FIA's WMSC approves regulation changes for 2011 Yesterday, June 23, the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) published a press release regarding changes in the regulations for the FIA Formula One World Championship, which have been ...
FIA's WMSC approves regulation changes for 2011
Yesterday, June 23, the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) published a press release regarding changes in the regulations for the FIA Formula One World Championship, which have been approved during a meeting of the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC). Below a summary of the FIA publication, and the implications of the new rules, however, these rules have not yet been finalized, and have not yet been added to the 2011 Sporting- and Technical Regulations. So it is possible there will be some final tweaks. First the new rules for the 2011 season, then the rules that change with immediate effect.
"Competitor's staff" FIA License
A proposal relating to specific licenses for members of staff of competitors entered in the FIA World Championships has been submitted to the Formula One Commission. This is under consideration for implementation in the FIA Formula One World Championship from the start of 2011, with a view to inclusion in other FIA World Championships in the future.
Without a doubt, this rule change was a direct result of recent Formula One scandals, like the Renault, Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds race-fixing scandal during the 2008 GP of Singapore, where Briatore and Symonds allegedly asked driver Nelson A. Piquet to deliberately crash his car to help his team mate Fernando Alonso to a win. The FIA wanted to revoke their license and ban them for life, but as it turned out, only drivers have an official FIA license, and team principals and other team members have not.
The big question is of course: What will the criteria be, and who will need such a license? A FIA drivers' Super License, which is granted to drivers, is based upon their career r?sum?. The FIA mentions "members of staff", probably high ranking team personnel, will need such a license, and they would probably have to provide the FIA with a sort of 'declaration of good conduct', but it will be very difficult for the FIA to check the credentials of dozens of people. And who will make the final decision, will the FIA install a FIA Competitor's Staff License panel? Or will the WMSC be involved in the granting of a Competitor's Staff License? More questions than answers in this case, perhaps the final version of the 2011 regulations will provide some answers.
From 2011, any driver whose best qualifying lap exceeds 107% of the fastest Q1 qualifying time will not be allowed to take part in the race. Under exceptional circumstances, however, which may include setting a suitable lap time in a free practice session, the stewards may permit the car to start the race. Should there be more than one driver accepted in this manner, the grid order will be determined by the stewards.
Last time the 107% rule was used was in 1997, and it was a very unpopular rule to say the least. Many drivers saw their career go up in smoke after they failed to qualify for several races, and it is true it is not always the driver who is at fault, but very often a team just can't give a driver a car which is fast enough to qualify. Teams who couldn't qualify were also at risk to lose their sponsors, sponsors they needed to make their car faster. It is a bit like the chicken-and-egg problem, without sponsors you can't qualify, and without qualifying for the race, you won't get sponsors.
But this time the most likely reason for the reintroduction of the 107% rule are the three new teams, HRT, Lotus and Virgin. Many of the established teams and their star drivers have been complaining about the slow cars they find on their way to the pole position, or on their way to the podium. They also argued dangerous situations are created by these slower cars, there have been a few incidents, true, but there certainly have not been accidents that could be attributed to the slower cars of the new teams.
Especially Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo has told time after time that the new teams are GP2 teams, and should participate in GP2 races, rather than in Formula One races. Apart from the fact that Montezemolo is being unfair in his judgment about the new teams, and totally ignores the fact that his cars decorated with the prancing horse aren't doing very well either, he seems to be on a mission to get rid of those GP2 teams as soon as possible. Which would of course be very convenient regarding his dream of the "Big Teams" running a third car, instead of allowing these annoying slow GP2 cars on the circuit.
As said before, the return of the 107% rule is especially worrying for the new teams. Below a table which shows what the effect of the 107% rule would have had if applied to this season's qualifying sessions.
Driver adjustable bodywork
From 2011, adjustable bodywork may be activated by the driver at any time prior to the start of the race and, for the sole purpose of improving overtaking opportunities during the race, after the driver has completed two laps. The driver may only activate the adjustable bodywork in the race when he has been notified via the control electronics that it is enabled. It will only be enabled if the driver is less than one second behind another at any of the pre-determined positions around each circuit. The system will be disabled the first time the driver uses the brakes after the system has been activated. The FIA may, after consulting all the competitors, adjust the time proximity in order to ensure the purpose of the adjustable bodywork is met.
This is the most controversial rule change, it seems the FIA supports the FOTA in their view Formula One needs more overtaking, and although there are still 11 races to go, the judges have already announced the verdict: Formula One is boring without enough overtaking opportunities. This rule change, which paves the way for an adjustable rear wing, will become without a doubt the most discussed topic amongst drivers, teams and fans.
The plan is simple, but the word 'simple' can be very deceiving. The system can't be used in the most critical stage of the race, the start and the following two laps, good, because the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) will make a comeback in 2011, and it can be used to boost the performance during the start. The system will be controlled electronically, which ensures a certain level of impartiality, the whole electronic process will probably be monitored by the Stewards of the race.
Unfortunately the statement of the FIA is not really crystal-clear about the use of the system. The system cannot be used to defend a driver's position, and although the FIA statement says it can be used at any time, the statement also says: "at any of the pre-determined positions around each circuit", which means the FIA Stewards will determine on which sections of the circuit the system will be available. It will be activated if a driver is one second behind another driver, but again the statement says the Stewards can "adjust the time proximity in order to ensure the purpose of the adjustable bodywork is met".
