbows out. He really squeezed me, but it was good fun and I had the inside for the next corner.”

It was a truly inspired move from Vettel – and proved everything that is so good about these new regulations. To make an overtake, you really need to work for it and hustle your opponent, looking for the smallest of errors to pounce upon. Failing that, you need to get creative – which is exactly what Vettel did.

The undisputed overtaking king in China was the young Verstappen, though. Even when he qualified down in 19th place on Saturday, there was always a feeling that he would be able to turn things around – but few foresaw the charge that followed when the lights went out.

Just as he did in Brazil last year, Verstappen seemed capable of finding grip where other drivers simply could not. Having started 16th after some of the cars around him received grid penalties, Verstappen made up a remarkable nine places on the opening lap to sit seventh, with the Dutchman admitting after the race that it did feel a bit like a video game at times.

“I had a good start, but I got a bit blocked because the two cars in front of me went into the middle so I had to back off, but still I gained one or two positions,” Verstappen explained.

“[I was] basically just trying to find a gap so trying to go round the outside in turn one, I got another car, then inside turn two, another car, outside turn three, because there was space, trying to find grip because when you’re behind a car you lose a lot of downforce so just trying to find some free space and basically everything happened.

“Also turn six, turn seven, eight, always trying to go around the outside or inside and it worked. Yeah, nine cars is quite a lot on one lap but of course very happy that it worked.”

Again, it was a matter of thinking on his feet and being savvy with his overtakes. It was a challenge. It wasn’t a case of the faster car being able to sweep past.

This was clear with Verstappen’s ballsy overtakes later in the race. His pass on Ricciardo definitely surprised his teammate, yet it was the move on Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas that really caught attention. He may have been on fresher tires and more confident with his car, yet Verstappen was still able to launch down the inside at – you guessed it – Turn 6 and make a stunning overtake against what is unquestionably a much faster car in the dry.

So although there were only 54 overtakes in this race, they were far more organic – they had to be earned. DRS worked, but was not the free-pass card it has been in China in recent years. If you wanted to get through, you still had to be the bravest – and that is surely a great thing for F1.

Yes, overtaking is more difficult in 2017. But that’s not a bad thing, as the myth suggested. It doesn’t mean that we will have processional races; China was proof of that.

If anything, it will make the racing more spectacular and give us greater entertainment – and that bodes very, very well indeed for the season to come.

Supercross 2023: Results and points after Houston


Eli Tomac led all 23 laps of the Monster Energy Supercross race at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas and the results show he now has three wins in the season and is one shy of tying Ricky Carmichael’s 48 for third on the all-time list. With this win, he takes a seven point lead in the standings with 12 rounds remaining.

For Tomac at Houston, it was literally a tale of two races. Both his heat and the main started the same with Tomac grabbing the holeshot, but he was passed quickly by Chase Sexton in the heat. Tomac faded quickly after getting passed and was trailing by almost eight seconds at the checkered flag, which caused him to retreat to the hauler and reassess his lines. Without making any adjustments to the bike, Tomac entered the Main with a new attitude, and simply rode better.

Supercross Results Houston
Chase Sexton played it safe in the sand, but he was aggressive in every other turn. – Feld Motor Sports

Sexton had so great a lead in his heat that one could not even use the cliche that he left Tomac in his dust. By the time the rider with the No. 1 plate crossed the same real estate as the No. 23, the dust was well settled. Sexton had a modest start on the initial gate drop and ended Lap 1 in fourth. He worked his way past Aaron Plessinger on Lap 3 and got around Jason Anderson three laps later. Sexton was able to catch Tomac and pressure him, but he picked a safe, i.e. slow line through the sand section and could never get alongside his rival.

RESULTS: Click here for 450 Results; Click here for full 250 East Main Results

After starting the season with back-to-back seventh-place finishes, Anderson now has a pair of podiums. He won his heat and was easily one of the top three riders in the field, ultimately finishing behind the riders who finished 1-2 in the other preliminary. Anderson was subdued on the podium – happy he was there, but disappointed he has not yet found a way around the riders he is chasing in the points.

In the early stages of the race, Plessinger appeared to have a bike capable of winning. He pressured Tomac on the first two laps and was setting up the pass just as a red flag waved for an injury to Dylan Ferrandis that brought out a red flag. He lost second to Anderson on the restart and eventually slipped to fourth to score his first top-five of the season.

Click here for 450 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

Cooper Webb rounded out the top five. Along with Sexton, he is now one of just two riders with a sweep of that mark in 2023, but with Tomac’s three wins, he is beginning to slip in the points. Webb sits third in the standings, 12 points behind the leader.

Ken Roczen entered the race as the third rider with a sweep of the top five and progressively better results in the first three races of 2023. Had the pattern held, he would have finished at least second, but he struggled for most of the night, finishing fifth in his heat and eighth in the Main. There may have been extenuating circumstances, however. Ferrandis’ injury was suffered when he landed on the back of Roczen’s bike and potentially damaged the No. 94 Suzuki.

Click here for 450 Main results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points | Lap Chart

The 250 East division made their 2023 debut in Houston, but the name atop the board was familiar. Hunter Lawrence joined his brother Jett Lawrence as the early points’ leader in their respective divisions, but it didn’t come without a little anxiety.

Riding behind Supercross newbie Tom Vialle on the second lap, Lawrence was forced to take evasive action when the leader pitched his bike sideways to scrub speed over a jump. Lawrence veered left and landed off course, but he cleared the Tuff Blox and kept his bike straight. Lawrence made the pass for the lead on Lap 18 and never relinquished it.

Click here for 250 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

In his first attempt on a 250, Max Anstie ascended to the podium. – Feld Motor Sports

England’s Max Anstie made the move from 450s to 250s this year after scoring a best result of 11th on the big bike at Anaheim 2 last year. It didn’t take anytime at all to find the front for Anstie, who finished second in both his heat and main.

It has been a while since Jordon Smith stood on the podium: February 23, 2019 to be exact when he finished that well in Detroit. A series of injuries kept him off the bike for much of 2020 and 2021, but he’s proving to be a factor when he’s healthy.

Click here for 250 Main results | 250 East Rider Points | Combined Rider Points | Lap Chart

There was a lot of hype surrounding the debut of Haiden Deegan in the 250 class and he proved it was merited. He finished fourth in his heat and main. He was as far down as ninth at one point in the feature before slowly picking off riders on his way to the front.

Jeremy Martin finished fifth and now has a streak of three consecutive top-fives to his credit stretching back to last year. Unfortunately, his pair of strong runs in 2022 were interrupted by injury.

Making impressive debuts in the 250 division, Vialle recovered from a fall to finish seventh, Chance Hymas finished eighth, and Talon Hawkins just missed the top 10 with an 11th.

2023 Results

Race 3: Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen win
Race 2: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 1: Tomac, Lawrence win

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings

Week 3: Ken Roczen takes the top spot
Week 2: Roczen moves up; Chase Sexton falls
Week 1: Eli Tomac tops 450s; Jett Lawrence 250s