In his latest blog F1 journalist Matt Youson runs the rule over Formula One’s regulations...
F1 likes to encourage innovation. That might sound obvious but it isn’t always the case in motorsport. Plenty of championships tend to have a technical rulebook that specifies exactly what you can do: in F1 they only tell you what you can’t do.
It allows teams to be more creative in how they approach problems but it does also tend to leave a great many grey areas in the regulations, and that leads to quite lively debate.
Earlier this season Mercedes’ radical interpretation of the DRS rules was the hot topic, more recently it’s been the rear floor of the Red Bull Racing RB8. That one came to a head last week when race director and head of the FIA technical department Charlie Whiting issued a clarification that strongly suggested Red Bull, and any other teams running a similar design, should change it.
Charlie’s word is not law, at least not officially. The way F1 works, any team can protest if it doesn’t like something one of their rivals is doing. That protest is heard by the stewards: they listen to both sides of the argument and then make a ruling. The stewards usually rely heavily on the opinion of the FIA technical department. Occasionally the stewards have ignored that opinion (famously over Renault’s mass dampers in 2006) – but not very often.
Red Bull Racing’s floor design was scrutinised from the day it first appeared. Informally the FIA was asked what it thought of it and informally the FIA said it didn’t have a problem with it. As often happens, the debate matured, there was more input and gradually opinions changed. Red Bull Racing say they weren’t planning to run that specification of floor anyway but with the technical clarification circulating, nobody else will either.
The reason it’s called a clarification rather than a rule change is that the rules haven’t been rewritten – what a clarification does is tell you how the rules are going to be interpreted in the future. If rules are black and white, you don’t need clarifications: in a sport filled with grey areas – and one that is sometimes purposefully ambiguous – you probably do.
Of course that hasn’t stopped a few people out in the big wide world beyond the paddock gates bellowing about illegality, which is why, when asked for his view on those opinions, Mark Webber tee’d off yesterday.
“In relation to winning races with an illegal car, I’m happy to be called lots of things and I’m happy to have criticism about my driving and lots of stuff, but I will not take criticism in that respect,” he said. “It completely pisses me off to be honest, because the car has passed every single technical regulation after the race.
“All of the teams that were against it did not make any protest after Monaco, the car passed the test after Bahrain, the car passed the test after Monaco. Now there has been a clarification on the rule. We had a car that was legal for the first part of the season and now the rule has been changed.”
A while back, when the natural position for F1 teams was to be at each others’ throats, things didn’t get resolved quite so diplomatically but in the modern era, with people at the top of the sport perhaps less belligerent than their predecessors, more and more often technical disagreements are being solved in this way rather than via the nuclear option of protest.
It doesn’t generate quite so many column inches but it does let everyone get on with building racing cars rather than pretending to be lawyers. And that’s probably good.
- Visit the official Formula 1 website
- Canadian Grand Prix circuit guide
- Fast facts from the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve