F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - Pat Sy­monds ex­plains

The F1 rules seem ex­tremely com­plex – how do you en­sure you op­er­ate within them?

They have got more com­plex over time. I still have a set of rules from 1983. They con­sist of a to­tal of ten-and-a-half pages and all the aero­dy­namic reg­u­la­tions cov­er­ing the body­work and wings cover just 41 lines of text: fewer than 500 words. By 1994 this had only grown to 675 words. To­day, that same sec­tion is 5,844 words!

The com­plete Tech­ni­cal Reg­u­la­tions to­day run to 82 pages and more than 33,250 words, but are fur­ther com­pli­cated by a 75-page ap­pen­dix to the Tech­ni­cal Reg­u­la­tions, sev­eral Sport­ing Reg­u­la­tions in­flu­enc­ing de­sign, and count­less Tech­ni­cal Di­rec­tives (30 thus far in 2014). Even the doc­u­ment that guides us as to how we may man­age the 2014 power unit is now in its 25th re­vi­sion and adds a fur­ther 44 pages.

Ob­serv­ing cer­tain quan­tifi­able rules is rel­a­tively easy, so it would be un­usual th­ese days for a car to be found to be over the max­i­mum per­mit­ted width or height, although gen­uine mis­takes are oc­ca­sion­ally made. Other rules can be dif­fi­cult to com­ply with even when lim­its are spec­i­fied, and there have of­ten been ar­gu­ments over ex­actly how some­thing is mea­sured.

Much more dif­fi­cult are those rules that con­vey in­tent but are ex­tremely de­bat­able. The open­ing sen­tence of the body­work rules states that one of the pur­poses of the reg­u­la­tions is to min­imise the detri­men­tal ef­fect that the wake of a car may have on a fol­low­ing car. You can imag­ine the fun two lawyers could have with that state­ment in an ad­ver­sar­ial de­bate on the mer­its of McLaren’s rear sus­pen­sion.

What is the func­tion of a Tech­ni­cal Di­rec­tive?

Th­ese are doc­u­ments is­sued from time to time by the FIA to all teams. They ex­press opin­ions on le­gal­ity, or are in­struc­tions that must be fol­lowed. The re­cent edict on front-and-rear in­ter­con­nected sus­pen­sion (FRIC) le­gal­ity was merely an opin­ion ex­pressed by the FIA’s tech­ni­cal depart­ment that th­ese de­vices were not le­gal. Only the stew­ards of an event, or the In­ter­na­tional Court of Ap­peal, could de­ter­mine whether this opin­ion was valid. In re­al­ity, teams know FIA opin­ion is usu­ally up­held, hence no team was pre­pared to risk run­ning FRIC once that opin­ion was made pub­lic.

If any area of the reg­u­la­tions is un­clear, or if a com­peti­tor is in­tro­duc­ing new tech­nol­ogy, they can write to the FIA in con­fi­dence to seek an opin­ion on le­gal­ity. This is of­ten used as a ruse to flush out an op­po­nent’s se­crets by ask­ing a loaded ques­tion; if the opin­ion suits the ques­tioner’s ar­gu­ment and is in a neg­a­tive vein, they can then ask for that opin­ion to be made pub­lic by means of a Tech­ni­cal Di­rec­tive, thus ter­mi­nat­ing their ri­val’s in­ge­nu­ity.

Tech­ni­cal Di­rec­tives are also ef­fec­tively per­pet­ual so are sel­dom re­scinded. So on top of the reams of cur­rent reg­u­la­tions that need to be un­der­stood, tech­ni­cal direc­tors must re­call the in­tent of doc­u­ments that may be many years old when as­sess­ing the le­gal­ity of a new con­cept.

How are the tech­ni­cal rules for­mu­lated?

Un­der the last Con­corde Agree­ment, rules were de­bated and sug­gested by the Tech­ni­cal Work­ing Group (TWG) then ap­proved by the F1 Com­mis­sion and World Mo­tor­sport Coun­cil. The loss of Con­corde brought an end to the for­mal­ity of the TWG, and in its place the statutes of the FIA kicked in to al­low the for­ma­tion of ad hoc groups to de­ter­mine tech­ni­cal rules. Pres­i­dent Jean Todt also in­sti­gated a Strat­egy Group of 18 mem­bers, in­clud­ing six of the teams, to pro­vide guid­ing prin­ci­ples for the sub-groups to follow.

What pro­vides the in­spi­ra­tion for new rules?

Fore­most is safety, and this has driven many reg­u­la­tions over the past 30 years. Cou­pled with safety is the need to keep per­for­mance in check, since the rate of de­vel­op­ment is so fast in F1 that it is nec­es­sary to re­duce grip and en­gine power ev­ery few years to main­tain ve­hi­cles that are com­pat­i­ble with most cir­cuit lay­outs.

More re­cently, rule changes have been made to con­tain snow­balling costs and also to in­crease the spec­ta­cle of the rac­ing.

How much no­tice do you get with new rules?

Pre­vi­ously, reg­u­la­tions had to be nalised by the end of June for ap­pli­ca­tion the fol­low­ing year. This has now been brought for­ward to the end of March to give teams more time to re­act. This has helped re­duce costs for com­peti­tors.

Wouldn’t it be bet­ter if the rules were sim­pler?

A shorter rule book could foster in­no­va­tion, but the cur­rent F1 business model would not sus­tain the nan­cial re­quire­ments this in­no­va­tion would re­quire. The rules sti­fle many ar­eas where in­ge­nu­ity may be ap­plied, but also force an in­or­di­nate level of de­tail to be in­ves­ti­gated – and this of­ten leads to novel so­lu­tions to prob­lems.

Is there room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the rules?

Of course, but some­times the se­man­tics in­volved amaze me. Many rules con­tain a catch-all, and one that of­ten comes up is the in­fa­mous Ar­ti­cle 3.15, which gov­erns move­able aero­dy­namic de­vices. You might think this was writ­ten with body­work in mind, but it’s this rule that banned ac­tive sus­pen­sion – and more re­cently FRIC.

Wher­ever there ex­ists a lawyer there also ex­ists an in­ter­pre­ta­tion…

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