Regulations

Elimination qualifying: gimmick over logic?

As social media was meant to be winding down following a fascinating second day of winter testing, Twitter was instead whipped up into a frenzy last night, as news of a radical and imminent change to the qualifying format broke. During a meeting of the F1 Commission, the teams have decided to overhaul the qualifying hour, introducing an elimination style session which is expected to be implemented for this season.

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Image Credit: Rachel Clarke (via Flickr) [CC-BY-NC-2.0]

Safe to say, the news has divided opinion, with the majority siding with the likes of Karun Chandhok

(more…)

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Double Points Close To Scrapheap

Good news everyone! One of the most unpopular regulations of recent times is set to be struck down by the very governing body who first implemented it. A predictable move, considering the fact that fans, teams and drivers almost unanimously voiced their objection to the rule which saw double points awarded in the final round, aimed at prolonging the title fight. Considered an unnecessary step by most and fortunately, the powers that be now seemingly agree.

Lewis Hamilton 2014 Singapore Race
By Morio (photo taken by Morio) CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Well Done Team

Ultimately, double points has not been officially dropped just yet, but following today’s decision, it seems a formality. Both the F1 Strategy Group and F1 Commission have agreed to scrapping the controversial rule and this decision will need to be ratified by the FIA World Motorsport Council in Qatar on the 3rd December, yet it is anticipated that this should be easily completed – after the uproar surrounding the artificial regulation, it would be nonsensical for the WMSC to contravene the will of the teams. 
Fortunately, 2014 will not be remembered for the double points finale and this has been a lucky escape. Had the title been decided by such a technicality, it would make a mockery of the championship, and lead to the eventual title winner forever facing questions of whether his title was deserved. In other words, disastrous consequences. 
Aside from double points, team bosses have also voted against proposals to introduce standing restarts for 2015. This is another excellent ruling, preventing another artificial factor affecting the campaign. Much has been made of the dangers of having multiple standing starts during a race, yet such a regulation would also be totally impractical. For instance, if the circuit is damp, with a dry line beginning to form, those on one side of the grid would gain a significant advantage over those on the opposite, wet side. Alternatively, those running a prime stint would face a grip deficit, as would those on older tyres. Double points was unfair and standing restarts would follow in a similar vain. 
Lets hope that this news will prevent more artificial, controversial schemes being crafted in the future.  

Whiting Initiated Standing Restarts

Yes, its standing restarts again. Double points proved controversial when they were introduced last year and on this occasion, standing restarts are causing disgruntlement among the fans. However, Charlie Whiting has defended the new regulation, stating that because the start is considered to be the most exciting part of the race, “why not have a second one?” Not only that, Whiting identified that it was a discussion with an unnamed member of McLaren in which the idea was born. So, has Whiting convinced the public that standing restarts are a good idea.

There Will Be No “Downside”

Whiting identified that “I can’t see any downside to it” – a strong statement to make – particularly when criticisms of the idea have been sourced in both the paddock as well as through the usual routes of social media and the press. 
Whiting went on to scoff at those who considered the idea to be dangerous, and in all honesty, he has a fair point. Some fans stated that if more than one start took place during a race, the sport would become unsafe, which is a huge overestimation. If standing starts were dangerous, we would see not only more opening lap accidents, but I doubt the FIA would have continued using said procedures if it was endangering the drivers. This is the FIA, a body who proved as recently as the last race that they will never neglect safety regardless of the cost. A one hour barrier repair at a spot where the likelihood of another car connecting with that particular panel of Armco was about the same as the chances of England winning last nights match – a match, they weren’t even playing in! However, safety has to come first and it would be foolish to think that neither the Strategy Group nor the WMSC had considered safety as a priority when formulating this regulation. 
“It will provide more excitement;” Whiting established, “you seldom get any changes of position at a rolling restart, so this might provide an opportunity for changes in position.” Again, this is a valid comment. When a rolling restart takes place, it takes a driver being caught napping for an overtake to be completed. 
Standing restarts will reshuffle the order, but this brings up an issue in itself and one which Whiting failed to defend. That is the idea that this is hugely artificial – purists are only just coming to terms with DRS, let alone significantly influencing the running order of a race and potentially increasing the risk of contact, on the basis of making the race more entertaining. It is almost akin to the utterly ludicrous “Fanboost” which will feature in Formula E. Ultimately, this is the fundamental issue with standing restarts, which all the endorsement in the world will not correct – even the endorsement of the Race Director.      

