The Formula One car design regulation changes for this season are the biggest in a generation. Certain teams have embraced the design which are effective whilst others like Mercedes have missed the boat. George Russell who is a director of the drivers union has been most vocal about the safety of drivers over the serious ‘bouncing’ of the cars and he has from race to race been extremely vocal in calling the FIA to change the regulations.
Of course, Russell is a Mercedes driver whose team have delivered a car design that is not competitive. On behalf of the drivers’ union, he has persistently called on the FIA to change the car design regulations on the grounds of safety, suggesting the drivers will suffer long term health issues due to the extreme bouncing of the new ground effect cars.
The FIA instigated a data collection survey to understand how extreme the vertical forces drivers were experiencing from the Canadian GP. Their short term solution is to set a maximum metric of vertical G-Force that drivers should suffer which will be implanted from the Belgium GP after the summer break.
The calculation is complicated but it means roughly that no driver should suffer vertical forces of greater than 10g otherwise the car will fail scrutineering and be banned from the race weekend.
However, Mercedes have been lobbying for a significant change to the 2023 car design regulations which will universally solve the bouncing problem.
Mercedes have proposed the FIA regulate a lifting of the minimum height of the floor by 25mm to solve the bouncing issues together with changing the diffuser and the ‘throat’ of the ground effect under floor wire flow arrangements.
This would significantly alter the design agreed by all the teams prior to the new 2022 regulations being introduced.
Russell and Mercedes’ argument these changes should be on safety grounds would allow the FIA to change the regulations unilaterally because non-safety issues require a unanimous agreement of the teams.
6 teams are now lined up opposing the FIA one the Mercedes proposals and Ferrari’s Mattio Bingo told AMUS that if implemented they would protest.
Binotto believes the ‘safety’ argument which circumvents the teams’ approval process is illegitimate. He argues the temporary measures which measure and limit the amount of G-force bouncing is sufficient. If a team exceeds the vertical G-Force limit then they will be disqualified but as Christian Horner has repeated all along, that team can solve the problem by running their car with a higher suspension setting.
Of course, this reduces performance so Mercedes do not want this as the solution.
Given the temporary rule change in the technical directive that will come into force in Spa restricting the maximum G-Force drivers experience from bouncing, Binotto argues why should the 2023 regulations be altered.
In reality, the bouncing has been sorted since Baku. Data from the teams shows the vertical G-Forces over the past 3 GP has been around 3.5G.
The 6 teams who are objecting to the changes for 2023 believe the revised design specifications solve Mercedes’s current car design problems. Reducing the effect of the front of the car’s ground effects and boosting the rear diffuser simply solves Mercedes’s current aerodynamic problems.
And they are prepared to formally protest if necessary. This would invoke a legal process no one really wants.
But here’s the killer.
The FIA current measurements are only taken on the straight sections of the track. Ground effect where the car seals the low pressure under the floor of the car is at most risk on the corners. Yet their current measurements are only being taken on the straights.
The reason the FIA dropped ground effect cars in the 80s was because the cornering speeds were huge and should the skirts lose their connection through the corners a car would fly off the circuit at high speed and potentially fatally injure the driver.
Given the supermarket style car park run-off areas on the modern F1 circuits, this is not a concern.
The FIA are not measuring the G-Forces in the corners which is now where the bouncing effect is now generally at its worst. In the corners, there are also significant lateral G-Force loads that the FIA is not measuring.
Mercedes want the floor height to be raised by 25mm but the 6 teams opposing the regulation change have accepted a 10mm raise but no diffuser alterations are acceptable.
The FIA are on a sticky wicket if they enforce the new Mercedes proposals. Presently it is the responsibility of the teams to ensure their cars are safe and if they are not so the teams are responsible.
If the FIA intervenes over car set up and decides what is safe and not, then if there is a significant incident where a driver suffers extreme injuries, then the FIA becomes liable given the team has delivered a car that passes Friday scrutineering.
Plus where does this end?
Does the FIA mandate how long a team should run a set of medium, tyres?
The new FIA president Ben Sulayem appears to be pretty ‘hands on’ unlike his predecessor Jean Todt. Yet the F1 race control this season has been a consistent shambles since the sacking of Michael Massi, the latest example being the inability to restart 6he race in France following the virtual safety car.
It may have been the case that the Jean Todt presidency of the FIA was absent without leave on may occasions. However, the new regime under `Ben Sulayem appears to be tinkering in everything to prove they are ‘on it’.
When in fact if you have a seasoned race director lie Charlie Whiting or Michael Massi, things kind of take care of themselves.