TECH DRAFT: Formula 1 at critical juncture on regulative intent

TECH DRAFT: Formula 1 at critical juncture on regulative intentFormula 1 Technical Advisory Committee will meet this Saturday at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, and one very important matter to be discussed will bring the sport to what is its most critical juncture in recent memory.

This meeting comes as the dust settles on another enthralling British Grand Prix and the 2022  Formula 1 season reaches a conclusion to its opening stanza.

On the Thursday of the recent Canadian Grand Prix weekend, the sport’s governing body, the FIA, issued Technical Directive 039 detailing their intentions to develop a metric to quantify and police the vertical oscillations many cars are experiencing this year, otherwise known as the ‘bouncing’.

Bouncing and plank flex

During last weekend at Silverstone the FIA further clarified TD039, detailing the complicated metric, but also indirectly inferring that certain teams had been interpreting the technical regulations relating to the underbody plank and its flexibility in a manner that contradicted the intent of the regulations, and gave those teams until the weekend of the French Grand Prix to resolve the matter so that they fall in-line with the regulative intent.

The inference is quite technical, but more simplistically the FIA suspect that some teams have found a way to flex their plank by as much as 6mm, allowing a higher rake setup and for it to run much closer to the ground with much less risk of hitting the ground, and mitigating the vertical oscillations that many have been encountering.

The 2022 Formula 1 Technical Regulations stipulate that the plank can only deflect a maximum of 2mm at two specified positions: one at the plank fore leading edge, and the other slightly aft of this.

There are no flexure measurements specified to be taken at any other position further rearwards in the vicinity of where the driver sits, and the FIA suspect that some teams have designed a plank and skid block mounting that offers some level of dampening of vertical movement.

As the skid blocks are supposedly flexing more than 2mm it is suspected that they can sustain more violent and prolonged impact with the ground with a lesser wear rate as a result.

3.15.8 Central Floor Flexibility

Key to this issue is the following extract from the 2022 Formula 1 Technical Regulations:

a. Bodywork within RV-PLANK may deflect no more than 2mm at the two holes in the plank at XF =1080 and no more than 2mm at the rearmost hole, when the car, without driver, is supported at these positions. The car will be supported on 70mm diameter pads, centred on the holes, and only in contact with the underside of the plank
assembly. The displacement will be measured at the supports, relative to the reference plane at the centre of each hole.

b. Bodywork on the reference plane may deflect no more than 0.2mm when the car, without driver, is supported at the two holes in the plank at X F =1080 and at the rearmost hole in the plank. The car will be supported on 40mm diameter pads, centred on the holes, and only contacting the bodywork on the reference plane. For the two holes at X F =1080 the displacement will be measured at the supports, relative to the survival cell datum points detailed in Article 3.2.6. For the rearmost hole the displacement will be measured at the support, relative to the power unit at the uppermost transmission mounting studs detailed in Article 5.4.8.

The referenced regulation gives a detailed description of the acceptable flexure limits of the plank in specific locations.

Without a statement of intent how can there be any intent?

Yet, for the FIA’s case of ‘intent’ to be validated it fails miserably because nowhere in the clause is any intent clearly stated, and in this example indeed there is no intent stated whatsoever.

Any properly written technical regulation with an underlying intent will most usually preface the regulation details with a succinct statement of intent, as regulative intent can never just be inferred.

In the example of 3.15.8 that statement of intent would only needed to have been something as simple as the following at the very beginning of the regulation, “The regulative intent of 3.15.8 is that the plank assembly may not deflect more than 2mm at any position….”

Not only is 3.15.8 a poorly written regulation, but it is also common throughout all the FIA’s Formula 1 Technical, Sporting and Financial Regulations, and the International Sporting Code, and always have been for as long as I can remember.

I have always thought that whilst Formula 1 teams employ legal professionals to help them with their interpretations of the regulations, it seems that the FIA don’t seem to do the same when drafting them.

A watershed moment in time in Austria?

The reason why the meeting of the Technical Advisory Committee has the capacity to be a turning point in the history of Formula 1 technical regulation evolution is because the manner with which the FIA has issued and further clarified TD039 is indicative of its intentions to install a regulative intent about a technical matter, even though that intent is not explicitly defined in the regulations in the first instance.

It is important to acknowledge that the purpose of a Technical Directive has always been one of guidance or advice as opposed to regulative, which is a different process altogether.

Putting it more plainly, the FIA want to change a regulation part way through a season, and they are not using their own correct process which would involve ratification by the World Motorsport Council.

Providing an inadequately written set of regulations is a poor excuse to issue a new set part way through a season, and if they were to do so I can only imagine a lengthy hearing in the International Court of Arbitration for Sport, one that may very well result in interests of the affected teams being upheld.

For this reason I would expect that policing of vertical oscillations will not pertain the plank flexure for the remainder of 2022, but for the 2023 regulation to be more inclusive of the regulative intent.