Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2021

Pit stop row shows teams are partly to blame for F1’s over-regulation

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The last week has seen a flurry of technical directives hit Formula 1, most of them at a time when the sport was travelling between countries – thus making it difficult to keep pace. While the pit stop procedure technical directive was the most high profile due to its obvious implications for the championship battle, all will in some way affect F1, either immediately or in 2022. Indeed, clarifications of previous clarifications are not unheard of.

Apart from the recent run of TDs, during the past month the FIA halved the amount of rear wing flex permitted at speed and revised tyre operating procedures after a spate of high-speed failures in Baku. That all three TDs directly affect championship leader Red Bull may (or not) be coincidental, but others have been caught in the crossfire to some degree.

Asked by RaceFans before the pit stop matter arose whether he thought F1 was over-regulated Sauber team boss Fred Vasseur, whose team was among those which had to change its rear wing design, said: “If you compare the regulation today and the regulation of 10 years ago, you can say the sport is over-regulated because we have two times more pages than 10 years ago.

“Then we have some articles perhaps in contradiction with other ones – we saw it in Imola.” Kimi Raikkonen lost a points finish due to a penalty despite the stewards admitted there was a degree of “contradiction” in the relevant regulations.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2021
Analysis: The likely impact of F1’s coming clampdown on ultra-quick pit stops
“I think it is probably slightly over-regulated, yes,” said Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi at the same FIA press conference as Vasseur. “There’s been constantly ways of adapting your resources and the performance you extract from them [within] the regulations and of course the FIA has been responding with more and more regulation. That’s how the sport evolved and grew.”

F1 folk are generally reluctant to talk openly about regulation in the sport, and whether there is too much of it, not least because they do not wish to be seen to be questioning the governing body. Another factor is that the majority of rule clarifications revolve around safety, which is, of course, paramount. Criticise directives introduced for safety reasons, and you’re on shaky ground. Thus, folk are rather guarded with their public comments.

Speaking in Spielberg, a technical director told RaceFans that the number of TDs has risen each year, but offered the opinion that “It is no different than in real life, where the nanny state has taken over.” Another blames the teams themselves, saying they increasingly query activities or technologies of others, then highlight potential dangers to force through changes on safety grounds.

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This trend has doubled, he believes, adding, “If the FIA does not react on that basis, then it potentially leaves itself open to later criticism should there be an incident.”

Teams are quick to call Masi if they spy an opportunity
The pit stop TD provides a perfect example, he continued: “There have been no unsafe releases using the technologies deployed by a certain team (Red Bull), but there could be. The way the queries were worded, the FIA was forced to act.

“We investigated using a similar system, but it would have cost us a million dollars to develop, and we’d rather spend it elsewhere under the budget cap. Better to have it banned on ‘safety’ grounds…”

Another source stated that TDs are “No longer directives, but full regulation changes introduced under the auspices of clarification.” He cited the tyre pressure document, which runs to around a dozen pages, with the pit stop directive adding another five. In the recent past TDs ran to a page or two, at most, and were the exception rather than the rule.

Another example of teams questioning the actions of others was provided on Friday after Valtteri Bottas spun in the pit lane while experimenting with pulling away from a pit stop in second gear to minimise wheelspin. He came to rest pointing the wrong way opposite McLaren, who were quick to highlight the potential dangers to race director Michael Masi. The stewards handed the Mercedes driver a three-place penalty.

Was the penalty deserved? Arguably yes given that it would act as deterrent against somebody else experimenting with similar; was it unsafe? Given that personnel in the pit lane are required to be vigilant at all times against the unexpected, the incident, seen on global TV feeds, was probably hyped up excessively. Mercedes’ unimpressed team principal Toto Wolff accused rivals of describing “Armageddon scenarios” to Masi.

