Editorial: A Rules Revolution

The FIA have put forward a radical proposal for the Formula One rules package from 2008 onwards. But in the light of the shambolic preparations for the United States Grand Prix, is there any cause for optimism that they might get it right?

Let’s turn our minds back to the recent FIA survey of what fans wanted from the sport. Question 17 addressed the importance of technology in the sport. Do you agree, it asked, that F1 is more about technology than driver skill? Is it too complex? Is the technology of F1 cars sufficiently interesting in its own right, that it is the primary reason you watch the sport? And, crucially, does technology create better racing?

Those who follow F1 closely are split into two broad camps on this issue: Ultra-committed purists, who feel that teams should have an almost free rein to pursue technical advantage at almost any cost, and those who dislike the idea of one team being able to spend their way to victory.

Oxymornically, a ‘pure’ technological approach in the sport often compromises ‘pure’ driving skill. Driver aids such as traction control and even, arguably, greater aerodynamic downforce, reduce the extent to which driver skill determines the winner.

The FIA have apparently made their minds up (in advance of the publication of the results of their survey) that technological purity must be sacrificed on the altar of cost-cutting and promoting racing.

That said, the proposals they have put forward must be taken with a heay pinch of salt. Cut downforce to just 10% of current levels? It boggles the mind to think what Formula One cars are suddenly going to look like with front and rear wings trimmed almost to nothing.

Plus, there is nothing in the details of the proposal to suggest exactly how this is going to be achieved, or what steps will be taken to limit the inevitable ‘clawing back’, by clever engineers, of the downforce lost to these regulations changes.

So, are the FIA’s proposals serious and worth supporting?

I would suggest a ‘yes’ to both responses – albeit a very cautious one. The extremity of the aerodynamic reduction has to be seen in the light of the massive cut in engine power expected when teams begin running V8 engines next year.

The remainder of the suggestions are highly commendable, even if certain revisions (wider-tracked cars, slick tyres) serve only to undo some of Max Mosley’s past mistakes.

Politically, F1 fans should be suspicious. These rules have been drawn up during the recent FIA discussions to the exclusion of all teams except Ferrari and, latterly, Jordan and Red Bull. The promise of reducing technological dependance to allow smaller teams to compete with bigger ones rather cuts against the grain of the fact that Ferrari received a huge bonus from Bernie Ecclestone over the winter.

Nor have the wider context of these regulations yet been seen – will the race weekend format be changed? Will refuelling finally be banned?) Unlikely, given that the FIA didn’t put a single reference to it in their survey.) And will we finally get a fair and exciting qualifying format?

In the event, the announcement of these changes was rightly overshadowed by the FIA’s appalling mismanagement of the Michelin tyre controvbersy at the United States Grand Prix.

The ‘one tyre’ rule for 2005 has created greater action and closer racing, but it is at best only a very qualified success. The closeness of the pack owes more to Michelin’s competitiveness than the fact that the rule has changed. This weekend, the lack of contingency planning in the event of a safety problem, and the failure to appreciate the gravity of the image problem F1 has caused for itself in America and beyond, was a woeful thing to see.

So let’s not get our hopes up just yet??????

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