From rules defining how the event should be run, to those restricting designers and engineers in technical areas
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Part 1: The Organizers
Part 2: The Season
Part 3: The Track
Part 4: When Things Go Wrong
Part 5: The Checkers
Part 6: Defining Dimensions
Part 7: More Defining Dimensions
Part 1: The Organizers
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There is no doubting that Bernie Ecclestone has built Formula One Grand Prix racing up from what was an enthusiasts' sport into a multi-million dollar business, and that he has a significant controlling factor in who does what in Formula One (so much so, that it is strongly rumored he has 'advised' teams on driver selection). However, it is the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (the FIA) who, through their sporting and technical regulations, decide what the sport of Formula One really is.
Formed in 1904, the FIA aimed to unite the national motor clubs of the world. Now, headed by its Chairman Max Mosley, it has over 150 members, and each of these national sporting authorities (ASNs - L'Autorite Sportive Nationale) organize the motor sport events in their particular country. The FIA's World Motor Sport Council is the controlling body for Formula One, and is responsible for administering not only Formula One Grands Prix, but all types of Motor Racing throughout the world, from the very top all the way to club racing. In fact, the FIA rules over all forms of international motor sport involving land vehicles with four or more wheels, which can include championships from world rally to truck racing, and from historic cars to solar cars.
Although Bernie Ecclestone is often regarded as the man behind Formula One, the FIA are the true rulers of the Grand Prix circus. They are the body that issues the 'Superlicence'; without a 'Superlicence', no driver or team can race in Formula One, no circuit can hold a Formula One race, and no official can work at a Formula One event. It is not only the all ruling Mr Ecclestone, therefore, who can determine who races in Formula One, or where the events take place - the FIA holds the major trump card.
For a Formula One race to be held, the country's ASN must apply to the FIA for an international license. If it is refused, it may not run an international event, and therefore, it may not hold a Grand Prix. Portugal had such a problem when it couldn't provide a suitable track in time for their race which had been held at Estoril, and with competition to hold a Grand Prix growing as the spectacle increases in worldwide popularity, they are now finding it hard to get back on the calendar. Once the ASN has been approved for a Superlicence, they may decide to run the event themselves, or hand it over to an approved organizer, who will be wholly responsible for putting on the show.
As for officials, drivers, and teams, any applicant for an international Superlicence must already hold a national license, issued by his or her country's ASN. They must then apply to the FIA for the upgrade - and it is stated in the rules that the FIA reserve the right to refuse the issuing of a Superlicence without having to give any reason! However, this hasn't successfully stopped the moving chicane that is the pay driver from getting into Formula One, so perhaps the FIA should exercise their right a little more!
The International Sporting Code is a general list of rules for all competitions, and is supplemented by the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations. In these, the competition guidelines are defined, and the rulemakers are named. At the top of the tree, there are four FIA nominated delegates to control the safety, medical, technical and press areas. The technical delegate is Charlie Whiting, who was an engineer at the Brabham team when Bernie Ecclestone was its boss. Through his experience in using the loopholes in the rules, he is now trying to stop the teams from finding or using loopholes in the current rules. He is responsible for all rulings in the technical area, with the ultimate say over whether the teams are running within the rules.
To run the meeting, the FIA and the national ASN appoint a number of personnel in different positions. The FIA will nominate two stewards from a country other than that which is holding the event, and the national ASN will nominate a third. These stewards will officiate the meeting, and while operating under the authority of the chairman (which must be one of the two FIA nominated stewards), they have the right to recommend the disqualification of any rule-breaking competitor.
The ASN will also nominate a clerk of the course, who works together with the FIA appointed race director to control the Formula One practice, qualification, and race events. They make sure that all trackside officials are at their posts and are capable of doing their job before each session, and they are responsible for starting and stopping the practice or race, stopping a non rule-abiding car, and sending out the safety car if things go wrong. The race director, clerk of the course, and chairman of the stewards are in radio contact at all times when the cars are on the track, and the clerk of the course must additionally be in radio contact with all the marshaling posts around the circuit.
Sited at each of these posts are flag marshals and fire marshals, all of which must have a Superlicence, but are trained by the ASN of the country holding the Grand Prix. This creates a band of dedicated race fans in each country working to guide motorsport, tirelessly grafting on windy rain soaked days at race circuits in the middle of nowhere, ensuring that the local club racer can bomb around safely. When their country runs a Grand Prix, they get the opportunity to work on the world stage, and many drivers have commended marshals for their skills.
