Without a doubt, Formula 1 is one of the most technologically-advanced motorsports there is if not one of the most technologically advanced pastimes humans have ever had. A tremendous amount of research and development goes into every little aspect of the car.
As a result, Formula cars are fast – very fast. They can slam your body around with four times the force you’ve ever experienced in a passenger car, and have exceptional performance characteristics. Driving one error-free enough to keep it off the wall is already hard enough. Just watch the onboard camera as it captures the action; watch how fast those hairpins whiz by, one after the other, after the other!
Reaction time really does need to be on point, but keeping your racecar in one piece is only half the battle. You’re racing against the clock, the grid, and the rules. Yes, the rules. They are the necessary evil that keeps you alive to race another day.
Nobody likes rules, not ever; let’s face it. But the rules keep the sport alive in a sustainable way and really are for your best interest. But, with cars getting exponentially faster, the rules are always evolving and changing – it’s your job to stay on top of them all!
The pattern goes like this: FIA makes a rule to promote safety, increase engagement, promote fair competition – whatever have you. If the rules end up falling short, they’re axed, usually replaced by even more constricting rules to cramp your style. Many exploratory rules end up having the exact opposite effect that they were intended to have.
The more you know, the better off you are. Michael Schumacher, for example, knew enough to exploit a loophole in a penalty regulation, allowing him to take the lead, and still serve his penalty – on the last lap…winning the race, controversially, from pit lane! Indeed, knowledge is power, my friends! Soak it up!
20 Aggregate Qualifying (Makes No Sense)
This aggregate qualifying system tried to even the competition out by splitting qualifying sessions into two separate events, over two separate fuel trims, and aggregating the two times. The only problem was, if a rainout during the first qualifying session took place halfway through the event, it could result in erroneous lap times, even for the best drivers, who were then put at an extremely impossible disadvantage (one with no hopes of recovery from).
When this happened to a majority of the field during qualifying for the opening round of the 2005 championship, the drivers protested by simply cruising around the circuit during qualifying, opting to preserve their racecar, rather than battle an impossibly flawed qualifying system. Aggregate qualifying, for a number of reasons, would only last six races.
19 Fastest Lap Points (Makes No Sense)
The Formula formula is proven, and although it’s often a topic of debate, point scoring systems have to be carefully analyzed for the unforeseen effects they can have on drivers. Even minor changes between the point-spread (or the number of scoring positions) can have a dramatic effect on the way the completion unfolds. The fastest-lap extra point was originally used until 1960.
It was dropped for a good reason. Its negative effects could be noted in the 2015-16 Formula E season where two drivers would wreck early on. The drive for the extra point caused both of them to forfeit the win by switching cars mid-race – all to chase after the fastest-lap point. It would work for one of them but ultimately detract from the spirit of Formula 1 overall.
18 The Unwritten Code (We Get It)
It was way back in 1976, back in those early days when bad open-wheel crashes were unfortunately much more common, that three-time World Drivers’ Champion, Niki Lauda, would get tangled up in a fiery wreck that would leave him trapped in his burning car. Conscious, he sat helplessly and watched as the car was overtaken by flames until four drivers would rush to his aid.
With one driver blasting extinguishing agent into the cockpit, the other drivers worked to free Niki from the car, saving his life from certain doom. Niki would escape the incident with serious burns, but he’d live to race another day – thanks to the code.
17 Elimination Qualifying (Makes No Sense)
It’s been hailed as the most ridiculous thing to happen to Formula racing since the electric motor. Every now and then, some guys get an idea so brilliant; it is too advanced to be appreciated in the contemporary sense. The elimination qualifying process was no such rule, but it was complex – for absolutely no reason. They tried it out in 2016, and it would last all but two races.
The idea behind it was to have three qualifying rounds of a pre-set time; where the slowest drivers would be eliminated at the last half of each round, every 1 minute 30 seconds until the qualifying heat was up. In theory, you have a good lineup when all is said and done. In practice, nobody knew what the blazes were going on, and it didn’t last long.
16 Double Points (Makes No Sense)
Just when one bad idea seems to subside, there’s always another one right on its heels, ready to ruin the perfectly fine balance of something that was better off left alone. Double points in the last race, was one such example. The 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was the only place it was ever attempted.
It was put in place with the well-natured intent of keeping competition down to the wire but actually had the opposite effect when dominating teams could exploit the rule to close out the championship early, with multiple races left, and zero chance of being contended by any other race team.
