Formula 1 governing body the FIA has announced a series of regulation changes ahead of next weekend's season opening Australian Grand Prix, with tire allocation, the personnel curfew and DRS (Drag Reduction System) usage all being tweaked. If both Friday Practice sessions are run in wet conditions, one set of slick tires can now be used the next day, in a bid to keep mileage levels high. In addition, stricter personnel curfew laws have been put in place and, in a final rule clarification, the Race Director now has more power over the use of the DRS when it is raining.
The full list of FIA-approved changes is as follows:
- One set of dry-weather tires may now be carried over to Saturday if both Friday sessions are declared wet; it is hoped that this will result in teams carrying out more laps on Saturday.
- Changes have been made to the personnel curfew to ensure the rest periods remain constant throughout the season, irrespective of the timing of practice sessions at particular events.
- The race director may now prohibit the use of the adjustable rear wing (DRS) if he feels visibility is too poor in wet conditions. This has been done as a result of safety concerns over large speed differentials between cars.
Q: Why has a four-hour total time limit been put on Grands Prix?
CW: Last season the race in Montreal went on for four hours and four minutes. A race really should not go on longer than that. Should four hours elapse during a future race, drivers will receive a signal telling them they have one more lap before the checkered flag.
Q: Race stewards will now be able to investigate an incident without first reporting it to the race director. Why is the system changing?
CW: In the past stewards might see something suspect and alert the race director. He would look at the incident and request the stewards investigate. It was a process that consumed a lot of time. If they identify something worth investigating, there’s nothing wrong with them taking a look and then giving the race director an opinion. It should make the process less cumbersome.
Q: Drivers are now instructed to not deliberately leave the track without good reason. Why?
CW: We’ve seen drivers taking shortcuts on in and out laps, either to save time or fuel. We could put up barriers to stop them exploiting short cuts but it usually looks stupid! The rules say the drivers should use the track. If they don’t, they will need to justify their actions.
It also follows that safety will be improved as other drivers are more likely to know that a car has left the track for a good reason.
Q: The ‘one-move’ rule on defending a position has been reinstated. Has there been a problem with dangerous blocking in the last few seasons?
CW: This isn’t really a new overtaking rule, rather we’ve put into the regulations what was an unwritten rule. A driver can make one move only to defend a position – but when that driver then moves back onto the racing line to take a corner it can be construed as a second move, which is not allowed. It’s a matter of deciding to what degree resuming the original line is acceptable. We don’t want to get into silly arguments about centimeters so we’ve decided the defending driver must leave at least one car width on the racing line otherwise he will be judged to have made a second move and penalized accordingly. We need to have drivers giving each other space on the track – otherwise we risk dangerous collisions.
Q: Previously cars needed to pass crash tests before racing. Now they have to pass before testing. Why?
CW: Safety cannot be compromised. It is indefensible to have drivers testing cars in the winter that haven’t met the safety standards we demand for a race. The teams resisted this for quite a while, telling me it would be impossible to get the crash tests done before the first test. It came as no great surprise that nearly everybody managed it.
However, as we have seen, two teams failed to pass all their crash tests in good time and were subsequently unable to participate any of the pre-season testing in Jerez and Barcelona (both of these teams have now passed all the required tests).
Q: Why are drivers now allowed more than three sets of tires for FP1 and FP2 on Fridays?
CW: Each driver still gets eleven sets for the weekend and three still have to be given back on Friday evening and another two after FP3 on Saturday. This has not changed. We are, however, allowing teams to use more than three of their eleven sets on Fridays to give them the opportunity to do more running on the first day of practice should they wish to do so. As an example they might expect Saturday to be wet and want to get more running in beforehand on a dry track. It is to the benefit of everyone that they are allowed to run as much as they want during the Friday sessions.
Q: With the safety car on track, lapped cars will be allowed to unlap themselves and rejoin at the back of the field. Why is F1 going back to this system?
CW: We took this rule away because it was difficult to manage and potentially dangerous. We have reinstated it with new safeguards. Drivers will only be allowed to overtake once they have all passed the pit entry twice, this will allow all drivers to pit if they want to. We will also instruct the lead drivers to stay on the racing line once the order is given to allow cars to overtake. They will be allowed to weave again, to get heat into their tires, when we inform them it is safe to do so.
Q: Why do the 2012 cars have the ‘platypus’ nose?
