It was clearly evident in the Spanish GP this weekend that following another car would destroy your pace after only a few laps. Why? The lack of downforce caused the tires to overheat. If there was a distinct pace advantage for the trailing driver, he could tail the leading driver for more laps, as the cornering speeds would be a little lower or the drop off in pace would be less than difference in potential lap time between the leading and trailing drivers.
Losing that aerodynamic grip just makes the car slide a little bit more, and the tires end up overheating and the driver losing major lap time. Alonso was trying hard for a few laps to get close to Maldonado, but then he would lose grip and fall back. He would then take a few laps, cool his tires off, and try again really hard, finally killing his tires and almost falling back into Kimi’s grasp. A similar thing happened with Hamilton, as he couldn’t get past Rosberg and ultimately could not defend against Kobayashi or Vettel. On the contrary, Kobayashi divebombed whoever he came across in a matter of a few corners (or no more than a lap), thus never quite letting his tires degrade like Alonso or Hamilton did.
This new phenomenon will definitely make passing quickly a top priority, rather than taking the classic, measured approach of taking a few laps to assess the situation, find a weakness and exploit it in the most advantageous section of the circuit. Now it’s a case of attacking while the tires still have grip to ensure that the wings get clean air, thus producing more downforce and maintaining tire performance. If the trailing driver takes too long to pass, the tires will fall off massively due to overheating, and the leading driver will start pulling away.
This can also potentially bring about an interesting situation that could provide a stunning finish. Theoretically, a driver could be held at bay just long enough that the tires are starting to overheat. At just the moment when his tires fall off, he manages to pull off the pass; however, now he doesn’t have the advantage he did two laps ago, so the driver he just passed is equally poised to re-pass not just in the next corner, but perhaps even later in the lap, setting up a duel where the two cars could pass each other multiple times in a few laps. I can only hope that we would see another Villeneuve vs. Arnoux type of battle, even if chances are slim.