2008: The new rules

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Nick Heidfeld, BMW, Valencia, 2008 pre-season testing, 3 | BMW MediaSeveral major changes to the rules this year have attracted a lot of attention – the traction control ban, four-race gearboxes, and changes to qualifying.

Which change are going to have the biggest impact on F1 this year? Here’s a quick look at some of the rules changes for 2008.

Engine development freeze – Teams must use basically the same engines in 2008 as they did in 2007, with development restricted to a small number of parts. This freeze on development is expected to last at least five years (not the original ten) and next year teams will be allowed to use Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) to provide increased power. Article 15.7 of the technical regulations describes what parts teams may change. (FIA regs in full)

Standard engine control unit – This has already had a lot of discussion on the site. Teams are required to use a standard engine control unit supplied by Microsoft McLaren Electronic Systems which, like the McLaren F1 team, is part of the McLaren Group. The purpose of this is to allow the FIA to enforce a ban on driver aids such as traction control. It will also limit teams’ abilities to to run electronic engine braking systems.

The net effect of which should make the cars more difficult to drive and there have been many spins during the off-season. Some drivers have expressed concern that driving in extremely wet conditions as seen at Fuji last year will no longer be possible.

It has also been suggested that teams might try to get around the traction control ban by other means, particularly by Jarno Trulli. In that case they might find themselves falling foul of article 9.3 when reads:

No car may be equipped with a system or device which is capable of preventing the driven wheels from
spinning under power or of compensating for excessive throttle demand by the driver.

Any device or system which notifies the driver of the onset of wheel spin is not permitted.

Restrictions on materials – As a cost-cutting measure the teams have been limited to using a restricted range of materials in the building of their cars.

Biofuel – The cars’ fuel must be a minimum of 5.75% biofuel. This will allow F1 cars to be in line with new road cars which will have the same requirement from 2010.

Some high-performance road cars use biofuel to produce a higher power output, so could there be an opportunity here for a team to use a higher concentration of biofuel to increase engine power? Probably not, as fuel is still limited to an octane range of 95-102 RON.

Four-race gearboxes – Gearboxes must now last four races without being changed. Teams can still change the clutch, oil, oil filters and associated system, hydraulics not related to gear shifting, and parts mounted to the casing that do not handle gear selection. Ratios can be changed to help tune a car to a particular circuit.

Changing a gearbox will incur a five-place grid penalty at the event where a driver changes gearbox. A further gearbox replacement results in a fresh penalty. If a driver fails to finish a race, “for reasons beyond the control of the team or driver,” they may fit a fresh gearbox for the next event without incurring a penalty.

Timo Glock, Toyota, Cockpit sides, 2008 pre-season | Toyota F1 WorldIncreased head protection – The cockpit sides have been raised to give drivers better head protection, making the profile of the cars noticeably different this year. This issue was raised following Alexander Wurz and David Coulthard’s crash in last year’s Australian Grand Prix. Tall cockpit sides were first introduced in 1996.

Engine replacement penalties – The ten-place grid penalty for changing a two-race engine remains, but drivers will not incur that penalty for a first offence.

Testing, promotion and young drivers – Teams can run promotional days and try out young drivers without it counting towards their limit of 30,000km of testing. Article 22.1 of the sporting regulations defines a ‘young driver’ as:

Any such driver not competed in an F1 World Championship Event in the preceding 24 months nor tested a Formula One car on more than four days in the same 24 month period.

Restrictions on spare cars – Teams can only have two cars assembled at any one time during a weekend and the stewards will consider a “partially assembled survival cell…fitted with an engine, any front suspension, bodywork, radiators, oil tanks or heat exchangers” to be a car.

This is intended to reduce the amount of spare equipment teams bring to races and, therefore, reduce costs. However in the event of both of a teams’ cars suffering damage at the start of a race which is red-flagged it may prevent both their cars from being able to re-start. However in practice such occasions are far rarer these days than they were 10 or 20 years ago.

Qualifying restrictions – This has also been covered in detail earlier. It is expected teams will run shorter first stints in the races. It should also greatly reduce the amount of time spent in the tedious ‘fuel burn’ phase at the start of the third part of qualifying. Unfortunately it does mean that ‘race fuel’ qualifying is being kept, which is a disappointment.

Photo copyright: Toyota F1 World