SEPTEMBER 6, 2004
What does it all mean?
The FIA has presented members of the Formula 1 Technical Working Group with three packages of technical measures for consideration, following the failure of the teams to come up with a suitable agreement on how to cut back speeds in F1. The engineers will now have to choose between the three packages although the FIA has deliberately structured the proposals to ensure that none of them are really acceptable and has created a neat escape route by saying that it will accept a combination of elements from the different packages. In effect this means that the FIA is abandoning any real hope of a change in the engine formula and will have to make do with aerodynamic changes.
This was necessary because the plan to move to 2.4-litre V8s in 2006 risked the FIA being taken to arbitration by several teams, a legal process which the federation would almost certainly have lost because of a clause written into the Concorde Agreement which stipulates that until the end of the agreement in 2007 F1 is for 3-litre V10 engines.
In order to avoid that problem the FIA says that it will accept a mix-and-match set of proposals from the three packages, if the Technical Working Group and the Formula 1 Commission support the package.
The three packages suggested by the FIA include one which would see aerodynamic reductions of the front wings and engines which would have fixed bore, cylinder spacing, engine length, crankshaft centre line height and engine mounting points. This will not get voted through because it creates what would be standard engines which the engine manufacturers will not accept.
The second package includes radical rear wing changes but no mention of engines. It is too late for these changes to be designed into 2005 F1 cars, unless the teams start again from scratch.
The third package includes the banning of all turning vanes and barge boards and engine rules which will make 2.4-litre V8 engines the only possible engines. The interesting part of this package is that there will be sporting regulations which force engine manufacturers to provide engines free of charge and on a fully competitive basis to a number of teams depending on how many teams are racing. This would be similar to the rules which are currently supplied to the tyre companies. This is an idea likely to be supported by the small teams (which will do more or less anything for free engines) but will not be acceptable for the big teams.
The three proposals are thus structured in such a way as to force the engineers to either accept a massive reduction in rear wing (and the equivalent reduction which would result at the front in order to balance the cars) or to try to find some agreement on engines. By allowing a mix-and-match set of rules to be established the FIA will get some of the things it wants without having to be seen to back down on the question of engines.
The FIA also says that it wants to introduce two new safety measures as quickly as possible. These will no doubt cause a great deal of controversy as they will, if adopted, create very different cars from the existing F1 machinery. The first measure is to eliminate "materials likely to leave sharp shards on the circuit in the event of an accident" and this can only be seen as an attack on composite materials used in wings and bodywork.
The FIA also wants to reduce the weight limit to eliminate ballast in order to reduce the energy to be dissipated if control of a car is lost. This would be combined, if necessary, with a change in relative wheel widths front to rear.
The high minimum weight limit was designed to reduce costs by getting rid of the need for expensive exotic lightweight materials. That rule clearly backfired because designers soon realised that the rule gave them the opportunity to create movable ballast in the car which helped them alter the handling characteristics to match the different demands of qualifying and the race. The new F1 rules for qualifying mean that there is no longer a need for movable ballast and so the high weight limit has become pointless. Demanding a lower minimum weight limit will however force teams to build new cars and that could push several smaller teams out of business as they have survived in recent years by using the same cars over and over again.
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