2015 Technical Regulations Analysis

The second part of my 2015 regulation analysis is finally here, and as I mentioned in the partner article analysing the sporting regulations, this is one for the techies. Slightly less controversial than standing restarts, the new technical regulations see re-profiled noses introduced, new brake disks and a two-stage wheel fastener retainer system amongst other adaptations. Meanwhile, I will analyse the remaining sporting regulations which will affect Formula One from a technical standpoint, with aerodynamic testing restrictions being increased alongside power unit changes and new rules regarding testing. Certainly a lot of food for thought…

Testing…Testing

With cost cutting being the buzz words in modern Formula One, its no surprise that the 2015 regulation changes centre around halting the ever escalating costs. One simple method of reducing costs is to reduce testing. It seems to be the perfect option – It does not impact on the spectacle, as the vast majority of fans fail to follow testing anyway, (particularly the in-season tests) and therefore, this fails to detract from the spectacle of the sport. Its unquestionably a better option compared to reducing Friday running to just one session. 
The regulations identify that all pre-season tests in 2015 will take place in Europe and this was almost an inevitable move. All teams, from Mercedes to Caterham, wanted to remain in Europe during pre-season. The two Bahrain tests were necessary this season, as teams did not want to enter a campaign without any representative data for the new powertrain. However, testing in the middle-east was far from ideal, as pre-season costs soared, with parts having to be shipped across the additional miles. In addition to this 2015 change, the WMSC have already laid down plans for 2016, highlighting that only two pre-season tests will be held in two years time. This is to further combat costs, however, this is perhaps a step too far. Run plans will be severely restricted by this and it ultimately means that drivers may only have four days of pre-season running prior to the curtain raiser – and that’s a maximum of four. This could well mean that third drivers may not receive as much track time during the winter. With drivers such as Felipe Nasr gaining his superlicence during pre-season tests in 2014, this could stall the development of young talent. However, with the sport plummeting into financial crisis, some aspects of the sport will have to be sacrificed. Winter running is obviously one of them.
In addition, aerodynamic testing has also received similar cutbacks, with teams restricted to just 65 hours of wind tunnel operations per week. This is a reasonably small reduction from the 80 hours which teams are permitted to run this season. Ultimately, it shouldn’t have a major impact, which means that it is another excellent cost cutting measure. It’s all about reducing costs for minimal costs – if you get what I mean…

Power Units

Powertrains, powertrains, powertrains. The 2014 campaign was always going to be all about the new V6 hybrid power units and as teams begin to understand the many characteristics under the skin of their cars, regulations regarding these powertrains are set to become even tighter. While teams have five of each component available to them for the season, this is set to reduce to four in 2015, (assuming the number of races on the calender remains below 20.) In addition, the penalty for changing an entire powerunit will be starting from the back of the grid as oppose to the pitlane.
The decrease on powerunits available to teams makes a lot of sense. These units are unquestionably too expensive, so reducing the number that teams have to purchase is a totally logical move. Now that teams are developing a true understanding of the equipment available to them, reliability will naturally increase – teams will not make the same mistakes twice.

And On The Surface…

The 2015 technical changes do not just affect aspects of the sport that cannot be seen by the naked eye. The regulation which will perhaps prove most popular to fans is that ugly noses will soon be a thing of the past. In 2015, new regulations will see more aesthetically pleasing noses while further improving safety. I’m being vague, because that is exactly what this regulation is at the moment – at least in the public domain. However, I would be willing to suggest that modesty panels will be introduced, similar to the saviour of the stepped noses of 2012, (remember them!) Its easy to forget that stepped noses still exist, and this will surly be the case with anteater noses once this regulation is enforced.
Meanwhile, a two-stage wheel fastener retainer system will now be compulsory in 2015, and again, this is a no brainer from the WMSC. I doubt they had much debate over this one. With three unsafe releases in 2014 so far, where tyres have not been correctly attached, (Ricciardo in Malaysia, Vergne in Spain and Gutierrez in Austria), the teams are clearly concerned for safety, as is the FIA. This will not mean that such pit-stops are eradicated but it should mean that they are reduced. Similarly, tyres will now be locked by an even more sturdy retainer system than ever before. I doubt anyone will have a problem with this particular regulation.
Lighter skid blocks, (to be made from titanium) and brake discs which will rotate at the same speeds as the wheels will also be introduced.    