When Mika Hakkinen hit the wall during practice at the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide in 1995, it was the speed of the locally trained rescue services, headed by FIA safety delegate Professor Sid Watkins, which limited his injuries, enabling him to recover and go on to dominate the World Championship years later. In the scrutineering bay, yet more locally trained officials work to ensure the competitors abide by the FIA's rules, and that the cars are safe. Some of these scrutineers will also act as pit observers, who literally observe everything that goes on in pit lane during the sessions, and ensure there is nothing underhand going on.
All these officials will have gained much experience at club level before they can apply to work at the Grand Prix, but once there, people from track marshals to chief scrutineers and the secretary of the meeting are all from the motor club of that particular country. In the ultra-competitive world of Formula One, where teams will stop at nothing to gain speed, these rulemakers and rule enforcers keep Formula One on the right track.
Part 2: The Season
Just to get onto the grid for a Formula One race costs any team a mint - and this could suggest why these days, Formula One merely involves big-buck factory teams. In a bid to keep Formula One healthy, each year every team that failed to score a point must supply information to the FIA on the size and financial position of their company. This also means that if you fluke a point, you can carry on racing, so financially unstable teams are seen praying for rain each race weekend!
Any new team wanting in on Formula One faces tough hurdles. Firstly, to put a stop to an overgrowth of Formula One on the scale of the pre-qualifying days, where there were over 35 cars trying for the 26 spots on the grid, the FIA have introduced a rule banning any more than 24 cars entering a race.
There still remains another preventative rule for any teams wanting to jump into Formula One team ownership. When submitting a new application, as Toyota did when they applied to enter late last year, the team must pay a deposit of 48 million US dollars! If the team's application is successful, the money will be paid back in monthly installments during the first year, to ensure the new team complies with all the rules and regulations they are required to, helping keep the team afloat.
If a team makes it into the series, it must obey the FIA at all times. British American Racing bumped into the governing body very early in their career, and came off worse the wear. In the American CART series, teams are allowed to run in two different liveries, so BAR felt it would not be unreasonable to do the same. However, the FIA disagreed with this, and banned BAR from running their separate Lucky Strike and 555 liveries. There had been a loophole in the rules, but it has now been cleared up to state both team cars must be of 'substantially the same livery'.
Before and throughout the season, testing is very important to a Grand Prix team - it's very simple: without testing, there is no development. Testing is a costly exercise, and with more and more teams heading to the warmer climes of Europe, a three day test can produce as big a dent in the pocket as a trip to a Grand Prix! To prevent the rich winning more and the poorer getting left behind, the FIA have introduced rules to limit testing. Except for a supervised shakedown test which is no longer than 50km, no team is allowed to test on any circuit in the seven days before a Grand Prix.
There is also no testing allowed between the end of the Championship and the start of December - a rule which appears to be trying to force the workaholic Formula One fraternity to take some time off! Also, to prevent teams testing set-ups for Grands Prix before the event, with the exception of the British, French, Italian, and Spanish Grands Prix, no testing is allowed on a circuit which will host a race during the year.
Despite these restrictions, teams still manage to test extremely regularly. If more than one team tests together, the FIA must be informed, and a representative will be sent. However this is simply to observe, and no official timing is provided from the FIA for most test
sessions - teams have to do it themselves. To do this, they set up simple laser light gates on the start finish straight to record every car that goes past. However, as there are no identifiable transponders on the cars, a member of each team will have to log every time to a particular car - you would have thought that at least on this one, the teams could work together!
Despite the fact that each circuit is very different, the races are in some way very similar. A Grand Prix must cover just enough laps to take the race over a distance of 305km (190 miles), or a time of two hours - whichever comes first. In that way, the FIA ensures that each race presents a similar challenge...and that the TV coverage will not run over time! Racing is not the only thing on the mind of the teams, however, and with the worldwide interest in Formula One ever growing, the teams have many obligations in public relations. Not only do drivers and team personalities have to do their bit to please the sponsors, the FIA puts demands on their time too.
