A contradicting tale of two statistics

Last week, Pirelli released its annual Formula 1 analysis data which dives deep into a wide range of fascinating and useful statistics pertaining to the past season.

Among the data, a compelling piece of information: the number of overtaking moves registered over the course of the 2017 season.

The number had fallen from 866 in 2016 to 435 this year, a whopping 49 percent drop which confirmed what many had feared at the outset of the season in Melbourne, specifically the fact that F1’s new-spec faster and wider cars, with higher downforce, would pose a major challenge in terms of overtaking.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku, which was disrupted by a Safety Car and then interrupted, was the event which delivered the most passes, with drivers swapping positions 42 times. The Russian Grand Prix at Sochi however only a single overtaking move. Furthermore, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was F1’s best overtaker, passing his rivals 43 times over the course of the season.

A few days after Pirelli released its stat sheet, Formula 1 published a report which revealed that over four million fans attended this year’s races, approximately an eight percent increase compared to 2016.

“The 2017 season was a great spectacle, on and off track, thanks to drivers, teams, and most of all, fans, the beating heart of our sport,” said F1 commercial chief Sean Bratches.

While there’s no disputing the “bums on the seats” stat, labeling the season a “great spectacle” when overtaking was cut in half is a contradiction in terms, and one which only underscores once again the massive task which F1 has on its hands.

Last week, F1 CEO Chase Carey said that he agreed with comments suggesting that the Abu Dhabi race had been dull and lacking in entertainment.

“We need to make the competition better, make the action better, make the sport more captivating,” he insisted. “We’ve used the word spectacle, and it should be.

“Other cars [should] have a chance to win, have the unexpected happen, and have events happen on the track that really live up to what makes Formula 1 so special.”

Carey insisted that there was “broad-based agreement amongst the teams” about these objectives. However the precise details of how to achieve them remained to be hammered out.

And there lies the challenge: devising a complete overhaul of the technical regulations for the purpose of generating close and competitive racing for all, front runners, mid-fielders and minnows.

It must all come together for 2021. But in the interim, with three more seasons marked by less overtaking and sustained Mercedes dominance, if the trend continues, attendance numbers will likely take a hit.

Will it all be too little, too late for Formula 1 in 2021?

Phillip van Osten
Editor of