Insider’s guide: What is parc fermé and what does it mean?

Do you know what teams can change on their cars after qualifying or why drivers stop where they do after a race? Find out that and more here…

In F1, the teams are constantly pushing the boundaries (and trying to ‘flex’ the rules) while the governing body, the FIA, constantly tries to keep the reigns tight and ensure everyone is playing fair.

A key part of this process is running legality checks on the cars in parc fermé and restricting the teams to parc fermé conditions during the weekend – but what exactly does this mean and how does it affect the teams?

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What does parc fermé mean?

The term parc fermé is a French phrase that translates literally as ‘closed park.’ It traditionally refers to a secure area at a circuit where cars are checked over by scrutineers for legality and safety.

The checks include weight and dimensional measurements, which are carried out using laser technology, as well as equipment checks in which homologation labels are viewed to ensure parts are pre-tested and meet relevant standards.

In modern F1, parc fermé also refers to certain periods of time during a Grand Prix weekend when the cars are in their garages but are placed under the eye of a scrutineer and teams are restricted in the work they can do on them.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, arrives in Parc Ferme after the Sprint

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, arrives in Parc Ferme after the Sprint

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

What is the difference between parc fermé and parc fermé conditions?

Parc fermé is a cordoned-off zone, controlled by the FIA with limited access for the teams. It is located by the FIA garages, usually near the podium so the top three finishers can easily get from there to the ceremony after the race.

No work can be done on a car in this zone, but three mechanics and suitable equipment must be present to shut down the systems, keep the machinery cool and support the scrutineers throughout the checking process.

In contrast, when cars are placed in parc fermé conditions they could be either out on track or in the pit garages. The teams can touch them, but they can only make certain specified changes.

When are cars called to parc fermé or placed under parc fermé conditions?

Teams are called to visit parc fermé or required to work under parc fermé conditions many times through the weekend.

At the start of the weekend, each team self-scrutineers its car and declares it legal but to make sure they are telling the truth, the FIA calls at least six cars in for checks at parc fermé after practice.

Teams are free to modify their cars as they wish (within the rules) right up to the start of qualifying but as soon as the green light goes for Q1, all cars are placed under parc fermé conditions from then until the start of the race.

Any car that is knocked out of qualifying in Q1 or Q2 will go back to the team’s garage, where it will be held under parc fermé conditions and remain under the watchful eye of a steward whenever the team is present.

Any cars that run in Q3 must go to the physical parc fermé after the session for legality and safety checks. They are then released back to the garage with a scrutineer, again under parc fermé conditions.

After the race, all classified finishers must go straight to parc fermé for legality and safety checks. This takes 1-2 hours, sometimes longer, after which the cars are released back to the teams. One car will be chosen at random to stay for a deeper inspection.

The potential for irregularities to be spotted and resulting penalties to be handed out means the actual race result is not decided and confirmed until long after the champagne is sprayed.

The car of Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M, in Parc Ferme

The car of Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M, in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

How do parc fermé conditions work?

 Before each car leaves the pit lane for qualifying, the teams will provide the FIA Technical Delegate with a set-up sheet. This is the exact set-up they must stick to for the rest of qualifying and the race.

Teams can do certain maintenance work under parc fermé conditions, including replacing parts like-for-like, but they are not allowed to modify any part on the car or change the suspension set-up.

One scrutineer is allocated to stay with each car and ensure no unauthorised work is carried out at all times under parc fermé conditions. If the rules are broken, that car will have to start the race from the pit lane.

What are teams ALLOWED to do during parc fermé conditions?

The FIA regulations list more than 20 different specific jobs that can be done to the car while under parc fermé conditions. Anything not on the list requires special written permission.

Engines can be started, fuel added or removed and a fuel breather fitted and spark plugs can be removed to allow internal engine inspections and cylinder compression checks. Energy storage devices can also be charged or discharged.

The brake system can be bled, engine oil can be drained, compressed gases can be drained or added and other fluids can be drained or replenished as long as the replacement fluid is the same specification as the original.

Wheels, fasteners and tyres can be removed, changed or rebalanced and tyre pressures checked. Heating or cooling devices can be fitted and a jump battery can be connected so the electronics can be accessed via a physical connection.