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F1 has history in (ab)using safety for regulatory purposes: Until 2009 the governing body was empowered by the Concorde Agreement to amend all regulations on safety grounds – engines were downsized from 3.0-litre V10s to 2.4-litre V8s as the cars were too powerful and thus potentially unsafe; grooved tyres were introduced to reduce (unsafe) cornering speeds.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Baku City Circuit, 2021
Report: Pirelli confident new tyre for British Grand Prix will prove “more robust”
These provisions became a major battle ground between the teams and the FIA – one result was the formation of the Formula One Team’s Association, founded with the express objective of removing then-president Max Mosley from office. The FIA’s safety veto was subsequently amended, and can only be triggered for bona fide safety reasons.

There are no suggestions that the FIA has in any way overstepped the mark, but some observers believe a number of recent decisions to be borderline and possibly introduced on a knee-jerk basis, rather than being scientifically founded. Consider: no sooner had draconian new tyre operating procedures been introduced than Pirelli announced it had produced a revised rear tyre construction.

Mario Isola, the head of car racing for Pirelli – in the firing line over tyre pressures – believes that F1 risks confusing its fans. “We are working in an environment where we have the best engineers and the cars are very complicated, [the] rules are very complicated sometimes,” he said in France.

“The most difficult part is to explain to spectators what is going to happen. We have to find a compromise but it’s impossible to think that we go back to 50 years ago.”

F1 is never going back to the days of four-page rule books. But the latest flurry of technical directives suggests a compromise is some way off yet. Last week may well go down in F1 history as the point at which F1 went ‘nanny’. Nonetheless, before criticising the governing body for this state of affairs, the teams should first look at their own reactions.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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21 comments on “Pit stop row shows teams are partly to blame for F1’s over-regulation”

  1. Interesting if safety was indeed the reason for the V10/V8 switch. I’ve never been aware of this, but more relevantly because F1 cars eventually got faster since that engine concept change. Late-V10 era cars didn’t seem unsafe at the time. Anyway, you always learn something new.
    Overall, yes, teams are partly at fault for overregulation in F1.

    1. I had thought the V10/V8 switch was a quick solution to help keep Ford in F1.
      I remember the then FIA president talking of just slicing off two cylinders from the V10s to make a V8 and I rolled my eyes.
      Then these turbo engines were to be used in all categories of racing because they were meant to be cheap.

  2. The way this is going with the technical directives being used for mid-season regulation changes is actually a very dangerous precedent and should be highlighted more. This article might not be flashy and exciting, it is probably the most important subject in F1.

    1. This is not new, it was how the sport has been run until recently. Especially under Mosley, it was the order of the day. Of course then it was part of his power games, or to satisfy his buddy Ecclestone bottom line to make sure the championship went down to the last race, but still it continues.

      How they can justify mid-season rule changes unless it’s completely necessary on safety grounds is simply beyond me, but that’s F1.

  3. The media has got a part in this too, lesser sites love quotes from key people to create endless click bait articles. ‘Toto says this..’, ‘Horner thinks that..’ ‘Hamilton said..’ genuine issues like the tyres exploding get lost in a tit for tat media narrative. This sport is beginning to feel more like WWE wrestling, where the narrative is team leaders beefing with each other during the week before the next race.

  4. “ That all three TDs directly affect championship leader Red Bull may (or not) be coincidental, but others have been caught in the crossfire to some degree.”

    Complete bullcrap, neither the rear wing or the tyre TD has affected Red Bull in any way and the jury is still out on the pitstop TD.

    Highy disappointing Toto speak.

    1. Indeed, so far there isn’t any sign that Red Bull has become less competitive after the mentioned TDs. Attempts by Wolff & Co. to portray Red Bull’s form as some kind of shady cheating are still as unsubstantiated (not to mention unsporting) as before, and seem intended to distract from their own poor performances and mistakes.

    2. Coventry Climax
      28th June 2021, 1:43

      True. I’m not sure it’s actually true, but I feel it’s never the ‘lesser’ teams that initiate these ‘safety’ concerns. It always seems to be one of the top contenders, that’s afraid of losing out to the others. But Mercedes, I feel, has turned it into an art lately, to constantly trying to disrupt the opponent. And that’s where I feel the FIA is still to blame, as they seem to fall for the nonsense all too often. The article says it’s because they are afraid of repercussions later on, should such an incident really happen. They say football/soccer requires one ball, where motorracing requires two, but the FIA have none.