The more success you have, the more people want to talk to you, and through one of its rules, the governing body ensures the right of free speech. 'No driver', the rule states, 'may enter into a contract which restricts his right to talk to the media', and this goes both ways, as the teams must ensure their drivers do not shy away from the limelight either. It's a fairly open rule, but an important one which can easily be enforced if a driver or team aren't pulling their weight in the publicity show!
Five randomly selected drivers and two 'team personalities' must attend a one hour press conference at the track on the day before the first free practice, and the following day, another group of six will have their go. After the random selection of the first two days, the FIA ensures the press get to talk to the people who matter, and immediately (some say too immediately!) after qualifying and the race, the top three drivers will be required to step in front of the press. On qualifying day, they will do TV interviews before a 30 minute press conference, whilst on the Sunday, they spend a massive one and a half hours after the race with the world's media - no wonder they don't celebrate too much after winning!
With points awarded for each Grand Prix, the title chase can often go down to the wire, but still, after the eighteen races of the season, it is unusual to find two drivers on the same points in the championship. However, if they are, the FIA have a simple way to separate them. The higher place in the championship will go to the man with the most wins, failing that the most seconds, failing that the most thirds, and so on down the list. It is so unlikely that this procedure will fail that the rules state if it does, 'the FIA will nominate a winner according to such criteria it thinks fit'. I presume that the FIA's favourite colour is not the criterion to be used for this assessment!
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Part 3: The Track
A race weekend is a hectic time, and to install some order to the process, the FIA convey any important information to the teams through the rather non-technological manner of a pin board! The first piece of information on the board is the times and plans for the weekend, along with the names of all the important organisers of the event. From then on, the main information that goes up details the timing from all the sessions, and notification of unusual events (such as disqualifications, protests or withdrawals).
Teams can run as much as they like during practice, and often test with heavy fuel loads to see how the car reacts to the track in race conditions. However, qualifying is a different matter, and drivers are restricted to just 3 laps (1 in lap, 1 out lap and 1 hot lap) during a pre-qualifying session. Driver who sets the fastest time in the pre-qualifying session starts last during the Final Qualifying session. Along with this, the FIA reserves the right to negate a driver's fastest lap if a car receives outside assistance to get back to the pits during a session, or if the stewards decide there has been some bad driving, such as cutting a chicane.
Although we know the starting line up immediately after qualifying, the grid is not published until after the morning warm-up on race day, and teams may still withdraw a car from the race at any time. If they do so within 45 minutes of the start, however, the grid will not be allowed to close up and there will be a space on the grid where the car should have been.
The grid is staggered, and drivers risk all for a hot lap in qualifying, just to jump one spot on the grid - yet the gain in distance is just 8 meters! However, even that is enough to make the difference into the first corner. Once the cars head off on the formation lap (which immediately precedes the start) only the privileged or crazy few are allowed onto the track. From then until the final car enters parc ferme at the end of the race, a rule states that firstly, as long as they have permission from a marshall, a driver may drive on the circuit - quite a relief really, that one!
He may also walk on the track if given permission, as may the marshalls themselves if they need to remove the aforementioned's stricken car. After those, there is just one more instance where people are allowed onto the track: Although the mechanics are banned from the grid once there is less than one minute to go before the formation lap, if a car fails to set off on that lap, they may return to the grid to assist it.
An interesting example of playing with these rules was seen at during the Canadian Grand Prix, when David Coulthard's car stalled on the grid less than one minute before the formation lap. The McLaren team were faced with a difficult on-the-spot decision: To go onto the track and start the car would break the rules, but if Coulthard was left until the rest of the field headed off on the formation lap, he would have to begin the race from the back of the grid. The team decided that although they would clearly be penalized for infringing the rules, the consequences for this would be less than Coulthard starting from the back!
As drivers head off on the formation lap, most accelerate hard and spin their wheels. Although practice starts are not allowed, this is acceptable, and it leaves rubber on their grid spot which gives more grip for the start. A rule which came to light when Michael Schumacher broke it, was the rule that a driver is not allowed to overtake unnecessarily on the formation lap. It seems an absurd and needless rule, but it is there, and it caught the German out at the British Grand Prix in 1994, leading to first a stop-go penalty, and later, disqualification.