15 To Groove, Or Not To Groove (We Get It)
Why would you mandate grooves on a Formula 1 tire anyway? To make it safer of course. Grooved tires reduced mechanical grip, and were implemented in 1998 to slow cars down. Competitive race teams would find a way to compensate for by using extreme aerodynamics. Although this greatly enhanced traction, all gains were nullified once a racecar would enter the dirty air directly behind another racecar.
As a result, wheel-to-wheel racing became a strategy to avoid; teams relied on pits for positioning, and the sport became dull to causal race fans. Quora found that overtakes per race averaged 10.5 in 2008. Slicks were soon to be introduced, as well as a myriad of aero-regulations, and the wheel-to-wheel overtaking action would again become a racing strategy.
14 To Slot, Or Not To Slot (Makes No Sense, But Clever)
Sometimes, rule overlap, due to the complex nature of rule-writing, opens up a loophole waiting to be exploited by consequence. If you don’t close these loopholes, a team will find them – usually quickly (and effectively). A perfect example of this occurred in a 2017-rule change, increasing the mandated floor width from 1400 to 1600mm.
A previous rule, intended to prevent teams from using holes in the aforementioned floor, stated only that holes must not be used within 700mm of the car’s centerline (it said nothing about the newly-regulated 100mm of floor hanging off each side of the racecar). It wasn’t long before teams were again utilizing floor holes in the exact manner that caused their prohibition in the first place.
13 Ride Share (Never Made Sense)
It’s not like the rideshare you probably are familiar with in heavily-populated metropolitan areas, but rather, a rule that restricts points from a practice that really has no place in the modern sport that Formula 1 has become. It was done away with way back in 1958, but not before some madness ensued at the end of the 1956 race season.
Spectators were about to watch Peter Collins secure a world title; but as the story goes, he second-guessed his desire to have it after considering all the fame (because racecar drivers hate the fame), and would end up passing the torch to a Juan Fangio for a second-place finish instead. Although it’s not technically forbidden, shared drives don’t receive points anymore.
12 To Fuel, Or Not To Fuel (Make Up Your Mind, Already)
Currently, it is NOT to fuel. The first time a refueling strategy was used in Formula 1 was in 1982; the Brabham team would intentionally start a race with half-fuel, and pit mid-way through to take on the rest of the needed fuel. The strategy worked for a number of reasons; a lighter racecar over the course of a race would allow increased performance.
The lighter weight of the car would also allow the usage of a softer tire, compounding the benefits of the aforementioned performance. His fuel tank, as a result, was only half-sized. Eventually, FIA would prohibit this practice, toy with it on and off again, and eventually rest on a no verdict since 2010.
11 You Can Win On Pit Lane (Makes No Sense)
Michael Schumacher is no stranger to controversy; but if you stick him in it, he’ll use it to his advantage. A golden example of this was when he was given a 10-second penalty for passing a car while the safety car was out. There were only 10 laps to go when the infraction occurred, and he wouldn’t be penalized until only three laps remained.
Because of the delay, he decided to ignore the penalty, and keep racing. On the last lap, however – still, with the pending penalty over his head – he raced down pit lane at the last second, to technically serve his penalty “before” the race ended. He still won the race, which caused an uproar over the newly-exposed loophole.
10 Fuel Credit Qualifying (Makes No Sense)
What’s less fuel-efficient than a grid of Formula cars, running hard qualifying laps for position? A grid full of Formula cars, circling the track for 15 minutes to burn off as much fuel as they could before qualifying, would be a good answer. That was the answer it took, however, to be able to exploit a fuel-credit rule that ended up just wasting more resources than making sense.
As much of a waste as it was, it didn’t stop Honda’s eco-friendly race team from happily exploiting the environment for a competitive advantage. This rule was canned in 2008, but to this day, we have yet to find someone who can adequately explain it to us.
9 Dropping Scores (Makes No Sense)
If you were looking for a way to complicate your life, and all for no gain, look no further than score dropping. The idea had its heart in the right place, but the logic was on the moon.
Whenever you start messing with points and begin adding variables, the mathematics become excessively complex; now you have to start factoring in all the projected possibilities, and comparing them with all of the other possibilities – cross-referencing, matrix building…it all gets really dumb. So a score dropping rule allowed you to drop a bad score from certain races making the math impossible. Split-championship score dropping was done away around 1980, and the entire practice was axed in 1990.