Conclusions

On the whole, the adaptations to the regulations in 2015 make a lot of sense, particularly from a safety standpoint. Formula One continues to make great strides in terms of safety development and constant evolution in this critical area is essential. 
However, the cost cutting measures introduced are largely unsustainable. Take the reduced in-season testing, for example. Young drivers will not be given enough track time and these concerns have been voiced by the likes of Felipe Nasr already – the regulation has not even been introduced yet! Its important to cut costs but when it is at the expense of something as pivotal as driver development, it is not ideal. While reducing wind tunnel usage and the number of powerunits required will aid the cost cutting cause, these regulations as a whole will not quell those who suggest a cost cap is a more sustainable option. I am certain that we have not heard the last of that particular idea, but with teams unable to agree, it is somewhat of a pipe-dream. 
Oh, and in regards to standing starts, don’t get me started… 

2015 Sporting Regulations Analysis

We may not have reached the mid-way point of the 2014 season, but preparations for 2015 are well and truly underway, as the FIA World Motorsport Council have announced the new sporting and technical regulations. Just like last year, the announcement has been met by serious criticisms as a large proportion of the fans are once again disappointed. Considering the scale of the regulations, I have split this article into two segments – the first (which is the one you are currently reading now) will analyse the sporting regulation changes which are designed to increase the spectacle, while another article to be published tomorrow, will highlight the numerous changes in the technical regulations, as well as testing and research and development options available to teams.

Standing Restarts

*Cue collective groan*. Standing restarts have been an idea which has been circulating around the paddock for the last couple of races. The theory is that when a safety car is deployed, the usual rolling restart fails to provide the excitement which will keep fans interested, as unless a driver gets caught napping, it’s difficult to gain an advantage. Hence, the WMSC have passed the regulation highlighting that the field will line up on the grid at the end of a safety car period and make a standing start in the same manner to which the race start takes place, (assuming that it is not within two laps of a previous standing start.) This is both the headline, and most controversial, regulation change.

Here’s why its controversial and why I am one particular fan who is against this change. Firstly, it is a gimmick. Yes, DRS could also be placed in this category, but at least it does not defy convention. I am not aware of any other form of motorsport that uses a similar method of restart – The rolling restart is used all over the world. I can only liken it to a situation where the FA would announce that next season, the Premier League will allow a penalty to be retaken if it is missed the first time. Ludicrous, I hear you say, and that is exactly how I feel about standing restarts. You don’t see governing bodies of other sports changing the rules significantly every year, so why should the FIA.
However, all the blame cannot be attributed to the FIA and the WMSC. All of the regulations had to be initially passed by the Strategy Group, followed by the F1 Commission. Considering that the FIA usually just rubber stamp regulations, (despite the recent veto of the new Friday format), the teams are perhaps most responsible for failing to identify what the fans desire. In my opinion, I’m baffled that this idea has gotten this far!
The most frustrating aspect of this regulation is the fact that it shows that the teams and the FIA are focussed on improving the spectacle, yet are changing the aspects which are not broken. Rather than try and adapt a formula which has provided some excellent races this season, I feel that the teams should focus on cost cutting as the unsustainable measures which will be introduced in 2015 may not be enough to keep struggling outfits in business. But, that is a story for the cost cutting article…

Curfews and Car Specifications

Aside from standing restarts, a number of other minor sporting regulations have been altered in aid of improving the general operations of the weekend. Firstly, engineers and mechanics can enjoy an extra hour of sleep on Friday nights, as the curfew has been extended from six hours to seven hours. A very minor change, but it will mean a lot to those involved. Ultimately, I doubt we will be talking about it in years to come.
However, one aspect of the regulation upgrade that is of particular interest are the changes to Parc Ferme. Currently, Parc Ferme begins as the cars first take to the track in Q1, but the new regulations state that it will now begin following FP3. This is significant as it will mean that set-up work conducted on Friday will become even more critical as essentially, teams will lose one hour in which to finalise settings.
Consequently, 2015 could see a new approach to Friday’s, with more long running in FP1 and extended short runs in FP2, (when the track should be in better condition) to ensure that set-ups are completed before FP3. It’s certainly an unwanted headache for the engineers, but it could make for more on-track action on a Friday, which can only be a good thing in terms of the spectacle.