To ensure the start is safe for all concerned, only marshals are allowed on pit wall, and all the top team bosses who stand there for the rest of the race are banished to the garages. Once the start is over, the men on pit wall can return to their positions, but there are a number of other rules the whole team must obey throughout the race.
Firstly, the teams are only allowed into the pit lane on the lap that the car is coming in. This is mainly for safety, but can also provide useful information to the opposition on tactics, and for this reason some teams will stay in the garages until as late as possible before the car comes in. When it does, it must keep to a limit of 100km/h in the race, and if these speeds are exceeded, the driver will be fined US$250 for each km/h he drove over the limit, or may get penalized for a 10-second stop-go penalty.
The pitlane is split into a fast lane (closest to the track), and a slow lane (closest to the garage), and once out of the garage, the team may work only in the slow lane, and must leave no equipment in the fast lane. In addition to this, no driver can reverse in the pit lane if he has missed his pit. Nigel Mansell broke the reversing rule in 1990 when he overshot his pit and reversed back into it, while in 1991 he had a tyre changed in the fast lane after a wheel fell off only metres after he had pulled away from a pit stop. Finally, the rules state that 'all animals, except those which may have been expressly authorised by the FIA' are banned from the pit area!
Once the race is over, the finishers must go straight to parc ferme without assistance, and without receiving any object. This is to make sure no car which was underweight at the end of the race is legal when it makes it to the scrutineering bay. However, drivers will spend much of their run-down lap looking for stones, pebbles, bits of rubber - anything that will make the car heavier, just in case it is underweight.
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When the crowd invaded the track at Silverstone in 1992, the marshalls were faced with a difficult job. Several of the cars couldn't make it back around to parc ferme, and whilst stopped on the track they were ripped apart by souvenir-hunting fans - in fact, were it not for the stewards' compassion, Nigel Mansell's loyal fans could have got him disqualified from the race!
Part 4: When Things Go Wrong
It is rare that any Grand Prix goes completely to plan - neither rain nor drivers are that predictable! With a long list of rules governing the use of the safety car, stopping and restarting the race, and penalising any driver who does wrong, the FIA aims to cover all eventualities.
When things do go wrong, they don't always cause the race to be stopped. This is due partly to the intelligence of drivers to park their broken car, and partly to the rules demanding them to do so. Firstly, an absurd but clearly necessary rule states that drivers are 'strictly forbidden to drive their car in the opposite direction to the race'!
Once stopped, we often see a driver diving back into the cockpit of his car, but this is not because he thinks he can get back into the race - it's because his pocket will end up significantly lighter if he doesn't ensure the car is in neutral and the steering wheel (which he has to remove to get out) is back on. The FIA place serious fines on failing to do this, as it can prevent the marshalls moving the car, and could lead to an otherwise unnecessary race stoppage.
The FIA has a list of situations where a driver's actions can be classified as 'an incident', and once declared as such, the stewards must take action on it by means of a penalty. One such incident is a false start. Every car carries an electronic transponder onboard, and if movement is detected before the five red lights go out, the timing screens will immediately show that the driver has made an unfair start. The stewards will immediately assess the situation, and punish the driver when necessary - the requirement to discuss the matter is the reason why the penalties don't come sooner.
A collision, or a move which forces a driver off the track are also deemed illegal, but this is very much up to the stewards' decision. Sometimes it is difficult to apportion blame, so it is seen as a 'racing incident', and touching can also, in some people's eyes, be seen as an integral and expected part of racing. This can also go for blocking tactics in overtaking situations - how many times have we heard a driver moaning that his opponent was using unfair tactics to keep him behind? It's up to the stewards.
If the stewards decide to take action on the incident, they will display a message on the timing monitors informing all the teams that they are doing so, and the drivers involved are then banished from leaving the circuit until cleared or punished! When the stewards have made a decision, the team will be given written notification of the punishment and all the teams will be informed through the timing monitors. Generally the punishment is a ten second time penalty, with the driver being required to come into the pits within three laps of the penalty announcement, stop at his own garage, wait ten seconds without the team touching the car, then return to the circuit. Because of the time to enter and exit the pits, this is more like a 25 to 35 second penalty (depending on the pit lane), and can see the driver drop well out of the running. If the incident occurred late in the race and the decision could not be made until there was less than five laps to go (possibly after the conclusion of the race), the driver will simply have 25 seconds added to his time. A team may appeal this penalty, but it costs! The team must notify the stewards of their intent to appeal within one hour of their decision, and must also deposit around US$3,300 in the FIA bank account. After the event, the International Court of Appeal will convene to decide whether to waive the penalty or change it - the danger is it could increase. The FIA selects 15 people to serve on this court, but only 3 members have to be present to validate a decision, and that decision is final.