8 End Of Race Light (We Get It)
The iconic flag; it has been a symbol of competition mastery and victory since as long as cars have been racing (and even longer than that). The checkered flag is a racing institution. But apparently, Formula 1 feels that its one-time-per-race usage is far too inefficient. Instead of the flag, Formula 1 now uses an illuminated light panel at the finish line as the official end-of-race signal.
Robots may take over our packing and manufacturing jobs, but who’d have thought they would take our flagmen from us as well? For now, you’ll still see the flag waving as usual, but with everything else going digital, don’t get too attached to it.
7 Running The Line (We Get It)
A minor change makes small tweaks to the restart procedure every time there is a safety car. Previously, overtaking was allowed on a restart after a driver crossed the safety car line. This “overtake point” has now been moved to the finish line instead. A fairly minor change in the complicated web of Formula 1 rules, but a new update for the 2019 season, nonetheless.
The grid area is one of the most thoughtfully laid out areas of the racetrack; it must look “pretty” for grand-standers, provide a logistically sound layout for nearly every race function, and even the placement of the start/finish lines are carefully selected. (All of these minute little details are expected to be committed to every driver’s memory.)
6 Biometric Gloves (We Get It)
In a bold move to put a headliner on safety in the 2018 season, FIA mandated all drivers now wear a hi-tech biometric glove that will report the driver’s vitals in the event of an emergency. The gloves are impregnated with a small sensor in the palm that senses oxygen in the blood, as well as the driver’s pulse.
This information is then immediately available to first responders in the event that an injury may be extremely time-sensitive, such as one that restricts oxygen from entering the blood. These are some of the most revolutionary safety devices in racing yet, and a testament to just how advanced Formula 1 racing is.
5 Rain Lights (We Get It)
The rear of the car has been the focus of a few recent lighting updates that help identify other racecars and mitigate some of the potential risks that are inherent with close-quarter, open-wheel racing. The first update was a flashing warning light when cars shift into fuel save mode, implemented in 2014.
A 2019 update to the endplate will add two flashing lights on the rear of the wing, to increase visibility in poor weather conditions. While some proposals may be vehemently opposed, the endplate lights have the unanimous support of all race teams, eager to implement the $2 technology that could potentially save a racecar.
4 Fuel Allowances (We Get It)
You’d never think that adding to the total amount of available fuel would stir up a stink among racing teams, but Formula 1 has been over-refined constantly, and in its highly progressive nature, would actually scoff at fuel increase. Some of the teams feel like “it damages the sport,” and cite “backward steps in fuel efficiency.”
But we have to call a time-out right there! You can’t involve yourself with a racing sport (a gasoline-fueled racing sport, no less) and turn around and complain about the environment. But that’s exactly what Williams technical boss Paddy Lowe feels about the issue.
3 Helmets (We Get It)
Formula 1 rides on a razor-sharp edge of danger just about every second of the race. The cars blast through corners, hanging on to the edge of their traction limits as the driver’s proximity to barriers and obstacles routinely closes to within feet, at over 150 mph. The only helmets drivers are permitted to wear are FIA-authorized helmets.
They are rigorously tested to ensure they meet the highest durability standards and are able to withstand some of the roughest mistakes with ease. A two-layer, fiber-reinforced resin coats a carbon fiber shell, overlaying a layer of Kevlar, with a layer of malleable polyethylene, that is covered in fireproof material. Some of the higher-end models are even equipped with AM/FM tape decks and auto-rewind!
2 Being Fat Doesn’t Hurt So Bad – Anymore (We Get It)
Previously, weight limits were defined for the car and driver as a whole assembly, thereby putting larger drivers at a disadvantage to the smaller ones. The issue started with minimum weights. If a driver was so light that he didn’t meet the minimum weight, the team would have to add ballast to the car to bring it within spec, giving them unfair configuration advantages in the process.
This was curbed by mandating that the driver is now more or less considered a separate component of the car, and as such, his ballast must now be added adjacent to the pilot’s seat.
1 Wing Adjustments (We Get It)
The barge boards and rear wing are getting a few changes and a new look for the 2019 racing season, all of them intended at making the air behind the racecar more follow-friendly. This is rooted in the desire to keep racing exciting. The re-positioning of the barge boars will help normalize airflow from the front wing, while the increasing size of the rear wing will work to open a bigger slice of air up for cars behind the leader.
Formula 1 cars aren’t as good at running freight trains as NASCAR is, but whatever FIA has to do to keep it fresh, count on them to bend up and tear down the design of the racecar we know and love every few years.
Source: Race Fans, Essentially Sports, Formula 1, Autosport, Quora, FIA.