  5. Good article, highlighting an important way in which the FIA’s declarations can potentially interfere with the championship. However, the team principals can say whatever they want, but there is zero reason for the FIA to listen to what they say. Whether or not they rule for or against certain innovations or incidents is solely on them.

    Some of their (over)regulation is also inevitable. In this era of increasingly limited budgets, teams will go the FIA much earlier than before so as to avoid unnecessarily spending money on projects that may never end up on the cars. This undoubtedly increases the workload of the FIA – as well as the (arguable) need for them to rule for or against certain ideas. Further complicating the issue is that some teams will be keen to dramatize their ‘innovations’ so as to trigger the FIA and hurt a (perceived) advantage of their competitors. These attempts to game the system are something the FIA also has to take into consideration as they make their decisions. It’s not an easy job.

    1. This. Sounds like the back seat of a car. Kid A complains that although kid B is not physically crossing the line, a part of his sleeve is now considered to be on the other side while also complaining kid C used his fingers to draw on the window.. The FIA could just turn around from the wheel and scream “SHAHT AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHP!!!!”

  6. Anyone asked DHL what they think about the FIA undermining the fastest pit stop award that they sponsor?

    1. Coventry Climax
      28th June 2021, 1:53

      DHL managed to get my package delivered from the UK to PT, in just under 85(!) days, while also asking an insane fee for customs brokerage, and when it came, it turned out they had done their utmost to severely damage the contents beyond repair. No excellence, certainly not simply delivered.
      I won’t start on the details about the number and contents of the phonecall and emails between me and them, but bottom line: I wouldn’t worry about criminal organisations like that.

  7. Fia shouldnt listen to teams or individual drivers even
    Its almost like the same effect social media(masshysteria) has on people, they feel presure where there is none

    1. It really seems to be working this way @cdfemke

      1. Coventry Climax
        28th June 2021, 1:55

        Yes, and she says it shouldn’t be. Rightfully so.

        1. So now we know for sure :) might this situatiom happen once more

  8. Martin Elliott
    27th June 2021, 14:14

    The problem is that FIA is living in a culture of ‘precautionary principle’ safety. If you can imagine a Hazard it must be eliminated. Its an approach almost 5 decades out of date when compared to any industry handling hazardous situations.

    Its far better to accept that a residual level will always exist and that should be defined. FIA just leaves it as a vague hope.
    FIA does at least sort of understand a concept of ‘objective’ and ‘prescriptive’ regulation, even though not how to use them.
    Both Industry and Regulators use the same principles in Codes/Standards and National/International regulation.
    All of them, unlike FIA have a Framework of Decision Making. For example if you can measure the Risk of a Hazard happening (Killed, Seriously Injured) these can be split into 3 basic zones.
    A level of Risk that is clearly Intolerable.
    Next a band of Risk which can be Tolerated in the there is further reduction attempted.
    Then a level of Risk which is so low as to be negligible.

    There have been a lot of publications by both industry and regulators on this, and other frameworks of decisions. Including proposed numerical values for such zones.
    Any signs FIA are aware? Well yes actually.

    Jules Bianchi Accident Panel R6 . F1 risk review
    Consideration will be given to a review of F1 risk, in order to ascertain whether there are any significant holes in the safety defences, such that an unforeseen combination of circumstances could result in a serious accident.

    All right nothing about tolerability, only risk levels. but a start. Not that any report of such a study in 7 years!!

    So FIA insists in absolute safety, when it suits them, in an inherently unsafe activity with no modern management system

    1. Itsnthe murrican way. Always bit out of date with the tech and all

  9. I love seeing F1 eat itself alive. I’m a bit of a misanthrope, and really haven’t found the past several seasons entertaining (though Max and his anti-woke attitudes are a small highlight), but this spectacle of teams trying even more shamelessly to screw each other over by manipulating the FIA into degrading the “product” [the race spectacle] is great!! :D

    1. Biggest problem is that nowadays a lot is strung up to “the spectacle” making it more and more literally a circus instead of a sport. They should bring back the sport WAY more, having teams fight on track amd off track. The latter not in media and FIA manipulations but trough development

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