Why overtaking isn’t the “be all and end all” for a race

Formula 1 fans often argue that there isn’t enough overtaking during a Grand Prix, and that without them, races are boring, but the Italian Grand Prix proved why that isn’t necessarily the case.

Overtaking is of course a vital ingredient of motor racing, and that is the main draw for any fan, watching their favourite driver pull an outstanding move on their rival in a bid to win the race, but sometimes it is the fight before it that is more exciting to watch.

At last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix there never ended up being an overtake for the win, yet fans were treated to a spectacle of a battle between the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc and the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.

The new young-gun attempting to hold off the titan of the series was always going to be interesting, and it ended up becoming one of the battles of the season.

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At no point did you know if Hamilton would pass the Ferrari or if Leclerc would be able to hang on, and that is what made it so exciting.

The battle was hard and at sometimes bordering unruly, as Leclerc defended so hard, he forced Hamilton off the road at the second chicane.

But the race stewards are now taking a new tact with the re-introduction of the black and white flag, effectively giving a driver a yellow card before penalising him for unfair driving, and whether you agree with it or not, it does create a better battle and adds to the drama of what is already being witnessed.

Hamilton eventually ran out of tyres and missed the first chicane in the closing stages, allowing his teammate Valterri Bottas to have a go at the Ferrari for the win, but Bottas never got close enough to make a major challenge.

Leclerc eventually went on to seal the win and Ferrari’s first victory in Italy since Fernando Alonso in 2010, but despite there being no overtake, everybody was raving about how good the race was.

And there is the crux of the matter. People get too caught up in the actual overtaking move, and obsess over the need for one to take place, when actually that isn’t the case at all.

What people actually love is the battle. Seeing two drivers go wheel to wheel, chasing each other nose to tail for lap after lap, trying to make a pass but not always able to do so.

That is what generates excitement and drama.

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Think back to 1992 at Monaco where Senna and Mansell went all-out for the win. Mansell never got passed Senna, but he hounded him all the way to the finish line, ducking and diving, trying to find a way passed but unable to do so.

No overtake occurred and Senna won, but that is considered to have been one of the best races to have taken place in Formula 1 history.

It is the “will they, won’t they” conundrum that creates the enjoyment and excitement of the race, and after a battle like that you will never feel like you have lost anything the lack of an overtake.

If there is a race long battle between two drivers and an overtake is never made, you applaud the driver who was able to defend so well, for so long and admire the way he was able to keep his rival at bay.

Vice versa, if the driver behind does manage to get an overtake completed, you will instantly rave about the move and how amazing it was.

The focus on an actual overtake has been obsessed about for far too long, and when there were constant overtakes at the start of the Pirelli tyre era, people moaned about them because there was so much action going on, you couldn’t keep up to speed with what was happening.

Again, that shows that it isn’t the moves themselves that draw fans in to the series, it is the battle leading up to the move that really catches the eye.

Of course, if there was no overtaking at all it would be pointless to watch the race, as we already know who has won, but it shouldn’t be easy to complete.

Drivers have moaned about it being hard to follow leading cars for a long time, and that prevents them from being able to overtake, and it is true.

That does dent the spectacle of a race, but this season, it has been shown on a number of occasions that this year’s cars are able to follow each other closer, and for longer than they have done before, and the Italian Grand Prix is evidence of this.

The Hungarian Grand Prix earlier in the year is also another example. Verstappen and Hamilton fought it out for the lead, before Hamilton eventually came out on top.

Of course, strategy played its part, but that’s been the case since the inception of Formula 1, and having opted for an extra pit-stop, Hamilton was able to pass Verstappen for the win.

But, again, people weren’t talking about the actual move – they were talking about the battle and the fight, and questioning if Hamilton could close the gap on his Red Bull rival, and then make the move once he got there, for he had been stuck behind him unable to pass for the whole of the first stint.

There will never be a happy balance of battles and overtakes in Formula 1, but it should be remembered that it is the battle themselves that draw people to the drivers, the cars and the series, and not solely the passing move.