Wheels and Tyres

As predicted, the proposed ban on tyre blankets has been shelved. The plans were exactly as they first appear – Tyre blankets, which are used in the garages, on the grid and have almost become a part of the cars main life support system, were set to be scrapped. But why, I hear you cry. Well, it was another attempt to spice up the action on track. It was assumed that if drivers head out onto the track with tyres which are no warmer than track temperature, excitement will be increased.
Ultimately, the drivers have supported the fans perspective on this one and this is likely to have influenced the WMSC’s decision. Drivers have voiced concerns in recent press conferences, suggesting that it would jeopardise safety. Despite some highlighting that the fact that they managed without tyre blankets in lower formula, they also identified that they currently have a million and one things to do behind the wheel and adding an additional hindrance is hardly going to improve safety. My particular concern about scrapping the blankets would be that drivers heading into Turn one on a wet track using brake-by-wire and harvesting electrical power on cold tyres is a recipe for disaster. Round of applause goes to the WMSC for scrapping this particular idea for another year at least.
Be sure to return to the blog later this evening for my analysis of the new technical regulations, which will include an assessment of the reduction of wind tunnel usage, testing, as well as conversation surrounding noses, brakes, wheels, skid blocks and titanium.

One for you techies out there!   

 

Formulating Qualifying Reforms?

In a year of widespread reforms to the regulations, the FIA are perhaps looking to employ more alterations ahead of Melbourne, as the current Qualifying format comes under scrutiny. This is hardly surprising, considering that many Q3 sessions have become somewhat of a non-starter in recent years as teams look to prioritise race strategy over grid position. With a meeting scheduled for 21st February, could the Qualifying landscape be set for alterations?

All-Out In Q3

The spectacle is always at the forefront of the FIA’s mind and the spectacle on Saturday’s has been in decline in recent seasons. As tyre degradation and the delta between compounds has increased, teams who have not been in with a decent shot at the Pole Position have instead opted to ‘qualify’ on the prime compound tyre or alternatively, not even hit the track in the final ten minutes of the session. The collective groan which was an inevitability when one, two or even three cars remained within the confines of the garage at what should be the climax of Saturday, undoubtedly concerned Ecclestone and company.
Consequently, there are reports suggest that the governing body are ready to take action. Team bosses are scheduled to meet the FIA in Bahrain on the third day of the second pre-season test, where they are set to discuss possible reforms to the format, (according to The Mirror and Autosport). Past suggestions for alterations have been introducing an unbroken one hour session, where all drivers would post times throughout the hour. Another idea, which has been highlighted as a possibility by Pirelli, is to introduce qualifying tyres, specifically for Q3. These tyres would only be permitted for use in the final part of the session and would not be used again during Sunday. 
The latter idea seems more suitable. In my opinion, changing the qualifying format in such a revolutionary season seems unnecessary and I doubt it would be accepted by teams. Surly they have enough to contend with this year, let alone the possibility of a radically modified Qualifying session.

Do We Really Need Change?

Personally, I feel that there are a number of issues with the possibility of reform. Firstly, the timing of the meeting seems awkward, considering that team bosses will be preoccupied with the stresses of tests and will perhaps not be in the correct frame of mind to deliberate possible regulation reforms. However, Team Principal’s are rare breeds of people – they have an incredible ability to absorb stress and maintain a professional attitude in all circumstances. What could derail the talks is the fact that this season’s tyre compounds are markedly harder than the predecessors. Drivers have already developed an understanding following the first test as there was a notable difference. Naturally, this should push teams into running in Q3, as strategy in the race will be devalued due to less degradation and therefore, more freedom in regards to pit-stops. The issue of teams refusing a run in Q3 has only been a problem since tyres have become more fragile – Up until then, the three session format was praised on a frequent basis. Since its introduction in 2005, the format has provided memorable moments, with criticism only being a recent development. 

Consequently, my feeling is that the FIA should refrain from making radical changes to the format until after they have observed how the new era of Formula One affects Saturday entertainment. If the Q3 issues still remain after 2014, it would make sense to make alterations. For now, patience may be the best bet for the FIA.