When there is an incident out on the track which cannot be easily cleared, the stewards will firstly send out the safety car. Driven by an experienced racing driver (Bernd Maylander), the safety car will also carry an FIA observer who is in contact with race control, and will only be used, according to the rules, when competitors or officials are in immediate physical danger. As soon as the decision is taken to bring out the safety car, yellow flags are waved, and the 'SC' board is shown at every marshaling post.
The safety car will come out from the pit lane, orange lights flashing, and let all cars past until it reaches the race leader. He must stay behind, and all the other cars will line up intrack order - that is to say if there are two back markers between the race leader and the second place man, they will remain there, and with no overtaking permitted when the safety car is on the track, they will give the leader a cushion at the restart.
Whilst the safety car is on track, each lap counts as a racing lap, and the teams are allowed to make pit stops. With all other cars going slowly, a stop will cost less time than it would under race conditions, but the advantage can be lost if it puts the driver in bad traffic for the restart. When the safety car is called in by the clerk of the course, the revolving lights will go out, and it will peel off into the pits. The lead car will then head the field around to the startline, with no overtaking until the race is resumed.
Although the safety car can negate a well earned time advantage, it is a much better solution than that used before it arrived. Previously, any incident which caused a major problem on the track stopped the race. Once the track was cleared, the race would restart, and the final results were worked out as an aggregate of the times in the two mini-races - all very confusing!
If the incident is big enough to stop the race, red flags are shown all around the circuit, orange lights appear at the start line, and all cars return to the pits. What happens next is dependent on the stage of the race. If less than two laps are complete (as was the case when Michael Schumacher hit the barriers at Silverstone last year), the race can be fully restarted. The first race is declared void, which means that any driver who started from the pitlane can return to his original grid spot for the restart, and anyone involved in an incident may restart in either his original race car or a spare.
Michael Schumacher showed an extremely cool head when, after being punted off in the Austrian Grand Prix, he nearly took advantage of this rule. Although his car was badly damaged, he managed to drive it onto the circuit in an attempt to block the track - very clever! Unfortunately for him, he didn't manage to halt the race, and McLaren took a 1-2 finish!
With two or more laps gone but less than 75% of the total laps complete, the race will be stopped and restarted with the grid in the order that passed the line two laps before the stoppage. The length of the new race will be three laps less than the number of laps remaining in the original, now void race. If the race cannot be restarted for some reason, then half points will be awarded to the top six in the original race.
If the stoppage occurs when there is less than 25% of the race to go (as was the case in Canada in 1997, when Olivier Panis broke his legs in a big accident), then full points will be awarded to the finishers in the order that they passed the line two laps before the stoppage. Even if an event goes wrong, the FIA ensure it will go right in the end.
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Part Five: The Checkers
Scrutineers promote fair competition. To ensure the racing teams play ball, this team spends every hour of every race weekend checking and re-checking the F1 machines. The Grand Prix weekend begins on the Thursday before the race itself, with initial scrutineering in the garages. From then until the end of the weekend, the scrutineers can call any car into the scrutineering bay (which is usually situated in a garage at one end of the pitlane) at any point. The scrutineers can demand to look at any part or sample they require, and can even ask a team to dismantle a car for them to check. Also, if a car which has already passed by the scrutineers is dismantled in any way which may affect its safety or eligibility, they can call it back in and check it over once again - the teams really are at the mercy of the scrutineers!
This team is also responsible for checking the weight of the cars, and unless there are reasonable circumstances, they will exclude a car immediately if it is underweight. The FIA has a special drive-on weighbridge which travels around with the Grand Prix circus, and is positioned in the scrutineering bay. The cars to be weighed will be selected at random, and after seeing the red light at the pit entrance, the car must go directly to the weighing area, where the car and driver will be weighed together. To prevent any team adding items to increase the car's weight, it must not be touched by anyone other than the officials, and no-one other than they are allowed into the weighing area.