The front wing can be adjusted using existing parts but no parts can be added, removed or replaced. Bodywork can be removed, cosmetic changes can be made, tape can be added and any part of the car can be cleaned.

Onboard cameras, marshalling systems and timing transponders can be removed, refitted or checked. Changes can also be made to the mirrors, seat belts and pedals and the drinks bottle can be filled up to a maximum of 1.5 litres.

Any parts removed to carry out work or safety checks must be kept close to the car in sight of the assigned scrutineer. Everything must be refitted back as it was before the car leaves the pit lane.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, arrives in Parc Ferme after Qualifying

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, arrives in Parc Ferme after Qualifying

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

What if a car has been damaged?

The rules permit the ‘repair of genuine accident damage’ but exactly how this is defined is a rather grey area.

Cars often require touching up after qualifying as the areas closest to the track – such as the floor, diffuser or front wing – can get damaged from hitting kerbs or debris. If a driver has an off, it could be a lot more work than that.

Teams must send a written request to the FIA Technical Delegate in which they will clearly define any replacement parts they need to fit. These have to be ‘the same in design and similar in mass, inertia and function’ to the original.

Repairs must be done – just like any work that is carried out in parc fermé conditions – in the presence of the assigned scrutineer, and any of the parts that are removed are retained by the FIA.

In emergency situations – like mid-qualifying or on the grid – changes can be made without written permission as long as it is fair to believe permission would be given and any parts removed are seen by the scrutineer.

What about changing the gearbox or power unit?

Certain parts must be used for a set number of races before being replaced, otherwise the team will be penalised. This penalty will be handed out whether the change required is down to a crash, a breakdown or for performance.

Gearboxes must be used for at least six races before they can be changed. If a team needs to change one before that, they face a grid penalty. If a team needs to change a chassis, they will have to start from pit lane.

The power unit is more complicated as it is split into different component parts. Each driver is only permitted a certain number of each element within the power unit during the season, but can replace them whenever they want.

They are allowed no more than three engines, three motor generator units-heat (MGU-H), three turbochargers, two energy stores, two control electronics, three motor generator units-kinetic (MGU-K) and eight sets of engine exhaust systems.

If they use more than the assigned number of any one of the elements, they are handed a grid place penalty. This is 10 places for the first request of each part, 5 for the second, and a back of the grid start if more than 15 is amassed.

An F1 engine

An F1 engine

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

How is the team’s use of engines monitored?

The FIA attaches seals to all parts of a team’s power unit before it is used for the first time. This defines the engine as a new engine and ensures no significant moving parts can be rebuilt or replaced.

Seals are removed when the engine is in running conditions, but within two hours after the end of post-race parc fermé, all used power unit elements are sealed again to ensure they cannot be run or dismantled between events.

At the next event where that power unit element is used, the FIA removes those seals again and all elements must stay within the garage when not fitted to a car. They cannot be started at any time other than when on a participating car.

When can teams work on their cars?

Teams have three and a half hours after the end of qualifying to work on the cars before they have to stop for the day. The cars are covered overnight and the FIA applies seals to ensure they are not touched.

In some cases, teams can arrange permission from the Technical Delegate to keep one car out for marketing purposes, but no work can be done on it and it must be covered and sealed no more than two hours after the initial deadline.

On Sunday morning, five hours and 10 minutes before the start of the formation lap, the seals and covers can come off and teams can work on them again, still of course under parc fermé conditions.

An hour before the race begins, all the teams are informed of what work the other teams have done during this period of parc fermé conditions – which can make for some interesting reading.

F1 driver on the grid in the rain

F1 driver on the grid in the rain

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

What happens if it rains?

Cars set up for dry conditions cannot easily be run in the wet, so if the weather changes or looks likely to change, Race Control can declare a ‘change of climactic conditions’ and relax the parc fermé conditions a little.

Teams can then change brake ducts and radiator ducts to reduce or increase cooling and alter the pitot tubes used for measurement. They can also change the headrest around the driver, as there are three different types suitable for three different temperature ranges.

On the grid, if conditions are deemed wet enough to declare it a ‘wet race’ the teams can change from the set of slick tyres allocated for the race and fit full wets or intermediate rain tyres ready for the start.

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