Former Renault technical director Pat Symonds says Formula 1 teams and its bosses should get together and invest serious time and resources into understanding better how much overtaking the sport really needs, in a bid to improve grand prix racing.
Symonds believes that while F1 is about to embark on the new movable rear wing concept and is considering major changes for 2013, he thinks more fundamental questions need answering. In particular, he thinks technical chiefs would be better able to come up with rules that did improve the racing – if they were told exactly how much overtaking the sport's chiefs felt was needed.
"We don't need tons and tons of overtaking – but maybe we need a little bit more than we have got now," Symonds told AUTOSPORT. "Only maybe, though. To be honest, if you look at 2010, maybe that was about right. It was significantly more than we had before.
"I've said it many times before, but overtaking should be like a goal in football [soccer] and not a basket in basketball. That is the sort of level you want. But one of the interesting things is that, having worked on one of the Overtaking Working Groups [OWG], and even last year looking at it, no one has ever said, 'This is exactly what we want.'
"One of the best surveys that was conducted was done by FOTA, because they actually contacted people outside of motorsport. FOTA went out to the world and they went to the shopping centers and things like that. People said they wanted more overtaking, but it wasn't as strong as you might think. So I really don't think that a sophisticated audience wants to see cars swapping [positions] every lap."
Symonds (RIGHT) believes efforts to make better rules in the past have been thwarted by technical chiefs not really knowing exactly what they are aiming for. He believes a clear target would help the sport deliver.
"If we are going to improve overtaking, then we need to know what our target is – and if our target is to have half as much again as we have now, then sure, we can work on it," he said. "If it is three times as much, we can work on it. We need a target, we need to dispel some of the myths – and we need to put some money into it to research it."
Symonds said the urgency to conduct a detailed investigation into the exact role that passing should play in F1 is ramping up because of big changes to the cars coming for 2013. Work is progressing behind the scenes to introduce low-downforce designs featuring more ground effect, rather than relying on wings to produce more grip.
The proposals, which have been worked on by Williams co-owner Patrick Head and former Ferrari designer Rory Byrne, are currently being presented to teams for consultation. Although talk about a return to ground effect in F1 has lifted hopes about better racing, Symonds is not so convinced about that.
"There are loads of people who say that ground effect is better for overtaking. But I would love to know how they know that, because no work has ever been done on it," he said. "The only wind tunnel work that has been done on overtaking is one lot by the OWG quite recently and one previous to that by the GPMA (Grand Prix Manufacturers' Association). Both of those bits of work suggested that if you tried to produce the downforce from the bodywork, then it was going to be badly affected by the wake. So what little evidence there is suggests it is not such a great thing to do."
He added: "I have spoken to Rory [Byrne] in great, great detail about the work that he and Patrick [Head] have done, and we have spoken for many hours on the phone about this. But it is all being done on CFD and there has been absolutely no work done on overtaking at all. Nothing. Therefore it is quite worrying, isn't it?
"There is a lot less downforce. So it stands to reason that if there is less downforce then there is less effect, so that side of it is good, but the rest of it? Absolutely nothing to suggest that it will be better – and perhaps some evidence to suggest it might even be worse.
"So, in my view, it would be negligent to introduce those regulations without looking at the effect of overtaking. And, that is quite a big job, because I don't believe you can do that in CFD, not when you have a car that is so different.
"The one thing that we suffered from in the last OWG was we could only work with quarter-scale models, because of the size of the tunnel. Someone needs to put the money up and say, 'Let's go to Mercedes and use one of the big tunnels that is not in use. Let's have bigger models and let's do the work properly.' It is going to cost money, but F1 has got money. It is time it invested in itself."