When rules bring chaos out of or­der


so vi­cious that they con­trib­uted to sus­pen­sion break­ages on three cars were im­posed to de­ter driv­ers from ven­tur­ing be­yond track lim­its. Then, in Hun­gary, driv­ers were in­formed that elec­tronic sen­sors would de­tect any track-bound­ary breaches, but only in Turns 4 and 11, where time could the­o­ret­i­cally be gained by go­ing over the line; by im­pli­ca­tion, then, the oth­ers were fair game. In Hock­en­heim, Turn 1 was awarded ‘zero tol­er­ance’ sta­tus, and no other.

Af­ter Jules Bianchi’s fa­tal ac­ci­dent it was surely in­cum­bent upon the FIA, as reg­u­la­tor of the sport, to im­pose strin­gent penal­ties for ig­nor­ing dou­ble waved yel­low ags, which de­mand that driv­ers slow signicantly and are able to come to an im­me­di­ate stop, such is the po­ten­tial danger ahead. Yet Ros­berg es­caped sanc­tion dur­ing Q3 in Bu­da­pest af­ter back­ing off for just a tenth of a sec­ond. Only af­ter team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who lost a po­ten­tial pole by slow­ing as per the book, de­manded ex­pla­na­tions was it de­cided to im­pose a red-ag rule to force driv­ers to abort their laps where dou­ble yel­lows had pre­vi­ously sufced. So why did F1 bother with dou­ble yel­lows at all if com­plaints from a driver was all it took to bin the rule for qual­i­fy­ing?

All these in­con­sis­ten­cies were in­tro­duced, then re­scinded un­der the ban­ner of an ofcial ‘clarication’. To my mind, this im­plies that they were framed too vaguely or in­tro­duced too hastily in the rst place. ‘Avoid­able ac­ci­dent’ penal­ties also spring to mind. No won­der wheel-to-wheel rac­ing is such a rare spec­ta­cle if a driver is pe­nalised for fail­ing to cede when their ad­ver­sary chops across them.

If the driv­ers are con­fused, then please also con­sider the fans, who sacrice week­ends to pur­sue their pas­sion yet are left bewil­dered by protests, ap­peals, de­lays in is­su­ing nal grid or­ders, and race re­sults that are nalised long af­ter the crowds have headed home.

This sit­u­a­tion’s roots lie in the late ’90s, to wit the Michael Schu­macher era, when Michael (and Fer­rari) redened the bounds of ac­cept­abil­ity while cur­rent FIA race direc­tor Charlie Whit­ing cut his ofciat­ing teeth. What Schu­macher did was sud­denly deemed ac­cept­able, and F1 grad­u­ally adapted.

Each sub­se­quent ‘clarication’ added an­other layer of rules to the book, and where these re­sulted in un­fore­seen side ef­fects, fur­ther rules were framed to negate these. Thus the rule­book grew pro­gres­sively fat­ter.

An­other is­sue is that the governance struc­ture has be­come more con­vo­luted. The Strat­egy Group rep­re­sents just half the teams, while the next stage is dis­pro­por­tion­ately inuenced by FOM, just as the nal step, the World Mo­tor Sport Coun­cil, com­prises pre­dom­i­nantly FIA ofcials who are in many in­stances far re­moved from F1’s re­al­i­ties.

The sit­u­a­tion reached a head in Hun­gary. Team bosses were united in their de­ter­mi­na­tion that the is­sues be dis­cussed at Strat­egy Group level be­tween the Hun­gar­ian and Ger­man GPs. Pre­lim­i­nary dis­cus­sions were held be­tween var­i­ous sport­ing di­rec­tors, who then for­mu­lated pro­pos­als that were es­ca­lated to the Strat­egy Group.

That meet­ing led to a num­ber of changes. The ‘halo’ cock­pit-pro­tec­tion de­vice, pre­vi­ously to be in­tro­duced in 2017, was pushed back a year pend­ing fur­ther tests, the ‘ra­dio si­lence’ and track-limit reg­u­la­tions were re­laxed, and pro­pos­als for sim­plied reg­u­la­tions to cater for wet stand­ing starts (rather than Safety Car pro­ces­sions) and bans on re­pairs to cars un­der red-ag con­di­tions have been adopted.

At last F1’s reg­u­la­tory ratchet is turn­ing back­wards, even if only click by click.

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