Last Friday’s FIA World Motor Sport Council was the culmination of a lot of work behind the scenes and threw up some interesting outcomes on several fronts.
The sport is changing in significant ways and these decisions are a milestone on that journey. F1 always has to balance several requirements; to be entertaining, to be relevant and to be technologically innovative and there are big moves in all three directions going on at the moment.
On the entertainment side you have the moveable rear wing, which will mean that a slightly faster car should be able to pass a slower car without losing the chance in the aerodynamic wake. We will also see Pirelli evolving the tyres in a way which makes them central to the show, making more races more like Montreal this year where it was up to drivers and the team strategists to get the best outcome using tyres which were quite on the edge for the conditions.
The news on the 2013 engine formula is the most significant for the long term future of the sport. This is all about the sport staying relevant. Many road car manufacturers are evolving their strategy towards electric cars and to direct injection turbo engines, of the kind the FIA has voted through – 1.6 litres. The FIA’s statement doesn’t actually mention the word “turbocharged”, but it would be pretty difficult to get 750 horsepower out of a 1.6 litre engine revving to 12,000rpm any other way! The F1 engineers understand it to be turbos, but there are some other ideas around including turbo compounding.
The energy regeneration systems will be much more potent, which is a good thing. The rate at which they can harvest energy and recycle it will double. Instead of the 60 kilowatts KERS will give next year, the 2013 engines will have 120 kW.
The target is a 35% fuel saving, which is around 60 kilos of fuel per car per race. That said the fuel consumption will still be only 7 mpg – a modest improvement on the just under 5 mpg currently and a long way from road relevant.
There have been discussions aimed at optimising the chassis rules to work with the new engine rules, to create far greater efficiency. So for example, reducing drag would be a highly desirable, giving the same speeds with less consumption and greater efficiency. Radical reductions in drag would allow you to reduce engine power and still maintain F1 speeds. Active cooling is another idea engineers are keen on. The senior engineers are meeting today in London to discuss this.
Ideally with a clean sheet of paper concept teams will need 18 months to work on it, so the chassis rules could do with being finalised by next summer.
With the subject of road relevance comes the opportunity for the manufacturers to engage with the sport as suppliers not just of engines but of drivetrains as well. The new rules on gearboxes which have to last five races and sophisticated energy recovery systems create a commercial opportunity for manufacturers like Renault, Mercedes, Cosworth and even Honda, who I’m told have been following the engine discussions closely, are quite likely to return in 2013 as an engine/drivetrain supplier.
The thorny subject of team orders has been addressed, according to the FIA World Council’s statement; “The article forbidding team orders (39.1) is deleted. Teams will be reminded that any actions liable to bring the sport into disrepute are dealt with under Article 151c of the International Sporting Code and any other relevant provisions.”
In some ways this is worse than what we had before because it is so vague. The previous rule was unworkable, but at least it set out the principle that teams should not interfere -or be seen to interfere -with the order in which the cars finish. This is certainly valid for races in the first 70% of the season, but unrealistic in the closing stages.
After Ferrari invoked team orders at the 11th round of 19, there was an uproar from fans and media alike. The new rule seems to suggest that although team orders are allowed, a strongly negative reaction to a team order will cause the team to be charged with bringing the sport into disrepute. This could also occur for example if a driver pulls over in the final corner to let a team mate through. I think what this revision means is that the fans and media cannot point to a specific exclusion of team orders any more and that what is and isn’t acceptable will be sorted out behind closed doors at team principal level.
I’m also pretty sure we will see this rule tested next season, not by Red Bull who have stuck to their guns and say they will never favour one driver over the other. But Felipe Massa’s heart must have sunk when he read this statement. Although theoretically Ferrari hits a reset button at the start of 2011, it was pretty clear which driver was going for the championship. Will they play it the same way next year? It will be fascinating to see.
There were some controversial moments in 2010 where drivers blocked each other, raced in the pit lane and so on. There are some detail changes in the sporting regulations now to address some of those issues. Drivers must not overtake in the pit lane and when out on the circuit they must stay with all four wheels on the track at all times, and “Manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such as more than one change of direction to defend a position, deliberate crowding of a car beyond the edge of the track or any other abnormal change of direction, are not permitted.”
This clarifies the situation and follows the incident between Vitaly Petrov and Lewis Hamilton in Malaysia. The race stewards, of which one will remain an ex F1 driver, have a range of penalties to hand out including any size of time penalty and at the extreme end, exclusion from the race or a suspension from the next race.