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Back to the future on backmarkers

Overtaking those in the way has been part of the sport since its existence; hence putting on them to loose a position might not be appropriate. Right Jenson?
Tuesday, July 9, 2013

July 9th, 2013 (F1plus/G. Keilloh).- McLaren at the Nurburgring had its best weekend in a while, and somewhat against expectations. Yet despite finishing in sixth place, and stating the team hadn't 'put a foot wrong' throughout the weekend, its pilot Jenson Button was rueful.

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He reckoned he would have finished one place higher had he not been delayed by battling Caterhams when trying to lap them late on (Jenson said somewhere that it cost him four seconds), which assisted Lewis Hamilton in passing him on the final lap.

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But, nothing personal Jenson, We’re afraid that any driver that complains about delays resultant of picking your way through backmarkers gets no sympathy from me. The sport has definitely changed in this regard, and changed relatively recently.

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It's not all that long ago that working your way through lapped 'traffic' was part of the game and an important one at that. Up until roughly the mid-1990s only egregious cases of blocking by backmarkers (e.g. those which lasted several laps) would have a chance of being punished, and sometimes not even those would result in censure. Some of those about to be lapped would move graciously to one side, but many would not (e.g. De Cesaris, Arnoux, Alliot, to pick some notorious offenders).

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We can't help but think that a lot has been lost with the current practice of drivers leaping out of the way and applying the anchors at the earliest opportunity upon seeing a blue flag. Lapping while losing the minimum time is a lost art to the sport, and one that many of F1's greatest practitioners, Ayrton Senna most notably, were particularly skilled at. It's not exaggeration to say that had the current practice existed in Senna's day you would most likely have to take away ten or more of his 41 Grand Prix wins.

More broadly, dicing through traffic greatly added to the excitement and variation of an F1 race, and many iconic moments resulted from a leader being 'baulked', such as Nigel Mansell's opportunistic pass on Senna in Hungary 1989, which has gone into folklore.

We would assume that the main reason that the current strict appliance of blue flags came into being was the problem of 'dirty air' in F1, which meant passing even those several seconds a lap slower without cooperation was problematic. However, that problem has been sorted and then some with DRS and the like, meaning we now have in F1 more passing than we have had for decades.

So why not go back to how things were in lapping? I'm sure that for one McLaren's former employee Ayrton Senna would have approved.

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