Furthermore, if a car stops on the circuit, the driver must return to the pits, often accompanied by a supervising marshall, and go straight to the weighing area, to ensure he was not underweight when he was out on the circuit. This can prove a major annoyance in a tight qualifying session, and waiting to be weighed can cost a driver places on the grid. Both car and driver must also be weighed after the race, with every finisher required in the scrutineering bay - but if a driver has to leave his car (for instance to get to the podium) he can be weighed individually, as is often seen in the coverage at the end of a Grand Prix.
Tyres are another important part of racing which demands tight surveillance. Teams can choose from two types of dry tyre, and three specifications of wets, but may use no more than 32 drys and 28 wets in one race weekend. Although drivers are allowed to practice on the two different dry compounds, once qualifying comes, they must nominate one and stick with it for the remainder of the weekend. It is up to the tyre manufacturers to provide tyres to meet the tight regulations for groove depth, tread area, etc. when new, but at the event, the scrutineers have strict control over the tyre usage, and all tyres the team plans to use in the event are marked.
Before qualifying, the team must assign 28 dry weather tyres to the car for the rest of the weekend, and from these, the FIA technical delegate will choose just 8 fronts and 8 rears which can be fitted to the car during qualifying - that's four sets, which should be plenty!
The use of the spare car is another area which is controlled by the FIA scrutineers. In the past, this was limited as less well off teams complained that they couldn't afford to take a spare. Now, the rules are quite free on the subject. In qualifying, a driver can use as many as three cars, so long as they are all of the same make and have been through scrutineering. However, the change of car must be done under the supervision of the marshals, and once the Grand Prix has started, there is no way a driver can jump out of his dying car in a race and hop into a spare.
Teams can communicate between the pits and the car, but the only electronic transmissions allowed are telemetry signals and lap triggers - the rest of the communication must be through pit boards, pit to car radio, and the driver's own body movement. Onboard each car has a data recorder which, like the black box in an aeroplane, stores data in the event of an accident or incident. The data recorder can be recalled to the FIA for checking at any point, and if this is done, a member of the team will be present when the data is downloaded, a copy of the data will be made available to the team, and any conclusions will be published in a report which is agreed between the two parties.
If a team or competitor does not comply with the rules, they will be excluded from the FIA championship on a temporary or permanent basis. Interestingly, the rules state that if this is the case, a team cannot defend their actions by claiming no performance advantage has been gained. This suggests that Ferrari's pleas at the bargeboard incident towards the end of last year's championship were futile, and their time in the wind tunnel gaining data to prove there was no performance advantage would have done them no good at all!
The world of Formula One was recently shown how important the knowledge of the scrutineer is when Charlie Whiting, the FIA Technical Delegate, was considering returning to a team.
Opposers to his move claimed his knowledge of all the Grand Prix cars was so great he would give any team an unfair advantage. Now, a rule states that no car can run a component that has been designed, supplied or constructed by a member of the FIA previously involved in checking F1 electronic systems in the past two years. This prevents such a move, but the incident proved that the skills of the scrutineer must be as honed as those of the designers.
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Part 6: Defining Dimensions
It is no coincidence that the Formula One car is the shape and weight it is - that is very much defined by the championship's governing body. Through the tight defining ruleboxes in 'Article 3' of the FIA regulations, the size of bodywork is restricted, and the Formula One template is formed.
The first defining rule is that the overall weight of the car (including suited and booted driver) must not be less than 600kg, but ballast is allowed to get the car to this figure to bring it up to this weight. This is one of the most important rules in F1, because the lower the basic car can weigh, the more ballast the teams can use to position weight in the best areas of the car. No extra weight, however, can be added during a race because teams may add it right at the end to make an underweight car legal.
On the sizing side, the FIA also lays down its initial ground rules - and the most interesting of these must surely take the 'most ridiculous regulation ever' prize. The rule states that 'when sitting at his steering wheel, the driver must be facing forward' - well, I suppose it had to be said! The reference plane, which is the part all heights are related to, is defined as the lowest part of the floor of the car (excluding the plank), and the wheel measurements are defined as being made to the centreline of the wheels. Once these have been stated, the car can be built up.
