INSIDE TECH MAKING THE RULES
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…