Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: overtaking

Speaking to you now as someone who has stuck a toe into the murky world of life beyond 40, I have to admit that most of the time I really can't be bothered to do any overtaking.

You risk life and limb on the wrong side of the road and for what? A 30- second burst of speed followed by the need for yet another death-defying lunge into the path of an oncoming tractor. And then another and then another.

However, last night, I was in a hurry to get home for Who Wants to be a Millionaire so I found myself driving with a subtle blend of style, conviction and purpose. I would play with the Jag's J gate, scanning the horizon for signs of total darkness and then, if I found it, I'd nail the throttle and surge past the offending road block on a wave of torque and power and noise.

On every corner, a yellow light on the dash signified that the traction control system was helping me to stay between the hedges which, as the needle surged up to 6,000, were a blur of jet black against the sodium-tinged navy blue of the sky. It was like being 39 again.

And it reinforced my view that incentive is what's needed to bring some overtaking back to the world of F1.

Pay the drivers £20,000 a year and give them a million quid a point, with 10 mill for a win. Then watch the little sods get past one another.

We saw this with Eddie Irvine in Canada a couple of years ago. Knocked from second to eighth place in a mid- corner bump, he set off like a man possessed, overtaking at least a car a lap until he was back where he belonged.

And for extra spice, why not have every driver do each GP in a different car? That way, you'd end up with races where Michael Schumacher was in a Minardi, Mika Hakkinen in a Prost and the likes of Marc Gene in a Ferrari.The trouble is, of course, that I'm sitting here with 20:20 vision while the rest of the world is wearing bi-focals. I have seen the light, but they think that the problems of GP motor racing can be addressed with annual rule changes.

"I’d nail the throttle and surge past the offending road block on a wave of torque and power and noise"

That's silly. They don't change the size of a tennis court every 12 months  and the last time I looked, a Q was still worth 10 points in Scrabble.

And besides, every time there are rule changes in F1, the gulf between Minardi and the tobacco giants grows wider.

Granted, it gives Murray something to talk about for half the year but let's face some facts here. Last year, Mclaren and Ferrari were about as good as the regulations would allow whereas Jordan and Williams were not. So, if you left the rule book unchanged, Ferrari and McLaren would be unable to improve very much, allowing the others to make breakthroughs and catch up.

But rules have changed for 2001. The front spoiler must be a couple of inches higher and traction control is to be permitted, rather than fitted and hidden.

Great. The rich teams already had a good car so could afford to spend the winter testing the changes, whereas the poorer teams had to spend this time making the car good in the first place.

And besides, I cannot see what good can come from raising the front spoiler.

I know I have the engineering prowess of a stoat, but Martin Brundle is forever telling us that when you come up behind another F1 car on the track, it disturbs the air meaning you lose front end downforce, suffer from big understeer and end up going more slowly than the man you're trying to pass.

So surely, a higher front spoiler will mean even less front end grip, even more understeer and, consequently, even fewer overtaking manoeuvres. The driver who's keen to get home for Millionaire will be forced to slither about uselessly in the wake of the slower guy who, with his traction-controlled rear end, will zoom off into the distance.

So what's to be done? Well there are those who say we should go back to the days of ground effect. With big tunnels under the car, literally sucking it onto the road, it wouldn't matter if you came up behind Brian Blessed in a Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, your front end would still be nailed to the road.

Of course, purists say that ground effect provides so much grip that we'd no longer have lurid power slides, but I say pah to that - traction control is now legal and anyway, my idea of a power slide is what Tiff does on Top Gear or what Colin McRae does in a wood.

That pathetic fento-second twitch we see from an F1 car may seem like the end of the world from inside the cockpit but from where I'm sitting, it amounts to diddly squat.

And I don't want a return to ground effect because it would mean the richer teams would get it right more quickly than the poorer ones and we'd have the embarrassing spectacle of Schumacher finishing the Japanese GP while the rest were on their first lap in Australia.

It seems hopeless, but the other night I found myself sitting next to Jonathan Palmer, who suggested that the racing line of a track could be made slightly less adhesive than the non-racing line. So, when you pull out to get past some-one you have more grip than he does.

By George, I think he's got it.


Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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