With the exception of the parts necessary for the driver adjustable bodywork, any car system, device or procedure which uses driver movement as a means of altering the aerodynamic characteristics of the car is prohibited from 2011.
This new rule spells the end of the F-Duct or "blown rear wing" system. When McLaren introduced their F-Duct at the start of the season it became apparent it is a clever and simple device, and the truly clever thing about it is the fact that the arm or hand of the driver functions as a mechanical valve which lets air pass though a duct. The air is then guided over and under the rear wing, which makes it stall, and reduces the drag of the wing, which in its turn leads to a higher straight line speed. The technical regulations prohibit the use of mechanically operated aerodynamic devices, but as the driver's hand or arm isn't a mechanical part of the car, the F-Duct is legal.
We have seen this season what an advantage a good working F-Duct has, but the smaller and financially troubled teams can not spend unlimited amounts of money to build a F-Duct. The three new teams recently stated they have no plans for such a system, and the rest of the teams reluctantly worked on their own version of the blown rear wing, but haven't been able to equal the results of the McLaren system. The FIA now seems to agree it is a waste of time and money, once all teams have such a system there is no advantage anymore was a much used argument. Banning it right from the start of the season would probably have been a better option, but at least the FIA has reacted on the requests of the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) to ban the device, and have agreed to change the rules.
From 2011, the minimum weight of the car must not be less than 640 kg at all times during the event.
The minimum weight has been increased from 620 to 640 kg to accommodate the reintroduction of the KERS system. Without the increase of the minimum weight, cars equipped with the KERS system would have a weight disadvantage, the weight of a complete KERS system can be up to 30 kg. The extra weight could even render the advantages of the system useless, as 30 kg extra weight could add two- to three-tenths of a second to the total lap time.
It is yet unknown whether the KERS system will be mandatory in 2011, there is still a discussion going on amongst the FOTA members. The smaller teams are against a mandatory KERS system if the costs would exceed 1 million Euro per car per year. If the system will not be mandatory in 2011, teams who opt for racing without the system, will have to carry 20 kg ballast to comply to the minimum weight of 640 kg. The FIA hopes this will be an incentive for teams to unanimously agree to a mandatory return of the system.
Rules that change with immediate effect:
With immediate effect, any car being driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically, or which is deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers, will be reported to the stewards. This will apply whether any such car is being driven on the track, the pit entry or the pit lane.
In order to ensure cars are not driven unnecessarily slowly on in-laps during qualifying or reconnaissance laps when the pit exit is opened for the race, drivers must stay below the maximum time set by the FIA between the safety car line after the pit exit and safety car line before the pit entry. The maximum time will be determined by the race director at each event prior to the first day of practice, but may be amended during the event if necessary.
The FIA already clarified the safety car rules after the Monaco Grand Prix, when Michael Schumacher thought overtaking was allowed as soon as the safety car had entered the pit lane. The new rules regarding slow or erratic driving are partially a result of complaints about drivers who slow down after their qualification lap, or slow down before they enter the pit lane, which could spoil the fast lap of another driver, but above all, these rules should improve the safety on the circuit, not only during qualifying, but also during the race. The FIA Stewards will set a maximum time for a driver to complete an in- or out lap. The FIA doesn't give a description of "erratic or dangerous driving", but it probably includes unnecessary hard braking, swerving, multiple blocking attempts and brake tests.
With immediate effect, if a sample of fuel is required after a practice session the car concerned must have first been driven back to the pits under its own power.
This new rule is a result of the qualifying trick McLaren had in store during the qualification of the Canadian Grand Prix. After Lewis Hamilton had taken pole position during the very last lap, he ran out of fuel right after the finish line. Whether this happened purposely or accidental, we will perhaps never know, the FIA gave McLaren a $20,000 fine and a warning.
But other teams believed the McLaren of Hamilton had intentionally ran out of fuel to be able to score a pole position with a super light car, and even commented that $20,000 was actually rather cheap for obtaining the pole position. The FIA has reacted on this and cars now have to carry enough fuel to get back to the pits under their own power, and there also has to be enough fuel left in the tank for the FIA stewards to take a fuel sample for comparison with the fuel sample all teams have provided the FIA with at the start of the season, as teams are not allowed to use other fuel mixtures during the length of a Formula One season.
All these rule changes leave us with the following conclusion: the new regulations give the sport two tools to improve overtaking, the 'old' KERS system, and the new adjustable rear wing. Whether it will work or not is impossible to predict, the FIA hasn't revealed many details about the adjustable rear wing and how much of an advantage it will bring, remember the adjustable front wing introduced in 2009, which was also designed to improve overtaking, the design was a flop and never led to more overtaking. And in the end, the one who does the overtaking is the driver, and not the equipment.
It's also clear the FIA is prepared to listen to the ideas of the FOTA and other parties involved in Formula One, and that is certainly a good development. All the rules that have been changed before the 2010 season certainly have helped to make Formula One to what it is now, the pinnacle of motorsports, the greatest show on earth, and as long as people are prepared to listen to each other, it will stay that way for many years to come.