It’s been a big day for the sport with the announcement that Pirelli will be the sole tyre supplier for the next three seasons and a raft of detailed rule changes, including driver adjustable bodywork and the return of the 107% rule in qualifying, to eliminate slow cars.
Pirelli was the choice of the majority of F1 teams and of Bernie Ecclestone. The FIA preferred the idea of Michelin, as did McLaren and Ferrari in particular. It is quite a big ask for the Italian company, which has been active in World Rally, but has not made an F1 tyre since 1991, when it supplied Benetton and Brabham with tyres which were pretty effective in qualifying, but less so in the race. F1 tyre technology has moved on a long way since then, but the offer in terms of cost to the teams and number of tyres available was more attractive to the majority of teams.
The statement from the FIA World Council announcing the move noted, “The sole supplier will undertake to strictly respect the sporting and technical regulations implemented by the FIA.” One of the key areas will be safety, with Pirelli needing to ensure that at high load circuits like Silverstone and Suzuka there is no repeat of the problems at Indianapolis in 2005.
F1 will be moving into new territory next season with this development. There will be major challenges for the design teams to deal with vehicle dynamics which will be quite different from what they are used to with Bridgestone.
There are exceptional circumstances, whereby if a team can demonstrate that a car has set competitive lap times in practice despite failing to do so in qualifying, they may be allowed to race.
This will be quite tough on the 13th team, due to come into the sport next season. 107% around a track like Barcelona is around six seconds. This year the cars of Timo Glock and Lucas Di Grassi were just inside this, while the HRT cars were outside. However since then the HRTs have improved and all 24 cars were inside the 107% margin in Istanbul, for example.
There is also an intriguing new technical rule to encourage overtaking, which will allow driver operated bodywork, to be deployed only when a car is close behind another. “The driver may only activate the adjustable bodywork in the race when he has been notified via the control electronics that it is enabled. It will only be enabled if the driver is less than one second behind another at any of the pre-determined positions around each circuit. The system will be disabled the first time the driver uses the brakes after the system has been activated, ” said the statement.
The minimum weight limit has been raised to 640 kilos, to allow for work on the adjustable rear wings which are likely to result from this new rule. The idea will be to give the car following another more downforce, to encourage an overtake. There are many aspects to overtaking, from varying levels of mechanical grip (as we see in the rain), circuit layout and track position of fast cars relative to slow ones. The way the new rule is worded will be tricky to police, but the FIA reserves the right to modify the rules if it’s not working with a gap of one second.
It has been confirmed meanwhile that drag reducing F Duct wings are banned next season.
Also in the aftermath of the Singapore crash scandal, the FIA has confirmed that it is likely to implement a new system of licences for team members, similar to those for drivers. This is a ‘fit and proper person’ test in many ways and also gives the FIA a lever over key decision makers, which it did not have in the Renault case over Singapore.
There are also little tidy-up rule changes to prevent repeats of the confusion in Monaco when Michael Schumacher passed Fernando Alonso behind the safety car. From now on, if a race finishes behind the safety car, the drivers are not allowed to overtake when the safety car pulls into the pits for the chequered flag. There is another to prevent drivers running out of fuel at the end of qualifying, as Lewis Hamilton did in Montreal.
Cars now have to make it back to the pits under their own steam if a fuel sample is required.
These are all interesting new developments and are sure to figure prominently on the agenda when the fans meet the teams at the FOTA Fans Forum, powered by Santander, next week in London.