New ’07 & ’08 rules: Good, bad and ugly

Tiago Monteiro, Spyker, Suzuka, 2006The permanent revolution that the F1 rules have undergone since 2003 will continue in 2007 and 2008 with another raft of new regulations from the World Motorsports Council (WMSC).

Taken together the changes aren’t quite as fundamental as the shift to two-race engines or the changing of the points system were. But we can expect the usual mixed bag of progress, problems and unforeseen consequences. Without doubt the worst of which is that the historic Cosworth name will soon be gone from Formula One.

Let’s pull apart the new rules and see what’s in store for the next two years.

New F1 rules for 2007

More action in pre-race practice

Ricardo Zonta, Toyota, Interlagos, 2005The two Friday practise sessions have been extended by half an hour, meaning the total amount of track time available for teams increases to three hours.

On top of that, each driver now has fourteen sets of tyres for the weekend (with only four sets available on Friday), rather than seven, and they do not have to use their races engines during Friday practice. All of which means we should see much more action on Fridays – good news for spectators.

However teams will no longer be able to use a third car. A third driver can still participate (such as Ricardo Zonta, pictured at last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix), but with them having to use one of the regular drivers’ cars it seems unlikely that the top teams would do this.

Safety car periods: Less fair and less safe

Safety Car, Monte-Carlo, 2005The changes to the safety car system follow on from a debate provoked by several drivers earlier this year, who complained that they were being held up by lapped drivers during restarts.

From next year drivers cannot pit under safety car conditions until the pack has assembly directly behind the car. This is to prevent drivers racing around the track in a hurry to get into the pit lane, compromising safety. But mightn’t it lead to drivers low on fuel being caught out and running out?

Before the end of the safety car period all lapped cars caught between cars on the lead lap must proceed past the cars and the safety car, complete a lap of the circuit and rejoin the back of the field.

This creates a whole host of problems and doesn’t really ‘fix’ anything that was wrong to begin with: First, lapped drivers can suddenly get a lap back ‘for free’. Second, it further disadvantages leading drivers who have had their advantages eroded by the safety car period.

Third, it will needlessly extend the length of the safety car period (as drivers will not be allowed to pass the safety car until the hazard has been cleared), which surely should be kept to a minimum. Fourth, it creates the temptation for abuse of the system to improve the racing by artificially bunching the field up, as is often seen in American NASCAR and open-wheel races.

Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, it will force greater use of the pit lane during safety car periods to ‘stack’ cars and attempt to service more than one at once, creating congestion in the pits.

Tyre equity between team mates

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Suzuka, 2006Giving drivers access to 14 sets of tyres each means we shoudl hopefully see an end to the kind of practice seen at Ferrari this year, where Felipe Massa would do all the tyre testing and leave Michael Schumacher with more fresh sets than his rivals for the race.

Power to the stewards

Stewards will be given the power to impose grid penalties. Instead of deleting one (or more) of their fastest laps, they can send them a set number of places down the grid, making punishments more consistent for similar offences such as blocking.

Modern marshalling

Flag warnings will now be communicated to drivers via on-car lights using a GPS system.

New F1 rules for 2008

Farewell Cosworth

Nico Rosberg, Mark Webber, Williams-Cosworth, Suzuka, 2006Commercial pressures had already forced Cosworth out of F1 for 2007, with Spyker seeking a supply of engines from Ferrari. Originally a rule for 2008 was expected that would have limited engine suppliers from providing engines to more than one other team.

However that rule has been changed at Ferrari’s request, stringly indicating there will be no room for Cosworth in 2008. Unless Prodrive want them…

Traction control ban?

Some very promising news is that a standard FIA Engine Control Unit (ECU) will be enforced from 2008 – paving a way from such electronic driver aids as traction control which clearly have no place in the sport.

No ballasting

Penalising drivers for mechanical failures – as already happens today with engines – is grossly unfair. But the mooted switch to punishing them with a weight penalty wouldhave been even worse, and perhaps even been a slippery slope towards giving top drivers ‘success ballast’ – a horribly artificial construct which shouldn’t even belong in touring car racing.

That has been ruled out, although drivers who have to change their gearboxes will suffer five-place gridpenalties from 2008.

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