FIA Regulation Overhaul

On Monday night, the FIA caused a media storm as they released a number of key regulation changes as a result of Jean Todt’s recently retained mandate. Controversial does not scratch the surface on this one – One of the most poignant changes of recent times has seen the FIA announce that double points will be issued in the final race of the season, which in 2014 will be Abu Dhabi. As Martin Brundle highlighted, the regulation is “an answer to a question nobody was asking.” Is there anything positive to come out of the latest FIA document?…

I cannot remember when one short document published by the FIA has caused such a storm from within the community – fans, driver and teams have all expressed their dismay at the changes. The most damning amendment is the announcement that double points will be awarded in the final race of the season, meaning that he race winner in Abu Dhabi will receive 50 points as oppose to the usual 25, with the second place driver receiving 36, and so on. There are so many issues with this regulation, it is difficult to know just where to begin. Primarily, the now dubbed “Abu Double” will inevitably devolve the significance of the other 18 races. What has increased the frustration is the fact that this crucial race will take place in Abu Dhabi – a circuit lacking the historic nature and buoyant atmosphere that Spa, Monza or Monaco would.
Evidently, the FIA are against the possibility of another Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull title season ending in advance of the final round, however, in dominant seasons such as 2013, this new rule will not prevent the champions being crowned before the final race. From as far as I can see, the FIA have introduced a policy which fails to prevent what it is intended to; the strategy is flawed on many levels. A fascicle regulation has to add value to the sport. In 2010 and 2012, the final race of the year was magnificent and did not require the unnatural, manufactured result which double points will inevitably give. In 2011 and 2013, when Sebastian Vettel cruised to the title, double points would have made no difference whatsoever anyway. Clearly, this is a last resort from the FIA, yet is trivialising the sport and is frankly an unwanted commodity.
Why has it been introduced now? 2014 is the biggest shake-up in regulations since the 1980’s and is sure to cause a shake-up of the pecking order. There is no guarantee of Red Bull performing at the same dominant level next year, meaning that the governing body could also be taming an outdated issue. 2009 was the most recent example of a change in regulations, with a number of aerodynamic adaptations. While this change was far insignificant compared to the 2014 alterations, the grid was dramatically reformed, as the previously dominant Ferrari and McLaren slipped behind the likes of BrawnGP, Red Bull and Toyota. If after two or three more years of Red Bull dominance under the new engine regulations took place, then and only then, would a radical alteration to the championship be appropriate and necessary.
Meanwhile, it is not all bad news for the FIA. Another of the changes is a move towards personalised driver numbers, which will see drivers choose a number between 2 and 99 to be their number which will exist for the entirity of their career. This will be a recognisable adaptation to MotoGP fans as the famous Number 46 of Valentino Rossi and 93 of Marc Marquez are famous associations. Obviously, the Number 1 will be reserved for the Champion if he chooses to accept it. While a change to the numbering system may seem unnecessary it does make some sense – It will evidently improve branding and the commercial aspect of Formula One in general, despite the fact that traditionalists may be frustrated.
Aside from these headline amendments, a cost cap has been introduced for 2015. However, details are yet to be confirmed as the transformation is not as easy as the term would suggest. It is difficult to introduce a cap to a multi-industry franchise such as Ferrari or Mercedes and it will always be difficult to moderate spending in these cases. It would likely require an entirely separate department within the FIA, perhaps as large as the current scrutineers, (Joe Bauer and company). It also seems bizarre that the FIA are only looking to introduce this now – the year after the most expensive year in Formula One.
In addition, a new five point penalty will be implement next season for minor infringements, which is a universally welcomed change. It means that minor transgressions will not receive the rather harsh drive-through penalty which has the potential to wreck a drivers race. The flexibility of punishments should allow the stewards to make fewer controversial decisions, with the general opinion regarding the stewards panel receiving a much needed positive boost.  
Finally, a transparent tyre test has been commissioned by the FIA, allowing Pirelli to examine their prototype 2014 compounds and allowing the teams to gain a head start on development. The test will take place next week, however, only four teams will attend, with McLaren and Force India recently pulling out after an initial six teams were announced. It is a sign of the times in Formula One, as only Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari and Toro Rosso, (plus the aforementioned two) are the only teams who can afford the expense of an additional end of season test. It will surly extrapolate the gap between those with a large pot of money, and those on a shoe-string budget. Lotus could pay the biggest price, with their main rivals all taking part.
So, all things considered the FIA announcement is not all bad – except the one negative inclusion eclipses all positives which could be taken away from the announcement. Double points for the final race – sounds almost as ridiculous as tyres which have to last the whole race. Drat, the FIA have already used that one…