MARCH 4, 1996

The new rules for 1996

THERE are a selection of new regulations for the 1996 season, the most dramatic being the new cockpit regulations which have changed the shape of this year's cars. The cockpits have been made larger - to allow drivers of all sizes to compete on an equal footing - while the higher sides are designed - which have to be padded on the inside - to greatly improve the protection to the driver's head. In addition, a new static load test on the side of the cockpit has been introduced to beef up lateral protection for the drivers. These changes are the result of work done by the FIA Advisory Expert Group on safety since the accidents at Imola and Monaco in 1994.

There have also been changes to reduce downforce - both front and rear - as part of the continuing FIA campaign to keep cornering speeds at the same level as in 1995.

Other detailed technical rule changes ban the use of variable length exhausts, and composite cylinder heads and engine blocks. In addition, steel must be used for crankshafts and camshafts. All fuel tanks must also be fitted with fuel breathers which automatically close if the car is inverted. This rule comes as a result of Ukyo Katayama's accident in Portugal last year during which the Japanese driver was drenched with fuel dripping through the fuel tank breather. Cars must also be fitted with a means of disengaging the clutch if the car comes to a stop on the track.

The major changes to the F1 sporting regulations involve qualifying. Friday qualifying has been abolished, and so the grid will be decided with a single 60-minute session on Saturday afternoons. Each driver will be allowed a maximum of only 12 laps. Fridays will have two one-hour sessions of free practice during which drivers can complete a total of 30 laps. There will be two 45-minute free practice sessions on Saturday mornings.

There is also a new 107% qualifying rule to exclude very slow cars from taking part in the race. This will be calculated by taking the pole position lap time and adding 7% to create a cut-off time. This could have dramatic effects at some tracks where as many as five or six cars may fail to qualify, leaving grids of only 15 or 16 cars.