The old maxim, “rules were made to be broken”, has been somewhat ingrained in the DNA of F1 participants since time began.
It appears remarkable to some onlookers that this attitude is almost endemic within F1 teams. To them and others of course the Mclaren spy scandal and Flaviogate are examples of rule breaking that is completely unacceptable. Yet there will always be the run of the mill offences such as speeding in the pit lane, unsafe driving/pit release, blocking and a host of sins that are the ‘yellow card’ offences that we kind of expect.
However, its important not to lose sight of the fact that Formula 1 is a technological and development race every bit as much as a series of motor races, and it is this aspect of the sport that drives the DNA of the teams to develop the cars to the limit of the regulations. Which may be one of the reasons why someone appears to be always breaking the rules, but are the FIA changing the nature of this game?
In the first decade when the FIA established the regulated world championship, the rules were very simple and related pretty much only to engines.
1950-51 1500 cc with compressor; 4500 cc without; No weight limit
1952-53 750 cc with compressor; 2000 cc without; No weight limit
1954-60 750 cc with compressor; 2500 cc without; No weight limit
Some rule book huh? Yet the teams were already seeking innovation beyond the rules to find a competitive advantage; disk brakes (1951), direct fuel injection with desmodronic valves (1954) and engines mounted in the rear – were those that are noteworthy.
Over the following decades the design advancements came in all areas of the car – chassis, gearbox, suspension, tyres, fuel and eventually aerodynamics. One team would steal a march on the others and for a variety of reasons these would either be outlawed by new rules or if not then copied by the rest.
What was clear was that the rule makers were always chasing the teams’ development curve and even when the FIA created regulations to improve safety, certain designers would find cunning ways of circumventing the letter of the law without breaking it.
One of the best examples of this was in 1981, Gordon Murray’s Brabham BT49C design featured a hydro-pneumatic suspension system which meant when being driven at speed the car was pushed down several inches by the force of the airflow and below the minimum FIA prescribed height regulation. However at slower speeds it would rise back up and by the time it reached scrutineering it would be at the legal height.
The regulators cottoned on to what Murray had done, but it was only for the 1982 season they acted to stop this and suspension movement was then restricted to 1.5 inches. It was like a game of cat and mouse and should the mouse come up with a clever way of avoiding the cat, it would be tolerated until the next regulation changes were written.
At that time, technical regulation changes were predominantly annual as the teams had to sign up to the design rules for the following year and then spend a lot of time and money developing a new car. So mid season rule changes were generally avoided as part of the gentleman’s agreement between Tom and Jerry.
This has pretty much been the way of things in F1. Find a clever “interpretation” of the design regulations and even though it contravenes the spirit of the rule it’s mostly been allowed until the next technical regulation addresses the loophole.
But I sense this tolerance is changing. We’ve had 2 scenarios this year with Red Bull and Renault where swift and immediate action has occurred.
Following complaints in Germany about the Renault engine maps the FIA examined the matter and issued the following statement. “While the stewards do not accept all the arguments of the team, they however conclude that as the regulation is written the map presented does not breach article 5.5.3 of the technical regulations,” Yet when Derek Warwick was questioned, he was clearly angry with the Red Bull position and stated there would be immediate changes in the regulations – and there were.
Red Bull were also accused of having an illegal suspension adjustment mechanism, such that the FIA taped over the holes in the body work during one session the car was running. Mysteriously this matter has slipped from memory and is no more.
Clearly, not breaching the spirit of the regulations is now the bench mark and the FIA are flexing their authoritative muscles far more swiftly than has been the norm in F1. Further, regulation changes are now lightning by F1 previous standards – maybe the cat is tired of the constant ignominy of losing to the mouse, and the comfortable understanding between Tom and Jerry is no more.
In part 2: We’ll look at the changing driving regulations and their future implications.
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