Is F1 Excessively Dependent on Street Tracks, and Are They Affecting the Competition?

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From a 17-race calendar, only Melbourne, Monaco, and Montreal took the championship off the traditional circuits.

Fast forward to 2023, and the landscape has changed – there are now eight street venues compared to 14 conventional ones.

With the Chinese and Emilia Romagna Grands Prix being cancelled, of the eight rounds that have happened so far, only the Bahrain opening race and the most recent trip to Barcelona occurred on what might be considered a ‘classic’ circuit.

It’s not as simple as it might seem. For instance, the Jeddah Corniche circuit barely qualifies as a street circuit with its impeccably smooth surface. Albert Park is somewhat of a hybrid, and the Miami route around the Hard Rock Stadium seems to be specifically designed for F1.

While championship owner Liberty Media is successfully transforming more races into major city-centered events, the on-track action hasn’t necessarily kept up.

Given the complaints from fans about how uninteresting the early 2023 F1 races have been, street races have definitely received a significant portion of the criticism.

Some of this critique appears warranted. City circuits necessarily involve compromises to fit a layout. Essential elements like a key braking zone or an extended straight line, which can promote overtaking, are often replaced by a series of 90-degree turns to maneuver between buildings and a river.

The current fleet of wide, ground-effect cars isn’t ideally suited to Baku’s crowned roads or Monaco’s manhole covers.

F1’s fascination with street tracks has also pushed Pirelli into a state of compromise. Ideally, with limitless budgets, a tyre supplier would create one set of compounds for permanent tracks and another bespoke set for street circuits.

However, the Italian manufacturer is restricted to five approved compounds that it must utilize throughout the entire calendar.

“Typically, on a street circuit, you need softer compounds due to the smoother tarmac compared to a traditional circuit,” says Mario Isola, Pirelli’s head of motorsport, speaking to F1

He adds, “But, due to regulations, we have to approve the range of tyres in advance, and therefore, we have to work within the range of approved compounds. We can’t create any special tyres for street circuits, as that’s also regulated.”

The Spanish Grand Prix showed some exceptional racing in the midfield due to the diverse range of effective tyre strategies. However, such strategic diversity often doesn’t manifest on city tracks.

On such circuits, degradation is usually not the limiting factor, but managing tyre temperature is crucial. To prevent overheating, drivers are advised to maintain a clear, cooler air distance of two-second intervals to avoid prolonged wheel-to-wheel confrontations.

The requirement for managing tyre temperature, which has been detrimental to the spectacle, is not unique to street tracks, but the tendency towards these kinds of circuits in early 2023 has put them squarely in the spotlight.

When comparing the number of overtakes year by year, the numbers stay relatively stable, except for the significant decrease for Bahrain (58 overtakes in 2022 vs. 22 in 2023).

Of course, Red Bull’s dominance has made the weekend’s victory competition less exciting. But including the midfield’s dynamic action, the similar number of passes indicates that street tracks alone are not the sole problem for any perceived lack of entertainment.

It doesn’t imply that the current F1 era can’t be improved. According to drivers’ feedback, after a full year of development, the latest ground-effect cars produce more dirty air, making it harder to follow the car ahead – the exact opposite of what was intended when this rule package was formulated.

This situation makes drivers more dependent on DRS for overtaking. Consequently, the FIA’s decision to shorten DRS zones in Azerbaijan and Miami – against drivers’ feedback – hasn’t been beneficial.

Street tracks also reveal another problem with the current cars. The minimum weight limit for a car without fuel has increased to 798kg, a 107kg rise since the introduction of turbo hybrid engines in 2014. At race start, when fully fueled, they weigh close to 900kg, and this negatively affects agility and low-speed handling.

The shift to ground effect has also led to a stiffer car set-up, limiting drivers’ ability to ride over kerbs and stick to the same racing line. This lack of flexibility, especially on narrower, wall-lined street tracks, leads to processional races.

Factors like tyres, shortened DRS zones, the development arms race, Red Bull’s dominance, and the regulations themselves could all be blamed for a perceived decline in the spectacle in 2023 – even if the overtaking figures don’t necessarily support that argument. Against this backdrop of multiple factors, street tracks may have been unduly blamed.

But the overemphasis on city circuits in F1 has exposed them to this critique and has taken away some of the diversity in the early part of the season.

Nonetheless, while championship organizers should strive for a better balance, the key deficiencies in the current cars need to be addressed first to enhance the show in a sustainable manner.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about F1 street tracks

How has the F1 race calendar changed with regards to street tracks?

In 2023, the balance has shifted to eight street venues versus 14 traditional circuits. In the past, only Melbourne, Monaco, and Montreal took the championship off the traditional circuits.

Have street circuits affected the quality of racing in F1?

While it is not the sole factor, the increasing reliance on street circuits has had an impact on the quality of racing. The unique challenges of street circuits, such as tight turns and smooth surfaces, necessitate compromises in car design and strategy.

What are the criticisms leveled against the use of street circuits in F1?

Critics argue that street circuits require layout compromises that affect the quality of the racing. For example, essential elements like braking zones or extended straights, which promote overtaking, often make way for 90-degree turns to navigate city landscapes.

How do street circuits affect tire usage in F1 races?

Street circuits require softer tire compounds due to their smoother tarmac. However, due to regulations, the range of tires needs to be approved in advance, and the supplier must work within this approved range. This constraint often affects the racing strategy.

What are the proposed solutions to improve the racing quality on street circuits?

While there is an argument for a more balanced mix of street and traditional circuits, key issues with the current car design, like managing tire temperature and car weight, need to be addressed to improve the racing quality in a sustainable manner.

More about F1 street tracks

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Chris RacerFan June 15, 2023 - 4:36 pm

i’m not too fond of these street circuits. They just dont have the same feel as the traditional ones.

RedBullRicky June 15, 2023 - 6:44 pm

more downforce = more problems. We need a big change, not these small tweaks.

F1_Debbie June 15, 2023 - 9:00 pm

Great analysis! F1 needs a balance between street and perm tracks – this is spot on.

ZoomZoomLarry June 15, 2023 - 11:10 pm

maybe if the cars were better, street tracks wouldnt be a problem, just saying.

PitStopPete June 16, 2023 - 9:37 am

The tire issues really get me. I mean, why can’t they develop diff compounds for street circuits???

McLaren_Mike June 16, 2023 - 11:22 am

These cars are too heavy. It’s not about the track, it’s about the weight. Max is right.


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