How the 2021 regulations could lead F1 down a spec-series route

Much has been said about the 2021 F1 regulations, and many people in the higher ranks of the sport have expressed their concerns over the proposed plans.

We are just mere weeks (if not days) away from the deadline set by the FIA, the teams, and Liberty Media. On October 31st, all three parties must co-sign the final Technical and Sporting Regulations for the 2021 Formula One championship, the most anticipated set of regulations since 2014.

Chase Carey, Ross Brawn, and Jean Todt have all been vocal about the changes that need to be made in order to revitalize the sport, give teams new motivation and incentive, and promote pure and competitive racing.

This, however, is no easy task. Radical changes come with consequences, sometimes ruining something that was already working perfectly fine beforehand.

For instance, when F1 experimented with the qualifying format back in 2016, including an elimination every couple of minutes, it was a huge disaster for the drivers, teams and, most importantly, the fans. After just two Grand Prix, the Q1-Q2-Q3 format was back.

That is a best case scenario: an idea goes totally wrong and gets revoked, and we start from scratch.

You cannot do that with a new set of aero regulations, though.

For the past 18 months, F1 officials – presided by Ross Brawn (who has recruited people like Pat Symonds and Rob Smedley) – have been conducting thorough research on how they can improve racing in 2021.

F1.com

The blueprint was set in July. F1 cars must be designed in such a way that the downforce lost behind another car is minimal compared to this year’s machinery. And they had the ideas to make this happen.

They tested these solutions in the Sauber Motorsport wind tunnel, and in August the first scale models of the new cars were revealed.

Nikolas Tombazis, the man in charge of all the technical aspects of FIA single-seaters championships, has been hands-on in these tests, and he has been pretty open about the results they produced:

“There have been no major surprises,” he said, speaking to F1.com. “There is a 5-10% wake disruption, compared to the current levels of 50%, although it depends on the exact configuration you are testing and so on.”

This is positive news, because that is the end goal. F1 cars must be able to follow each other without ‘dirty air’ being a problem anymore.

However, as previously mentioned, this does not come without consequences.

Aero regulations are extremely restrictive at the moment, as they should in order to get the results FIA and Liberty want. They cannot let teams be overly innovative, coming up with concepts that drastically alter the blueprint proposed by Tombazis, Brawn and the other officials. The teams know that.

Sources inside one midfield team have said that technical directors from up and down the grid do not find these aero rules to be what they wanted.

Mattia Binotto, who is now serving as the team principal of Ferrari but has previously held the position of technical director, has suggested that his team may have to use its veto if it finds that the 2021 changes are not what it wants, or if they go against what they see F1 as being at its core.

Speaking to crash.net, Binotto said, “There are a few things that are important to us the degree of freedom on development; the degree of freedom, especially if we think on the aerodynamic regulations, which we believe is too descriptive; the degree of freedom of other parts of the car where some prescriptions have been set.

Ferrari Media

“These I think are the key points on which I think there is still room of collaboration and making a different choice compared to what has been achieved so far.

“We are more focused really on trying to collaborate and address what we believe is fundamental rather than simply say that we’ve got the veto right.”

Every change comes with a fair amount of criticism, but this may be absolutely justified. From the very beginning, Formula One has been about innovation, going beyond the perceived boundaries, searching for the millisecond every single time you are on the track. These new rules may not allow that at all.

F1 could be on its way to becoming a ‘fancy’ spec series, and that is not good.

Sure, the engines will not be the same, the brakes will not be the same (as of now), and the wealthier teams will always find a way to get the best drivers and employ the best personnel, but the aero rules are a huge part of F1 and its approach in racing.

It is certainly not easy to close the gap between the top teams and the midfield, and converging the grid with restrictive ruleset and a really loose budget cap may be the only viable way to do that at the moment.

Nevertheless, F1 must be extremely cautious in its next steps. F2 and F3 are spec series for a reason. Formula 1 must be the pinnacle of motorsport, and innovation is a key factor to that. That innovation is something that should not be taken away.

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

‘It was hard racing’ Hometown Heroes take the Austrian Grand Prix, eventually…

Looking out into the stands you could almost be forgiven for thinking the McLaren’s fans had taken over, but in Austria, a sea of orange can only mean one thing – Max Verstappen has come home (kind-of).

Max Verstappen, passing the Netherlands fans that are supporting him. Image courtesy of Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen put in a steady performance in FP1, but found himself involved in an unfortunate high-speed crash at turn 10 in FP2 which saw him lose the back end of the car and collide with the barrier. Thankfully, Verstappen was unhurt and the car was made ready in enough time for FP3 and the Qualifying session on Saturday afternoon.

Max and the team were optimistic in spite of the set-back; ‘Crashes can happen unfortunately, but maybe it’s a good thing because they’ll take the whole car apart and so a few new parts on it.’

