In the days of open testing, Formula 1 was effectively a 24/7/365 activity. At least one test team could usually be found operating at some European circuit somewhere in the daytime.
However, in 2000 Eddie Jordan began agitating for a summer break, banging on about how the staff of his eponymous team had children whom they seldom saw, even during school holidays. The sport, he argued in his characteristically colourful way, should have at least three weeks off every August, including two full weekends, to enable race personnel to enjoy a well-deserved summer break.
Most noble and generous of Jordan thought most in the paddock, until, that is, a rival team boss pointed out that Eddie J, then riding the crest of a financial wave, had recently ordered a new yacht – his first – and planned to sail the Mediterranean in August.
Whatever, a summer break for travelling F1 staff eventually became de rigueur. The number of ‘off’ weekends later grew from two to three, despite a calendar more crowded than any Jordan ever contested, although the FIA stipulates a minimum of two ‘off’ weekends. Article 21.8 of the 2019 Sporting Regulations states:
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“All competitors must observe a shutdown period of 14 consecutive days during the time that two consecutive events are separated by at least 24 days during the months of July and/or August.
“If two consecutive events during this period are separated by only 17 days a shutdown period of 13 consecutive days must be observed. In either case competitors should notify the FIA of their intended shutdown period within 30 days of the start of the championship season.”
However, note the word ‘competitors’; in this case the teams. As a rule of thumb any personnel directly involved in the design, build or operation of a Formula 1 car are deemed to be ‘competitors’, and fall under the jurisdiction of FIA regulations. Support staff such as finance, human relations, factory maintenance and operations and IT do not and are therefore not obliged to take a statutory F1 break.
With the break period providing a perfect window for the maintenance and upgrading of facilities and systems, such staff are very much in evidence during the break. But race staff, design engineers and such are obliged to stay away for at least two weeks.
Equally, engine suppliers – and technical partners such tyre and fuel/lubricant companies – do not (currently) fall under FIA jurisdiction. Thus their personnel may work through the break, although many of their trackside staff partake of the convenient break.
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Hence Mercedes Motorsport CEO Toto Wolff’s reference yesterday to “our team members in Brixworth [working] straight through the F1 summer break to improve the performance and reliability of our Power Unit; in Brackley, we used the relatively quiet days to do some work on our factory.” All legal, of course.
Cynics question whether F1 folk can ever be forced to forget about their duties for two weeks on the trot, and suggest that someone, somewhere is sure to figure out a solution to a front wing issue while lazying on a beach in Corsica or wherever. True: but he/she is as likely to figure out solutions while flying on airplanes or lying in bed at night, and the fact is they may not be in regular contact with colleagues during the break.
The FIA is empowered to monitor the situation by demanding access to all the communications trails of a ‘competitor’ but, according to a number of team personnel, the situation has not arisen in the almost two decades since the regulations were introduced.
The reason is simple: apart from the fact that the whistle-blower policy applies, in these days of 20-plus grands prix F1 personnel relish the opportunity of taking a break from the pressure cooker environment they operate in.
Plus some find themselves under domestic pressure during the break: “My wife won’t let me touch my work mobile phone or laptop while I’m on holiday…” one engineer remarked when asked whether he’d adhered to the regulations.
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Dieter Rencken’s RacingLines column will return next week.