CW. The height of the survival cell in front of the driver was 625mm – and we wanted to reduce that to 550mm. Our intention was to ensure the nose is lower than the cockpit sides, to protect the driver’s head in the event of a ‘T-bone’ accident. Some teams complained that lowering the whole car forward of the cockpit would force them into a radical redesign. We agreed a compromise that the 550mm height would only apply from a point 1950mm in front of the rear edge of the cockpit template. This achieves the objective equally well, and without requiring the teams to fundamentally overhaul their suspension packaging. They do all look like ducks though…
Q: Measurement tolerances have been tightened. Why?
We used to measure tolerances across the flat bottom, the step and reference planes with a margin of ±5mm. The tolerances were there to allow for manufacturing discrepancies but teams were designing to the limit of the tolerances, contrary to the spirit of the rules. We have therefore reduced the allowance to ±3mm.
Q: The obligatory weight distribution rule was only supposed to run for one season. Why has the rule been continued for a second season?
CW: We had this rule last year to allow teams to begin designing their cars before they knew the characteristics of the Pirelli tires. The teams have indicated they would like to keep the rule in place for the second year rather than make expensive wholesale changes to their cars for 2012. We have no problem with this.
Q: The size and position of exhaust exits is now specified. Why stipulate this area of the design?
CW: Our objective is to prevent teams operating a blown diffuser, which under certain circumstances infringes Article 3.15 (moveable aerodynamic device). In combination with additional constraints on engine mapping, as described in technical directive number 36 and incorporated into the SECU code, it will limit designers’ ability to exploit exhaust gases for aerodynamic effect. However teams will not unlearn the knowledge they have gained and it is quite likely this area of regulation may need to be revisited again in 2013?
Q: Why are there new dimensional constraints for suspension uprights?
CW: This is to stop uprights protruding too far from the wheels and being used, in effect, as wings.
Q: Why has helium been banned from use in wheel guns?
CW: Powering wheel-guns with compressed helium instead of compressed air saved fractions of a second during a pitstop. Now everyone is aware of this, it would have been a very expensive method of gaining no advantage.
Q: Why have active torque measuring systems been banned for wheel changes?
CW: We want the wheel gun operator to be responsible for the action. Once the torque is applied he should be making the decision to disengage. The latest torque guns show a light when the correct torque has been applied. That is as far as we want to go – we do not want any further automation.
Q: Why have the intrusion panels increased in size?
CW: The panels were installed 100mm-500mm above the reference plane, they are now 100mm-550mm about the plane. The forward one was 400mm high and is now 450mm high. This change should improve driver safety in the event of a T-bone accident.
Q: How and why have the tests for front wing deflection changed?
CW: The rules state the wings (as well as all other parts of the bodywork) must be rigid. We have halved the permitted deflection. Previously the wing was tested with a 1kN load and allowed to deflect 20mm. As a result of this the teams were testing wings until they found a design that deflected 19.9mm under a 1kN load. Our allowances are only a guideline for us and we felt the teams were operating outside the spirit of the rules and clearly designing their wings with flexibility in mind. In our view Article 3.15 takes precedence over Article 3.17 where the deflection limits are quantified. Article 3.17.8 allows us to introduce new tests if we feel our guidelines are not being following in an appropriate manner. The new test therefore moves the pressure point rearwards by 10mm and inboard by 5mm with the permitted deflection reduced to 10mm. We have also told the teams that we may apply the load to just one side of the front wing, an asymmetrical test.
Q: There has been a technical directive on the subject of ride height systems. Why have these been banned?
CW: The systems in question used braking torque to affect ride height changes. If these changes are made primarily for aerodynamic benefit they would be illegal under Article 3.15.
Q: Finally, there were some additions to the regulations ratified by the F1 Commission at the World Motor Sport Council on 9 March. Can you expand on those?
CW: The changes weren’t substantial and the amendments were in three areas: firstly, we decided that one set of dry weather tires can now be carried over to Saturday if both Friday practice sessions are declared wet. The reason for that is simply to give the teams the opportunity to run more laps on Saturday; we also decided that we would clarify things with regard to DRS use so that we can prohibit the use of the adjustable rear wing if we feel that visibility is too poor in wet conditions. We did that on safety grounds because of concerns about the speed differential between cars. Finally, we just clarified things with regard to the curfew works to make sure that rest periods remain constant throughout the season, irrespective of the timing of practice sessions at some events.