Sure enough, as if by magic, Verstappen’s positivity, a lot of hard work overnight from the Red Bull engineers and a rare grid-penalty for Lewis Hamilton resulted in an excellent qualifying position for the Dutchman, starting 2ndon the grid, next to Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

It was an impressive run for Max who confessed after qualifying he had been dreading bringing the car to Austria; ‘Before we came here, I was not really looking forward to qualifying because I knew it was going to be hard.’

Sat at the front of the grid, the pressure was on for Max to make a good start to the Austrian Grand Prix. Unfortunately, after being sat for over half a minute, the RB15’s anti-stall system kicked in when it really mattered, setting him back to 7thplace before reaching turn one. Thankfully Verstappen’s determination and a huge amount of encouragement from the crowd saw the Red Bull flying through the pack in spite of the ropey start.

FIA Formula One World Championship 2019 Stop 9 – Spielberg, Austria
Photographer Credit:
Philip Platzer/Red Bull Content Pool

Speaking to Sky F1 after the race, Max said he was ‘extremely disappointed but I just kept pushing hard… I had to stay calm and get through them cleanly’. The RB15 sailed through the grid overtaking Valterri Bottas for second place on Lap 56 in spite of a hair-raising issue with an exhaust sensor, causing what Verstappen describe as a ‘loss of power’ over the team radio.

This was quickly forgotten about as Max pushed on to close what was a 5 second gap between himself and Leclerc’s Ferrari. By Lap 69 Verstappen was in a position to challenge Leclerc, which he quickly achieved in a controversial overtake at turn 4 which caused the two cars to bump tyres and push Leclerc into the run-off area.

The chequered flag fell in favour of Verstappen and Red Bull, much to the delight of the army of Dutch fans. This was quickly overshadowed by a furious Leclerc protesting the move, followed by a notice from the Stewards who put the ‘incident’ under investigation.

The Stewards decision to put the overtake under investigation exposes Formula 1 to yet more criticism, following their poor decision to give Vettel a 5-Second time penalty which ultimately handed Hamilton the race win in Canada. The fact that something like a driver running off the track or touching wheels, something we see on an almost weekly basis at the start of a race, suddenly warrants an investigation, shows the lack of consistency and a reluctance to allow actual racing to take place.

It took the FIA almost 3 hours to decide on something that should have gone down as good, close racing. Perhaps it says more about the lack of action in the sport in recent races, that when the stewards see something mildly exciting happening on track, they’ve forgotten how to deal with it.

There has been and continues to be an enormous push forwards in terms of safety in Formula 1, the most recent of which was the introduction of the halo in 2018 to further protect the drivers head in the car. The controversy about Vettel’s ‘unsafe re-entry’ in Canada and now the debate over Verstappen’s overtake in Austria clearly comes from a concern about safety, however in doing so, this hints at a fear from the FIA of allowing for racing and the minor racing incidents that go along with it. Clearly, the FIA need to re-evaluate and make allowances for true racing and entertainment.

The drama doesn’t seem to have dampened the spirits of Red Bull and Honda, who have seen their first win since 2006. Indeed, Max’s initial comment after getting out of his car hit the nail on the head; ‘It was hard racing. If it’s not allowed, what’s the point in racing in F1?’.

Whatever your thoughts on the winner, the Austrian Grand Prix has produced yet another talking point in Formula 1. It’s unfortunate that once again, real racing is overshadowed by the stewards.

But still, the best man took the win, eventually!

Safety in Motorsports Week: The HANS Device

The Head and Neck System (more commonly referred to as the HANS device) is often overlooked in the world of modern Formula One. Its historical significance, though, should not be underestimated, not least because at the time of its introduction it was one of very, very few occasions in F1’s history up to that point where the FIA had reacted to a non-fatal accident.

Photo credit, Dan Istitene / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The accident in question occurred at the 1995 Australian Grand Prix, hosted at the popular Adelaide circuit. At one of the fastest points on the track, a rapid tyre deflation sent Mika Hakkinen – then in his third season in F1 – hurtling into the barriers. The impact was so extreme that his neck hyperextended, his skull was fractured, he swallowed his tongue, and he suffered major internal bleeding. He spent over two months in hospital – a significant amount of that in intensive care – but he eventually made a full recovery and returned to F1 for the 1996 season.

F1 drivers in that era were still sitting very high up in the cars with their shoulders often clear of the chassis, making them extremely vulnerable to head and neck injuries. It was this driving position, mixed with the fact that Hakkinen had nothing supporting his neck, which made his injuries so severe.

The HANS device was already in existence at this point, having initially being designed in the 1980s by Dr Robert Hubbard, but it was too bulky to fit into the narrow cockpit of a single-seater racing car, and he was unable to find sufficient financial backing to complete the necessary redesigns. Hakkinen’s accident, though, made the FIA realise its potential in terms of safety, and they offered to help in and fund its development.

