2008: The new rules

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Several 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.

Increased 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

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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10 comments on “2008: The new rules”

  1. I agree that Red Flag situations have been rare before, but I wonder if they will be more common post the TC ban?

  2. by before – I meant recently

  3. I think red flags will probably still be very rare on the whole, but more regular during wet races as the drivers who aren’t so comfortable without TC lose control and cause big accidents. This is the big problem with the loss of TC, as people like David Coulthard have said, but it’s gone now, so the drivers are just going to have to deal with it.

  4. I have to say a few of these rules seem to have gotten past under my radar. I wasn’t overly aware of the 4-race gearbox (interesting it’s only a 5 place penalty on the grid, and not ten like for the engine). The “ban” on spare cars as well. But like you say I can’t remember the last time a race was redflagged and had a full proper restart. Spa 1998, the last one I definitely remember, though there’s probably been one or two since (Spa 2001?). But that’s as much because they are likely to SC it rather than restart.

    The young driver testing idea is pretty good, though.

  5. I think the raised sides is a knee-jerk reaction that may even cause more accidents due to reduced visibility. If you remember the accident that spurred the changes, the car above was literally above, not so much coming from the side-pod. But no team or driver will disagree with safety changes, so now we’re stuck with them.

    The other change discussed for next year really worries me. Getting rid of tire-warmers is one of the most bone-headed ideas Max has ever come up with. I thought he was all about safety. Sending cars out on cold tires 3-4 times during a race is just plain mad and will also ruin the rhythm of the race with lap-times fluctuating by seconds depending on what part of a stint the driver is on. I know that the FIA claims that they “hear” the fans and that we want to see more overtaking, but I would rather see it happen as a result of drivers driving at the edge, truly racing each other, instead of passing happening because your rival had to pit and now he’s 2 seconds a lap slower.

  6. Just to clarify in case anyone isn’t clear, the proposed ban on tyre warmers is for 2009.

    I know some of the drivers have been very critical of it, and I’m reluctant to say they’re wrong because of course they should know best.

    But when tyre warmers aren’t allowed in other forms of motor racing, including the likes of the IRL where we’re talking about cars which come closest to approximating F1 levels of performance, I don’t understand why F1, where the drivers are supposed to be the best in the world, should have them?

  7. You have a very sharp point there, Keith.

  8. Thanks Arnet. On your other point I hadn’t realised until I saw the ’08 cars the increased cockpit sides were going to be so large. They’re a bit ugly…

  9. The spare car restrictions is one of the rules not talked about that much, but it can be a rule that may decide championship … Starting from a back of a grid after engine change still gives driver a chance to score some points. Not being able to start at all, hm … Now imagine Kimi fighting for title and some mechanical failure causes a massive crash on Saturday morning. Will Ferrari sit him out or will they put him in Massa’s car :-) . Whether this rule is justified or not is difficult to tell. Would be interesting to see how much money is it actually supposed to save.

    The “young driver” test rule and the penalty free first engine change are changes for better. I was wondering how come Red Bull could run with Robert Wickens a week or so ago in Singapore on the street, now I know

  10. How coulthard managed to turn stupid driving into a safety issue I will never understand. It wasn’t that the side protection was too low, it was that he tried to carry out in impossible overtaking move. The raised sides were actually from protecting a drivers head from moving too far in crashes, and not from cars falling on you.

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