“It wasn’t clear what rules were in or out”

Motor Sport News - - German Gp Report - STU­ART CODLING

The essential flak­i­ness of F1’s gov­er­nance sys­tem was laid bare last week in an em­bar­rass­ing flurry of reg­u­la­tory hokey-cokey, af­ter which one could not be quite sure which rules were in, out, or sim­ply shaken all about.

It’s fash­ion­able in F1 me­dia cir­cles to say that the sport is over-reg­u­lated and that the rule­books must be sim­pli­fied. But if last week’s storm-in-a-teacup proves any­thing, it’s that sim­ply tear­ing out, ig­nor­ing or “in­ter­pret­ing dif­fer­ently” rules you don’t like only leads to more ar­gu­ment and con­fu­sion.

When the Strat­egy Group met in Geneva last Thurs­day, the is­sues of cock­pit pro­tec­tion, ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tion and the polic­ing of track lim­its were jostling for top billing on the agenda. But what is the Strat­egy Group any­way? Just an un­wieldy com­mit­tee with 18 votes split three ways be­tween rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the ‘top six’ teams (Mercedes, Red Bull, Fer­rari, Mclaren, Wil­liams and Force In­dia), the FIA and the com­mer­cial rights holder.

While this sounds demo­cratic, in prac­tice it re­sults in horse-trad­ing be­hind the scenes, with all the ran­cour that en­tails, and even when the group comes to a de­ci­sion it isn’t bind­ing. The rec­om­men­da­tions are sim­ply passed up the line to the F1 Com­mis­sion and the FIA World Mo­tor Sports Coun­cil.

So when news leaked out that the Strat­egy Group had agreed that cock­pit pro­tec­tion should be put on hold un­til 2018, and that the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of rules con­cern­ing track lim­its and ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tions should be re­laxed, this was just an­other chap­ter in an on­go­ing story. The FIA then is­sued a cu­ri­ously grudg­ing press re­lease con­firm­ing that cock­pit pro­tec­tion would in­deed be brought in for 2018, and that its much-ma­ligned ‘halo’ sys­tem re­mains “the pre­ferred op­tion” – but “the con­sen­sus among the Strat­egy Group was that an­other year of de­vel­op­ment could re­sult in an even more com­plete so­lu­tion”. It is known that most teams and drivers – and F1 ‘ring­mas­ter’, Bernie Ec­cle­stone – loathe the halo’s ug­li­ness but the FIA are de­ter­mined to see it (or some­thing like it) through. This is a fault line that will grind away over the next few months.

The FIA re­lease also con­firmed that it would re­lax its stance on ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween teams and drivers, hav­ing in ef­fect faced a pin­cer move­ment from the teams and Ec­cle­stone, both of whom hated it for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Again, you can sense the back-and-forth that went on be­hind the scenes dur­ing the Strat­egy Group meet­ing.

Of the sup­posed agree­ment to drop the strict polic­ing of track lim­its there was no sign. On this is­sue – ap­par­ently tabled on the Strat­egy Group agenda by Ec­cle­stone, who be­lieves the gen­eral pub­lic doesn’t give a fig about whether drivers go over the white lines or not – the FIA sim­ply would not budge. At a brief­ing be­tween Fri­day’s prac­tice ses­sions, the FIA race di­rec­tor Char­lie Whit­ing said there had been 93 in­stances of cars go­ing be­yond the white line at Turn 1 in the first ses­sion alone.

He also pointed out that it was the Strat­egy Group, back in 2014, which had pushed for the ban on drivers be­ing “coached” over the ra­dio…

So we must await firm and bind­ing rules on these mat­ters as the FIA goes through due process. And as a rule of thumb, we should prob­a­bly pay less heed to the wishy-washy Strat­egy Group pro­nounce­ments.

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