Parc Ferme: More of the same… Fudge

Parc Ferme: Le Castellet, more of the same… Fudge

As the Formula 1 Circus heads to Le Castellet this weekend for the French Grand Prix my Race Result Oracle churned out a few unsurprising predictions, more of the same fudge to say.

In the first instance, it foretold of a Ferrari or Red Bull victory. I thought this was a bit too obvious, so after giving it (the oracle) a good thump it came off the pot and announced: “Ferrari – Charles Leclerc – provided the engine doesn’t pop”.

Hmm… I’ll go with that. Paul Ricard should flatter the Maranello team as the circuit is two straights with squiggles at either end. Of the two front runners, Ferrari currently has the more powerful engine (while it is functioning) and with their new rear wing, they now seem to be on top of the tyre wear.

Another crank of the oracle’s handle suggested Red Bull (Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez respectively), would occupy the final two podium slots. Sorry, Carlos.

Overtaking obfuscation

Just as I was about to walk away it suddenly spat out one more prognostication: “There would be more confused drivers.”

More confused drivers? What was that all about. A swift kick to its side produced a wordier explanation. The oracle was referring to the driver’s understanding of what is and is not possible when executing an overtaking manoeuvre. But why is this all so difficult?

In the past, it was relatively simple. When overtaking on the inside, if your front wheel was adjacent to the other driver on entry, the corner was yours. If it wasn’t, you had to back out and run the risk of being “chopped off” or penalized if there was contact.

Overtaking on the outside wasn’t even worthy of a mention. You could expect no sympathy from the officials if you ended up in the boondocks as a result. All very simple, but had something changed? I thought it was time I looked into the matter, it couldn’t be that complicated, could it?

Try finding the regulations for overtaking…

And yet, it was. Pawing through mighty tomes written in “legalese” is not normally a character trait of race drivers. They like to leave that to the grown-ups and the techies in the team.

Regulations specific to the drivers are best capitalized, in crayon and with no more than three syllables in the wording. Nevertheless, I lost a better part of a morning trying to locate the relevant section on overtaking in the FIA International Sporting Code.

For those of you interested, it’s in Appendix L International Drivers’ License, Medical Examinations, Drivers Equipment and Conduct – Chapter: 5 Code of Driving Conduct (P53 of 74). Pwah, you can breathe out now.

Surprisingly, the code of conduct for an activity as fundamental as overtaking resides in a “mixed title” appendix to the main body. Seriously? However, when you read it the reason quickly becomes clear.

It is an embarrassment. To describe it as a vague, unstructured ramble is an understatement. This goes some way to explaining why different Stewards interpret differently what is and is not permissible, correct, fair… etc.

Clarification? Sort of, enter the Imola driving standards memo

I then wanted to investigate further the Bulletin issued by the FIA Stewards on April 21, 2022, to the teams at Imola entitled: FIA Formula 1 Driving Standard Guidelines.

This was at the behest of the drivers requesting clarification on some key points. It was originally issued to the F3 boys who also didn’t understand a $1&! of what the International Sporting Code was wittering on about either.

There have been several reports on its contents focusing on overtaking elements, but I wanted to see the document first-hand and I’m glad I did.

As per its title, it covered various points on driver conduct, referencing the individual Article numbers in the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations and the respective wording in a speech marked italics. The funny thing is, at the time of issue, two of the Articles mentioned (27.3 and 27.4) were no longer in the F1 Sporting Regulations.

The last time I can discern that they were was December 16, 2020!

Secondly, the “Guidelines for overtaking on the inside of a corner” and “Guidelines for overtaking on the outside of a corner” had no Article reference. Whilst both state “guidelines” in the wording, the use of the same print style as the quoted Articles (italic in speech marks) infers that they appear in the regulations, somewhere? But they don’t.

They were as described, overtaking guidelines for the Stewards that were subsequently shared with the teams and drivers. Additionally, they are more expansive than the International Sporting Code which before this memo was the only point of reference a driver had.

Will the “real” Formula 1 regulation please stand up?

I don’t want to get into the detail over the content as it would take another nine hundred words, but the present state of dissatisfaction amongst the drivers would suggest that either the Stewards are not up to the job or the regulations aren’t.

It is not easy being a Steward or for that matter, any Official in sports. Having read the latest regulations, the first port of call should be here, before we reach for the tar and feathers.

The nature of motor racing will always require drivers’ actions to be judged from time to time. But when doing so, it should be against definitive, published regulations, not guidelines.  If the current regulatory version is not fit for purpose then it needs to be re-written. Once done, we can then take a view on the suitability of the Stewards.

Finally, for the sake of credibility, any Article numbers referenced in memos should reflect the latest version of the regulations.