With Formula 1’s summer break in full swing, it is time to reflect on what has transpired during the first half of the season; with this in mind, I’ve decided to break it down into two reports: Part 1 will comment on the judiciary (FIA) and Part 2, the performance of the teams and drivers.
So let us start with the new 2022 technical regulations. Amongst many things, one of the primary objectives of the rule changes was to promote overtaking. A major plank in this strategy was to tidy up the airflow behind the cars, allowing them to run closer through corners.
Thereby improving their chance of getting a tow on the straights. Whilst this has not turned out to be a panacea in its own right, it has combined to help an earlier approach finally work i.e. tire compounds with narrow performance bands.
Overtaking, courtesy of Pirelli
Whilst some of the drivers bemoan this feature, it does promote a significant difference in grip within the same tire. This attribute together with the reduction in tire wall height and ultra-stiff chassis, has extended the time it takes to “Switch on the rubber”.
If a driver pushes too hard too soon the life and effectiveness of their tires are dramatically reduced. Hence the radio reminder you often hear from the pits after a tire change telling a driver to take it easy on the out lap.
Driver skill counts
Management of this is down to the occupant of the cockpit. The more skilful they are in this department, the longer and better the tires perform. This in turn has improved the prospects of passing under the breaks and out of corners. And for those that don’t like this, hey everyone has the same compounds to play with!
These changes have also enhanced the performance of DRS in facilitating overtaking. Something that was fortunately retained for 2022 since without it there would have been very little on the new street circuits that joined the calendar this year.
In summary, I will grade the FIA a B+ here for achievement since this aspect of the racing has markedly improved together with the entertainment. Particularly at the older “proper” tracks – hint hint.
When is a budget, not a cap?
When it’s issued by the FIA. The new 2022 regulations were also designed to throw the chips up in the air and break the monopoly of the big-money teams. Part of the approach was to put in place budget caps on spending.
My colleague Mark Kay commented on this in one of his Technical Drafts earlier in the year. He pointed out that the wording was so loose that you could drive an F1 transporter through it. How did this happen you may ask?
Well, it’s actually quite simple. This type of regulation requires most of the teams to approve it, which is a challenge as they normally can’t even agree on the color of pooh. To get this voted through probably required wording that they (the teams) felt they could wriggle out of, challenge, or simply by-pass later.
Consequently, it’s a fudge, and in its current form, a useless device for achieving its implied objectives: sustainability and improved competition.
The cap has already been surpassed due to inflation, and further breaches will likely occur as we get deeper into the second half of the season. The full consequence of such “woolly” regulations may not be seen until the curtain closes on the Championship(s) at the end of the year, and then probably in court.
This was a nice try by FIA but unfortunately, there is no cigar here.
Track Limits still????
After the Michael Masi affair in 2021, personnel and structural changes were implemented. However, consistency in adjudication remains a problem. In particular, judging track limits and apportioning blame for accidents resulting from an overtaking manoeuvre.
Tasked with making decisions of this type is tricky at the best of times, especially when you need to decide if an advantage was gained.
In the instance of causing an accident when overtaking, an improvement in the wording of the regulation would help both drivers and officials better understand what is and is not permissible.
As for track limits, a surface with a coefficient of grip equal to grass would address the issue. Placed around the inside and outside edges of the track at a width of two cars, we would see a dramatic reduction in drivers exceeding limits. This would nullify the need for the officials to pass judgement, and put to bed one of the more controversial race weekend issues.
Could do better it has to be said, and on this subject, I must award a “D” for effort and achievement along with a “needs to work harder” comment. I don’t expect the regulations for the circuits or the Sporting Code to change mid-season. However, I would like to see an improvement for 2023.
Great start for the new Boss at the FIA
Finally, a new President took over the FIA chair at the beginning of the season and a power keg of dissent and Jean Todt loyalists he had to and probably has to marginalise or get rid of. The place really needed a broom to sweep clean, and it’s a big room to sweep too.
The points raised earlier are not of his making and it is too early to pass any judgement. Nevertheless, Mohammed Ben Sulayem has already shown he’s no patsy, he’s astute, well-informed by his team and standing his ground on several issues. The introduction of TD0039 concerning driver health and safety is but one example.
Two of the biggest teams (and currently the most successful) were against this. However, I suspect that their interpretation of the regulations regarding flexing of floors has a lot to do with it.
Their drivers of course publicly stated it was a non-issue. However, the Grand Prix Drivers Association had a different view. Representations from the GPDA insisted the FIA had to act on the identified health issue, which they (FIA) have. Based on this alone, he gets an “A”