Firstly, the height of the car must be no greater than 95cm. This is an important rule, because although teams are always looking to lower the car's centre of gravity, certain areas (such as the rear wing, and the nacelle above the driver's head) work better in cleaner air, so teams want these to be higher up and out of the way of the rest of the bodywork. However, the rear wing comes under further restrictions because another rule ensures that all bodywork more than 15cm behind the rear wheels must be below 80cm.
The overall width of the car must be less than 1.8 metres, although no bodywork ahead of the rear wheels can be more than 1.4 metres wide. Because the track (which is basically the width), and the length of a car are virtually coupled by a textbook ratio which should give the best handling, this width rule will also, to a point, define the car's length. Of course, however, it's not quite as simple as that, and the maximum width figure only gives the designer a ballpark figure for the car's length which is then up to the team to decide.
Back in 1997, the overall width of the cars was 20cm greater, and when the figure was reduced for the start of 1998, many teams got their modifications wrong. McLaren got their wheelbase right that year, so they shot to form and took the title.
The only rules regarding length are for the overhangs on the car - the parts ahead of the front wheels, or behind the rear wheels. At the rear, the overhang must be no more than half a metre, while at the front, bodywork is permitted up to 1.2 metres ahead of the front wheels. This rule has the condition that there is to be no bodywork further than 20cm out from either side of the car centre line at any point that is more than 90cm ahead of the front wheels - this restricts some of the bargeboard work that the teams may have otherwise considered.
Further to these general rules, the further dimension definitions can be split up into the front and rear of the car (mainly centred around the wing dimensions), and the centre of the car (which is considered next week).
Although the front wing is allowed to reach the extremities of the overall width, most teams do not use it all, because they have found a better way to use their maximum dimensions. The flick-ups and steps seen on the front wing endplates take up some of the allowed width, and although some downforce is lost by a reduction in wing area, teams have found that the endplates make the front wing work harder, and can actually increase
the downforce overall.
However, ahead of a point which is 33cm rearward of the front wheels (somewhere around the mid front chassis area), a rule states that any bodywork, if it is further than 25cm from the car centre line, must be between 5cm and 25cm from the reference plane. This dictates the height and overall dimensions of the front wing and its endplates, but an additional rule states that the leading edges of any piece of bodywork ahead of the front wheels must be at least 1cm thick, and have a significant radius - this is to prevent tyre damage in the event of a collision, and stops 'wacky racers'-style razor blade racing from entering Formula One!
Finally, there is a rule box which basically sits just behind the front wing and in front of the sidepods, and covers the area from 40cm to 90cm from the car's centreline. No bodywork other than brake cooling ducts is allowed in this area, and this further restricts bargeboard design, and prevents cars sprouting any wings in this region.
The rear wing, unlike the front, cannot use the full width of the car, because no bodywork behind the rear wheels can be any wider than 1 metre. On top of this, to restrict ground effect usage, the bodywork in this area must be higher than 30cm (except in the region of the rear diffuser), and to further limit downforce capabilities, the area between a height of 50cm and all the outer extremities of the rear wing must be no more than 70% full of wing sections when viewed from the rear. This is the limiting factor for a rear wing cluster in places like Monaco and Hungary.
Other than that, the main restrictions are ahead of the rear wing, and are there to minimise use of winglets and long rear wing end fences. Any bodywork more than half a metre from the car centre line (which is the same measurement as the maximum rear wing width either side) must be lower than 50cm if it is anywhere less than 80cm forward of the rear wheels, and must be lower than 30cm if it is anywhere less than 40cm forward. Furthermore, between 33cm forward, and 15cm rearward of the rear wheels, no bodywork can be more than 60cm high. All these figures define a pretty narrow development area for the front and rear wings, and for the car as a whole - yet the teams still manage to go faster and faster!
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Part Seven: More Defining Dimensions
Although the safety aspects very much define the shape of the main chassis of the car, the FIA also has several defining dimensions which further shape the car for other reasons. In the centre section, even the slope of the engine cover is defined by the FIA. They require bodywork to be present in a specific triangle when the car is viewed from the side, and stipulate that this bodywork must be symmetrical about the centre line, and at least 20cm wide on a line running parallel to and 20cm below the angle defining the engine cover slope. Another triangle defines an area where there must be no bodywork - basically the area above the engine cover and more than 33cm in front of the rear wheels.
