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New teams: are they safe to share the track with?

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New teams: are they safe to share the track with?
Mar 12, 2010, 7:57 PM

There has been a lot of discussion today in Bahrain about the new teams and their pace, or lack of it.

There has been a lot of discussion today in Bahrain about the new teams and their pace, or lack of it.

Today the fastest car, Nico Rosberg's Mercedes lapped in 1m 55.409 and the slowest, the Hispania of Bruno Senna managed a 2m 06.968, only just over a second faster than the fastest GP2 time today.

The FIA has made it clear that it would like to re-introduce the 107% rule for qualifying, whereby any car which cannot set a time within 107% of the pole is not allowed to race. Senna's time was outside the 107% time, which is 8 seconds slower, but the Virgin and the Lotus were well inside.

This 107% rule was dropped when qualifying with race fuel on board was introduced, but FIA president Jean Todt has just said that he wants to see it back. But he accepts that there is no way to get the 100% unanimous vote among teams required by the rules in order to make it happen this year. To pass it for 2011 requires just 70% majority, which means all the established teams, leaving the new teams in the minority.

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali is also in favour and believes that it should be pushed through for this season on safety grounds if required.

But there are two fundamental problems with the 107% rule. The first is that it comes at too late a stage in the weekend. The most dangerous time is the first part of qualifying, where the cars are being driven on the limit and you have a combination of inexperienced drivers, high closing speeds and traffic.

The slow cars are eliminated after Q1. To have them in a race where all the cars are fat with fuel at the start and it all takes time to get going, is not so much of a problem. So why allow them on track at the most dangerous time of the weekend in order to stop them being there when everyone is travelling more slowly?

The second problem is that if you say a car travelling at 7% off the pace of the fastest car is a danger, how do you square that with free practice, where you can have some front running cars on low fuel quali simulations while others are full of fuel and lapping five or six seconds slower, as we saw this afternoon? That is almost 7% of difference.

In other words, although it might seem a good time to bring it back, in practice the argument is undermined by the conditions in practice.

There will be discussions and it is quite possible that the rule will return for 2011, more to set a benchmark for future entries than anything else, but I think that the Hispania car will get up to speed in the next few races and will be well inside the cut off anyway. As its driver Karun Chandhok has pointed out, the car is built by Dallara, who build GP2 cars. So with a lot more downforce and almost 200 more horsepower the F1 car must be substantially faster. People are underestimating Hispania. Let's see where they are in four races time.

If voted in, the 107% rule will apply next year for the team which wins the 13th grid slot, which will go out to tender in a few days.

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Series Formula 1