News and views on motorsports

Friday, June 17, 2005

Major Changes By The FIA

My first post in quite a while now. As is the case every year, as winter turns to summer so the Formula 1 teams get busy. And so am I with professional commitments that have taken up the vast majority of my time at the expense of this blog. Alas much as I wish there was a direct chain of causality between the level of activity of Formula 1 teams and my professional obligations, this is not so.

Nevertheless, I've been reading the news daily and yesterday the FIA made this press release outlining proposed changes to the 2008 Formula 1 regulations. In the statement, the FIA proposes to follow their previously outlined timetable for the approval of the regulations.

In any case, there are some very interesting proposals in the FIA press release. In it the FIA gives the objectives of the regulation changes are safety, fairness, keeping the current six major car manufacturers involved, preserving the independent teams and ensuring that the public continue to enjoy Formula One.

Another interesting point is that whilst in the past, only team technical directors are allowed to write the technical regulations, the FIA no longer considers this to be the best approach. It seems the FIA are really taking things into their own hands here. The engineers are being subsumed to a consultative role.

Let's go directly to the some of the rule changes starting with engines. The FIA proposes standard ECUs for all engines manufactured by a single specified manufacturer. This is extended to include standard wiring, sensor suites and controllers. All very good I think to stop all the gizmos but here's where the FIA goes even further, they propose that the software for the ECUs be FIA approved! Now, that's a bit over the top I would have thought since the hardware is fixed. Lastly, the materials used in engine construction will also be controlled by the FIA to reduce expenditure into exotic alloys.

I suppose that's also the reason why even gear ratios and differential ratios will be controlled by the FIA and sourced from a single supplier. Hmmm..... I'm not so sure I like that very much. However, the FIA has also specified only manual gearboxes with mechanical linkages together with foot operated clutches. This doesn't bode well to the current crop of Formula 1 drivers save a handful who haven't shifted gears in years. In some cases like Vitantonio Liuzzi, some drivers have never ever operated a foot clutch in their racing careers. Good luck to them, because they'll need to master the heel and toe method of gear changes soon enough. Bravo! I like this one. Shifting gears and balancing revs on downshifts should be in every racing driver's repetoire and it should be utilized in a world championship.

In the area of bodywork, the FIA will take measures to see the end of aero features like barge boards, flip ups, winglets and other small add on parts. I bet this'll please our friend Michel. But generally I agree as well. The latest Renault and Ferrari may look good, but I prefer the clean look ala McLaren MP4/4 and Ferrari 640. In any case, the FIA are looking to reduce the levels of downforce significantly whilst maintaining current drag levels. Well, they're in for a tough time I think given the gains made by teams in this year's championship after. Those engineers will be clawing it back in no time no matter what the FIA come up with.

As many have expected and wished for, the FIA will appoint a single tyre supplier for the championship. Mainly this has got to do with cost cutting. But frankly, I do enjoy tyre wars. Back in the day, they had special qualy tyres. And I do enjoy Ferrari's run of bad fortune after being buggered with lousy Bridgestones. But Formula 1 went a long time running on Goodyears alone back in the 80s and 90s and the racing still remained good. However, everyone would agree that there can be no favours to certain scarlet clad teams who demand special treatment. In which case, I hope they appoint Michelin (or Goodyear?) for the job. At least we know that they'll be impartial. Unlike those ghastly Japanese blokes who clearly just want the marketing association with the glamorous brand. Screw em.

As I feared the FIA will be mandating a single specification brake pad, discs and callipers from a single appointed vendor. Bah! I'll bet they'll want to appoint Brembo. They might stop a Ferrari Formula 1 car well enough but the Brembos fitted in road cars are pieces of shit. Their kart brakes are nothing to shout about as well, nearly costing me my life once. Oh well, aside from that personal issue I have, objectively of course one manufacturer is just as good as another. But I think AP Racing make excellent brakes.

Since many control components will be used, significantly the tyres, the FIA will impose a 30000km limit on testing for all teams. Yeah, if Ferrari wants to agree to that of course.

There are miscellenous other regulations relating to safety and other stuff but the biggest and best change I think is the changes to car acquisition. Finally, these blokes are starting to see the light. Teams will be allowed to purchase chassis as well as engines to compete in the world championship. Back to the 70s we will go! But this out of everything else should ensure the survival of the independent teams. This will also I'm sure raise the interests of racing manufacturers Lola, Swift, Dallara and many others. Could I even imagine Penske Racing who manufacture their own Indycar chassis (do they still do it?), producing Formula 1 chassis again? These guys make a living selling racing cars and with a large potential customer base, they will again come calling into the sport.

The FIA cite cost cutting as a major driving force behind these regulations. They argue with some merit that if the championship becomes a spending championship, inevitably independent teams will be driven away. Eventually even the manufacturers who don't win will be driven away resulting in a collapse of the championship. I think lessons can be learned by looking at the history of the British Touring Car Championship. The series, so successful in the 90s, in the end became a contest of which manufacturer / works team could spend the most. He who spends the most wins. After a while the manufacturers dropped out one by one and today's BTCC is a ghost. Vauxhall, makers of despicable and boring repmobiles are still there dominating a grid of only 12 cars! Whether Formula 1 would degenerate into that is arguable but you must admit the possibility does exist with an even probability.

Many will argue that all these changes mean a dumbing down of Formula 1 making it less hi-tech. That's true to a certain extent. But remember that innovation doesn't have to be all about electronics and aerodynamics. There are mechanical innovations that can be promoted, like suspension systems for instance. Cars are still using the pull rod system for decades now. With the emphasis being less on aero, engineers will be forced to look into other areas of development.

In any case, I believe that so long as those cars go faster than anything else on road racing tracks, then things'll still be alright. Remember that the objective is still primarily, to find the best driver in the world.

Another effect of these proposals I think would be increased support for the FIA by the independent teams. And also, for new entrants into the sport. It should be interesting how the manufacturers and the former GPWC responds to these proposals. These technical regulations are good in many ways but there are commercial aspects to look at like the division of revenues and bullshit special treatment to a certain Italian team with some dubious claim on historic contribution.

1 comment:

Mary-Ann said...

F1 is pinching all karting's best ideas!

Slight point of order: wouldn't Liuzzi have used a foot clutch in Formula C back in the day? I'm not a driver, so I've no idea if it's the same