The 2010 Formula One season truly was a spectacular season. Not shy from any form of controversy, right from disputes over budget caps, to title-deciding team orders, the F1 fans were treated to quite an assortment of entertainment, suspense and at times, pure absurdity.
The FIA, which deals with the licensing and arbitration of Formula One, ironically has been blamed for most of the controversial incidents. The FIA monitors and governs all the sporting and technical rules and regulations, and makes the necessary changes each season. And these very changes are often fodder to the ensuing drama.
So what can we expect in the next season?
The 2011 Formula One season will see the number of races expand to 20, with the additions being the inaugural Indian GP and the returning Chinese GP (subject to homologation of the circuits). This will make it the longest season in Formula One history, and remarks have already started floating around that it could lead to fan switch-off.
Also, Pirelli returns to the sport as the tyre supplier to all teams, after Bridgestone’s contract expired at the end of the 2010 season. The Italian rubber giant was last associated with the sport in 1991.
Apart from this, following the final meeting of the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) in Monaco on 10th December, the FIA has outlined regulation changes that will come into effect over the next three seasons.
Here are some of the most significant ones we will see in the 2011 season:
1. Adjustable Rear Wing:
This feature is being introduced as a substitute to the F-Duct. It involves a moveable rear wing that can be briefly activated to give the driver a straightline speed advantage of his rival.
However, the adjustable rear wing would only be available under certain conditions, namely, the drivers will only be able to use it when they are within one second of the car in front, but it would not be usable in the first two laps of a race except in the case of an early safety car.
The system is expected to offer drivers an additional 15 km/h when passing, and will deactivate when the driver first hits the brakes after using the rear wing.
The concept, which has been negatively received by drivers and fans alike, could be dropped if it proves impractical or unmanageable.
2. Minimum Weight-Limit:
The minimum weight-limit of the car and the driver as a unit has been raised by 20kg to 640kg. This was done to pave the way for a return of the KERS.
3. Optional KERS:
Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) is a system that is designed to recover kinetic energy from the car during braking, store that energy and make it available to propel the car. It will give the driver a power boost, which should also improve overtaking.
The aims are two-fold - firstly, to promote the development of environmentally friendly and road car-relevant technologies in Formula One; and secondly, to aid in overtaking. A chasing driver can use his boost button to help him pass the car in front, while the leading driver can use his boost button to escape.
Currently, the regulations permit the systems to convey a maximum of 60kw (approximately 80bhp), while the storage capacity is limited to 400 KJ. This means that the 80bhp is available for anything up to 6.67s per lap, which can be released either all in one go, or at different points around the circuit. Lap time benefits range from approximately 0.1 to 0.4s.
The use of KERS is NOT compulsory. A team can choose whether to use it or not. This would mean that like 2009, we can divide the field into two categories - KERS cars and non-KERS cars. Not the best way to commit to a new technology, especially since 2009 showed us that unequal specs in cars does take away the enjoyment and deprives us of natural results (2009 Belgian Grand Prix - Fisichella's Force India car was much quicker than Raikkonen's Ferrari, which ultimately used KERS to defend its position and win the race!)
A typical KERS system weighs around 35kg. As mentioned above, Formula One cars must weigh at least 640kg (including the driver). But traditionally, teams build the car to be considerably lighter and then use up 70kg of ballast (weight which is added to the car to change the load distribution or as a penalty) to bring it up to weight.
This means that teams with KERS will have less ballast to move around the car and hence have less freedom to vary their car’s weight distribution. Heavier drivers are at a particular disadvantage, an issue addressed by the raising of the minimum car weight for the 2011 season by 20kg.
However, since KERS is optional, a non-KERS car will be able to have more ballast. Teams without KERS can thus, use this added ballast to get overall lap time down before worrying about over-taking.
Considering the costs involved in implementing KERS, Ferrari and Renault have proposed that they could do KERS for less than a million euros. But what Ferrari and Renault are both saying is that unless the energy level is increased from the current 400 KJ up to 600 or 800KJ, to make KERS more beneficial, they are not prepared to commit to it at this stage.
Mercedes GP boss Ross Brawn believes the KERS systems shouldn’t simply be brought back in the same 2009 specification since he feels they didn’t contribute enough to the racing spectacle.
Instead, the Briton reckons it would probably be better for new-generation KERS systems to be introduced to coincide with the sport’s new engine formula in 2013, for cost reasons.
4. Ban on Team Orders Lifted:
Team Orders were banned prior to the 2010 season. But that was never going to stop the teams from employing them in their own discreet ways - something which was brought to the notice of the FIA by the not-so-discreet Ferrari.
The rule prohibiting team orders has been "deleted" from the regulations in 2011.
This move was seen as a welcome change by most teams, bidding goodbye to pointless hypocrisy.
5. Gearbox Rule Change:
Another change sees the one-gearbox-per-four-races rule increased to five races in 2011 with drivers receiving one penalty-free gearbox change.
"For 2011 only, except during the last Event of the Championship season, each driver will be permitted to use a replacement gearbox without incurring a penalty the first time this becomes necessary during the season. Under such circumstances the replacement gearbox will only be required to complete the remainder of the Event in question," the regulations read.
6. Unsporting Behaviour:
In an attempt to have cleaner races next season, the FIA will clamp down on aggressive, defensive driving and drivers who regularly gain an advantage by running off the track.
Manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such as more than one change of direction to defend a position, deliberate crowding of a car beyond the edge of the track or any other abnormal change of direction, are not permitted.
This move was probably inspired by Michael Schumacher’s controversial move on Rubens Barrichello in Hungary last season.
On drivers benefiting from leaving the track the rulebook states, "Drivers must use the track at all times. For the avoidance of doubt the white lines defining the track edges are considered to be part of the track but the kerbs are not.
"A driver will be judged to have left the track if no part of the car remains in contact with the track.
"Should a car leave the track for any reason the driver may rejoin. However, this may only be done when it is safe to do so and without gaining any advantage."
7. More Power to Race Stewards:
The FIA has increased the maximum allowable penalty, from $100,000 to $250,000, that racing stewards can issue to teams, after the 2010 German Grand Prix where Ferrari were fined $100,000 for the use of team orders.
In the past race stewards were only allowed to hand out drive-through penalties, 10-second penalties or a drop of any number of grid positions for the following grand prix.
However, from next year they will be able to exclude a driver from the race classification or suspend him from the next grand prix.
8. Pit Lane Rules:
Over-taking in the pit lane will be banned from the 2011 season. Also, the Race Director has been given the power to close the pit entry during races for safety reasons.
9. Curfew on Team Personnel:
A curfew has been implemented, barring team personnel from accessing the circuit between the hours of midnight and six o'clock in the morning following concerns over mechanics spending all night performing repairs in the pit garage and the following day in the busy pit lane.
However, each team will be permitted four individual exceptions to the above rule during a championship season.
Apart from these, several new rules aimed at curbing flexible bodywork have also been introduced.
The regulations also include a raft of new safety measures including extra wheel tethers and tougher tests for the survival cell.
These are the changes that will be implemented immediately next season. There are also some changes that are slotted for the 2012 and the 2013 seasons.
Just over a week into their implementation, the new rules seem to have been well-received by all the teams. But there is still quite some time left before the first race in Bahrain on 13th March, and in this topsy-turvy world of F1, one can never be too sure. Whether they will be a success, we will have to wait and see.
(This article was first published on http://www.isport.in)