The height of the bodywork is also specifically limited in certain areas, in an aim to prevent cars sprouting sidepod wings and the like. Except for the previously mentioned area, no bodywork between 33cm rear of the front wheels, and 33cm forward of the rear wheels is allowed to be higher than 60cm. Despite these dimensions, teams still continue to find loopholes and cars sprout extra wings for higher downforce circuits - witness Williams-BMW, with its small sidepod wings, and the engine cover mounted wings which have been used by a number of teams in the past few seasons. The dimensions for these, are now defined by this rule, which ensures that they are no wider than 60cm.
Turning to the underside of the car, there are yet more rules which form this into shape. It is an extremely important area of the car because even though its curvature is banned, the flat bottom creates over a third of the car's downforce - so it's an area that the FIA are very keen to restrict. Concerned by ever increasing speeds in Formula One, the FIA introduced the 'step plane' in 1994, and because the car's aerodynamics work best the closer they are to the ground, the downforce was immediately and significantly reduced.
The reference plane (which is basically the plane onto which the 'plank' on the underside of the car is fixed) extends from 33cm rear of the front tyres all the way back to the rear tyres, and must be between 30cm and 50cm wide. This is the closest part of the car to the track, and leads through a radiused edge, to the step plane.
Lying 5cm above the reference plane, this step plane runs from a line level with the front of the plank to one 33cm in front of the rear wheels, and is the level at which any bodywork viewed from the underside which is not on the reference plane must stop. This takes in the three main areas of bargeboards, sidepods, and diffuser but (of course!) excludes the wing mirrors. To ensure no unusual and complex ideas filter through, the FIA has a long list of words to describe the properties of the floor that makes up these two planes, stating that the surfaces must be 'uniform, solid, hard, continuous, rigid, and impervious'. Everything covered there then!
Beneath the reference plane lies the skid block (or 'plank' as it is better know to Grand Prix fans), which must run from the frontmost point of the reference plane (33cm behind the front wheels) to the rear wheels. It is made out of a material with a specific gravity of between 1.3 and 1.45, and must measure 30cm in width, with a tolerance of 0.2cm. Although it decreases in thickness towards the edges to allow a smooth design, the plank most importantly, when measured through six pre-cut 5cm diameter holes, has a tolerance of just one tenth of a centimetre on its 1cm thickness.
The teams suffered problems in the early days of the 'plank' when, with the planks wearing away due to bottoming out on the track when the cars were run at low ride heights, cars were disqualified because the plank dimensions did not fit the rules - the most famous occurrence of which was at the Belgian Grand Prix of 1994, when Michael Schumacher was disqualified. Now however, the teams seem to have this problem under control.
Another very important part of the car is its wheels and tyres, and they come under close scrutiny too. There must be four wheels on the wagon - no more, no less - they must not be covered by bodywork, and they must all be of diameter 66cm (give or take a small tolerance of a quarter of a centimetre). It's not all strictly controlled for the tyre companies, however, and the tyres have a range of size possibilities, bounded by maximum and minimum widths of 36.5cm and 38cm at the rear, and from 30.5cm to 35.5cm at the front.
These tyres must contain four 1.4cm wide grooves which are a quarter of a centimetre deep when the tyre begins its life, and they must be symmetrically and evenly spaced about the centre of the tyre tread, with 5cm spacings between each of the centres. However, there are no rules currently regarding the depth of the tyre at the end of its use (although the FIA reserves the right to make one if it so wishes), and so cars run on virtual slicks when the tyre becomes worn - although by this point the compound will have degraded and the tyre will be less grippy anyway!
The systems used by the scrutineers to measure all these dimensions are extremely accurate, so there is no getting away with dimensional inaccuracies nowadays - in fact, teams must be very careful how close to the mark they take it. They will always want to hit the extremities of the rulings, but the consequences of taking it too far are well known, and have been seen many times in recent history. However, because manufacture can sometimes lead to inaccurate part sizing, the FIA have tolerances for the area covered by the reference plane - they will accept a part as legal if it is within half a centimeter either way of the required dimension.
With the number of dimension-defining rules imposed on the teams by the FIA, it is no wonder that many of the cars look like clones - but it is a tribute to the engineering skills of Ferrari and McLaren that they can design cars so far ahead of the rest.
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