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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Comments On 2008 FIA F1 Rules

The FIA has just made this press release announcing the 2008 Formula 1 regulations. As expected, the FIA has made cost cutting their priority for these new regulations. Some would call it the dumbing down of Formula 1.

But here's a real gem from Mad Max: "The real argument in Formula One is not about sports governance or even about how much money FOM gives the teams. It's all about costs." To the casual observer, this man is simply the business. To those on the inside, time and again the FIA president chooses to ridicule to deflect attention. Yeah Max. Like those 2006 V8 engines are saving the teams a whole load of dosh.

Reflecting Ross Brawn's words last week, the rules have been shaped to "ensure than an independent team with ordinary commercial sponsorship (ie a budget in the order of $100 million - still a vast sum of money in the real world) can compete with a car manufacturer prepared to spend in excess of US$300 million." Still think the FIA and Ferrari aren't in league?

Furthermore from the press release: "“One manufacturer is spending a sum greater than half its total annual dividend. This is unsustainable and sooner or later the shareholders will notice." This statement was to support the notion that manufacturers were spending limitlessly in an unsustainable fashion. Dividends doesn't matter much. Its earnings Mr Mosley. Berkshire Hathaway and up until recently Microsoft issued no dividends at all. Didn't damage their share prices at all. Its all about profits and earnings. That made increases in shareholder wealth not the damned dividends.

Right then on to some specific new rules introduced:

- "New technologies which give a team an advantage for one season but which are then adopted by all teams for subsequent seasons at significant expense will be banned after the end of the first season" Going to have a hard time policing this one I think.

- "The rear wing is split in two." Most experts think this concept won't work but Mr Mosley can dream. If it really goes in, then expect it to be dropped in 2009. Or sooner because its going to be massively unsafe.

- "Limitations on possible “interesting” areas of aerodynamic research." Oh my god. There has got to be some limits to these limitations on innovation. This is Formula 1 after all.

- "Engine to be subject to a rev limit of 19,000 rpm, with a possible increase to 20,000 rpm in consultation with the competing teams." Fully agree with the Establishment on this one. In fact I think the limit should be even lower than this and they should allow for any number of cylinders in an engine. If the FIA wanted to save costs then imposing a lower limit could have independents being competitive on old engines.

- "A standard electronic control unit for engine and gearbox to be used at all times in Formula One." Highly contentious but I agree that this is one of the best ways to control costs. Standard ECUs, standard sensor suites equals less data for computers to calculate and fine tuning (for power) will be more difficult. Whilst some argue that bespoke engines can't be made, this simply isn't true. I'm sure fuel mappings can still be customized according to individual engine makes but the number of parameters determining the maps and its number are limited.

- "Tyre pressures may be adjusted by the driver while the car is moving." Good.

- "Maximum wheel diameter increased to 640mm front and 710mm rear, with maximum widths of 365mm front and 460mm rear with slick tyres." The FIA states that the reason for this is to counteract the loss in downforce by enhancing mechanical grip. Slicks were always a good idea and if the bloody FIA didn't introduce grooves, testing costs would not have been so astronomical.

- "Only permitted materials may be used to construct the car." F***k's sake. But okay, I suppose it'll help the little people.

- "At least 5.75% (m/m) of fuel must be from biological sources." Interesting. A nod at least to the environment, whatever impact a small number of racing cars have on it. Hmmm... but couldn't the oil companies use some "specially formulated" biological fuel mixture with the effect of tremendously boosting engine power? Think toulene "rocket fuel" of the 80s.

- "From 2009 each team may make only two changes of bodywork after the start of the season." This one is so wrong it really hurts. So basically, if you've buggered your aero at the start of the season, you're going to hurt all the way till the end. Thats just plain silly. This means that if a team has a tremendous aero advantage resulting in dominance on the track, you can bet that no other team will have a chance of catching up. We already have mid-season testing restrictions, a limit on development of this sort would be highly detrimental to the spectacle and to competitiveness.

- "It is intended to allow systems for energy storage and recovery (hybrid systems) from 2009, provided this can be done without causing budgetary difficulties for any of the competing teams." Why not promote hydrogen internal combustion engines instead?

Apart from these the FIA will be pushing for sporting regulation ammendments at the World Motorsports Council (WSMC) in 2006 including:

- Single tyre manufacturer. Oh bugger. Why do they need to waste time with the bloody WSMC? Its all kangaroo. You just know they members of the WSMC will bend over forwards to Max on this one.

- "three - Event engines." Crap. They've already got rev limits, why do they need this one?

- "four - Event transmissions" Good for the independents I suppose but see below.

- "weight penalties for early replacement of engine or gearbox." The net effect of this is rather similar to the current 10 place penalty. Depending on the size of the weight penalty, some cars might be rendered uncompetitive especially if its close up front. The fact of the matter is specific life engines and gearboxes are so artificial, penalizes the driver and just makes the championship poorer as witnessed this year.

- "testing restrictions." Err yeah Max. Tell that to your darlings at Ferrari.

- "a limit of two cars per team at an Event" And if there's a crash?

My thoughts are that there are some good rules in here but there are also some very poor ones like CDG and long life engines and boxes with attendant penalties. Then there's the limit on bodywork changes in the season which can lead to the death of any excitement. Some other rules limiting "interesting" aero innovations and limitations on new technology use are vague and I foresee will lead to a great many arguements. Thats probably why Max has been filling the Court Of Appeals with some slick new lawyers. Oh bugger that, the FIA always wins the interpretation anyway so why bother?

And hence back to the main issue. The FIA can argue costs all they want but without transparancy and proper governance, with independent arbitration, costs will keep on rising no matter what these cronies do. But of course, Max and Bernie don't really want that now, do they?

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