The FIA’s management of Formula One this season ha been shambolic. New president Mohammed Ben Sulayem decided to appoint 2 rotating F1 race directors to replace the benched Michael Massi however the teams and drivers have complained this has led to a lack of consistency in decision making.
Then at the Japanese GP race director Eduardo Freitas instructed the clerk of the course to deploy a recovery crane when visibility was poor and the track still live for F1 cars. Freitas was subsequently sidelined for the final four races of the season.
F1 race control a shambles
At last weekends US GP in Austin Fernando Alonso failed to receive a black and orange flag during the racer for his loose wing mirror which the stewards later decided was ‘unsafe’ and penalised the Spaniard and Alpine dropping Alonso outside the points from his P7 at there chequered flag finish.
On Thursday evening as the F1 circus assembled in Mexico this decision was reversed by the stewards as Alpine appealed. The stewards in Austin heavily criticised the race director Neils Wittich for not issuing the black and orange flag.
Then of course we have the Red Bull cost cap row, where the FIA has taken an eternity to examine the F1 teams’ spending submissions for the 2021. In Singapore the information Red Bull were in breach was leaked though the FIA only confirmed the “Certificates of compliance” two races later.
Hamilton FIA run ins
Lewis Hamilton has had his own run ins with Mohammed Ben Sulayem and his new FIA officers over a jewellery ban rule which the sport has never enforced since its inception over 10 years ago.
The next battle for the FIA on the horizon appears to be over the tyre warming blankets. Tyre warming blankets arrived in F1 during the mid 1980’s and attempt to ensure the F1 cars’ rubber is at an optimum temperature when they are fitted to the cars.
Fitting warm tyres to a racing car provides an instant better grip rather than the driver having to warm the tyres over a lap or two from cold.
FIA’s green agenda
However as part of F1’s going green agenda the FIA has mandated the power hungry tyre warmers will be phased out of Formula One.
The bigger teams fought hard to prevent this change yet Autoweek revealed last season a boss of a smaller outfit had observed somewhat tongue in cheek, “In qualifying, the cars sometimes wait several minutes at the pit exit to get a good position on the track. The tires cool down completely and somehow it still works.”
The FIA mandate a maximum tyre temperature to which the warming blankets can be set. This used to be 100 degrees Celsius but was reduced for 2022 to 70 degree and will further decrease next season to 50 degrees.
Tyre warmers will be banned from 2024 onwards.
A challenge for Pirelli
During second practice at the US GP in Austin, Pirelli were permitted a tyre test in an attempt to help them improve the understeer the F1 cars have been experiencing from the new car design regulations.
The teams were to test the prototypes from Pirelli blind, not knowing whether they were a soft, medium or hard compound.
Further they had to run the cars set up as they had been for practice one so Pirelli could compare the rubber wear rates.
In line with 2023 regulations these tyres were only permitted to be heated to 50 degrees a significant drop from the 100 degrees allowed in 2021.
Verstappen questions FIA’s judgement
Ahead of the Mexico GP Max Verstappen has spoken out over the FIA’s tyre blanket bang agenda suggesting a rethink is necessary.
“It was not enjoyable,” said the world champion. “I drove on 50 degrees and I almost spun in the pit lane already. Of course, I also had the hardest compound.”
Verstappen argues there will be severe consequences if the FIA pursues its current path banning all but ambient temperature tyres to be fitted to F1 cars, “then I think we’re going to have a lot of crashes.”
“Also your tyre degradation is going to be completely different because your tyres are very cold, you’re sliding around a lot in the first few laps, your tyre pressures are going to go through the roof so your tyres are going to deg[rade] a lot more.”
Improving the F1 spectacle
Of course tyres degrading more quickly means more pit stops and this generally improves the racing spectacle for the fans. Verstappen further observes that the tyre test in COTA was in relatively benign conditions.
“That’s a track where you can easily switch on the tyres because of the high-speed cornering. But if you go to like a track like a street circuit, Monaco, can you imagine you’re in like half-half [wet-dry] conditions? I think it’s going to take like half of the race before you have temperature in your tyres.”
Most other motor racing series do not have tyre warmers and the FIA believes the teams will wean themselves off the idea in time. Yet Verstappen argues Formula One cars have a lot more power than others and their weight is also an issue.
“I think these cars are very heavy as well,” he added. “I’ve tried it and it’s just really almost impossible to drive.
“In my private time I drive a GT3 car with no tyre blankets but these cars are a lot more forgiving and it’s a lot easier to manage than these kind of [F1] cars. Because [here] if you go on power a little bit too much and with the power you have from the engine, it can be a big crash.”
“Lots of crashes”
On the issue of cost, Verstappen argues, “If we have the tyre blankets anyway, why don’t we use them to the fullest because they are there. I would go full blankets or zero because we have them already, we don’t need to get new ones.
Max conclusion over the impending FIA ban on tyre warmers is simple.
“I think we will have a lot of crashes, that I know already.”
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 28, 2022