Photo credit, Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

The HANS device, because of Hakkinen’s accident, evolved into what it is today – a collar-type piece of carbon fibre that fits either side of the drivers’ shoulders, attached to mounting points either side of their helmets by two tethers and held in place by the seatbelts. In the event of a crash, these tethers stop the head from whipping backwards and forwards, keeping the neck in line with the spine and thus preventing it from hyperextending like Mika Hakkinen’s had. In addition, it helps to transfer the energy that would otherwise be absorbed by the head, into the stronger torso, seat, and the belts, reducing the strain put on the head.

Even today, head and neck injuries are still the leading cause of driver deaths regardless of category, and it begs the question just how many potential fatalities were prevented by the HANS device.

Hindsight, though, is a wonderful thing. When the HANS device was initially introduced, it was greeted with a very lukewarm reception. Many drivers claimed that it was cumbersome, uncomfortable, and might even cause more injuries than it prevented. NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt even went so far as to refer to it as a ‘noose’. In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, Earnhardt was killed by a basal skull fracture in 2001, the forth NASCAR driver in the space of fourteen months to die of such an injury, one which the HANS device would have helped prevent.

Photo credit, Paul Ripke / Mercedes AMG

The National Hot Rod Association was the first series to adopt the HANS device, following the death of Blaine Johnson in 1996. In 2002, at the Italian Grand Prix, Felipe Massa became the first man to wear the HANS device during a Formula One race. The next year, in 2003, it became mandatory for drivers in any and all FIA series to wear the HANS device, at the risk of being disqualified from the event should they fail to do so. Some have claimed that Massa’s accident at the 2004 Canadian Grand Prix was the first example of the HANS device potentially saving a driver’s life.

Amid all the talk of Virtual Safety Cars and halos of late, it is easy to overlook the HANS device and the impact it has had on safety in motorsport. Before its introduction, even crashes that did not on the face of it seem that dramatic could end in tragedy. Yes, head and neck injuries may still be the leading fatalities of drivers, but the number of times the HANS device has prevented such an incident from happening is innumerable and worth its weight in gold. It has become a staple of motorsport safety, and in no way should it be taken for granted.

Sebastian Vettel Verdict – FIA Right Not to Undermine Their Stewards

Happy Birthday, Sebastian Vettel.


It certainly will be one for him to celebrate, as on his 30th anniversary he avoided being hit with more sporting penalties following his rash clash with title rival Lewis Hamilton at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Vettel was angered by what he saw to be a brake-test on lap 19 at the end of a Safety Car period, and ploughed into Hamilton.

While gesticulating wildly, he then ploughed into the side of his rival and sparked a mass debate over whether he is in fact mad, bad and dangerous to know.

For this, he received a 10-second stop/go penalty, costing him 30 seconds and almost certainly the race victory.

The FIA has noted Vettel’s sincerest apologies and his commitment to devoting time to educational courses over the next 12 months.

They have also warned that a repeat of this behaviour would immediately herald another tribunal, and most likely worse consequences.

In not punishing Vettel any further they have avoided turning themselves into a laughing stock across the wider motorsport world.

It would have sent a bad message out to the stewards to overrule them on something not as cut and dried as many would have you believe.

The debate about whether they awarded the right penalty will no doubt rage on through to this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.

No doubt partisans on both sides will claim it either to be the biggest injustice of human kind or that in fact it is a victory for the golden old days where “men were men”.

The issue of whether the stewards got the decision right or wrong is not easy to resolve.

The incident does set a bad example to younger drivers, but the fallout following the handbags should act as enough of a pointer to show that a driver must always stay in control.

While mindless and daft, it is difficult to believe Vettel would deliberately risk damaging his car and putting himself out of the race, even at 30mph. This was pointed out by of all people Mercedes chief Toto Wolff.

Hamilton was right to be aggrieved, angry and upset at the outcome of the race and Vettel’s impromptu dodgems ride.

However, much of that stemmed mostly from his own dramas and had he not had to make an unscheduled pit-stop to replace a broken headrest, he’d have walked home.

It would have been wrong to punish Vettel based on others’, including Hamilton’s, misfortune.

Far more dangerous and indeed pivotal acts have been committed in the heat of F1 battle.

Michael Schumacher in 1994 cutting across Damon Hill’s Williams to after earlier contact with the wall at the title-deciding Australian Grand Prix to ensure that if he couldn’t finish, neither would Hill.

And then we have the infamous first corner of the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix, where Ayrton Senna made sure that Alain Prost didn’t the corner ahead of his McLaren – whatever the cost.

Yes, Vettel’s silliness was under controlled conditions but that just adds to the stupidity of the incident, not the danger.

The FIA have rightly avoided changing the result of the football match because the referee awarded a free-kick instead of a penalty.

With the fall-out from this decision, the Austrian Grand Prix now has more needle than it already had.

Now, let’s get on with racing and watch this intriguing, absorbing title fight play out over the next twenty weeks.

Maybe we’ll all then have our (birthday) cake and eat it.