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Formula 1: FIA Tightens Overtaking Rules and Penalty Options

Craig ChristopherAnalyst IOctober 15, 2011

YEONGAM-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 15:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren prepares to drive during the final practice session prior to qualifying for the Korean Formula One Grand Prix at the Korea International Circuit on October 15, 2011 in Yeongam-gun, South Korea.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Formula One’s governing body has finally moved to more tightly define the one-move rule and has even given stewards more power to deal with on-track incidents.

To the uninitiated, this might seem like a logical and sensible thing to do.

To those of us who follow the sport, however, it is as unexpected as waking up with your head sewn to the carpet.

The FIA is not an organisation renowned for making sense.

They can describe the size of a front wing end plate to the nearest millimetre in any given dimension. The same goes for the engine specifications, gearbox or any one of a hundred different features of the car.

When it comes to what’s allowed on track, however, the rules are incredibly vague.

And that’s the great thing about F1—it doesn't make sense, but it works.

If one looks at the sporting regulations governing F1, the section on penalties for breaches of driver protocol is three times longer than the section defining those protocols (719 words for what happens when an incident occurs and 260 words describing what a driver can’t do).

It’s easy to imagine the FIA brains making decisions about F1 rules in a room far removed from the realities of life.

The air is blue with smoke from their cigarettes, and the committee is headed by the slightly mad uncle who sits in a corner and laughs hysterically for no apparent reason.

If they make the rules sufficiently vague, it promotes innovation and lateral thinking. Once that occurs, they change the rules to squash the innovation again—as is the case with blown diffusers.

As it stood, the rule governing what was allowable to prevent overtaking was covered was by the following section of the sporting regulations:

"20.2 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."

The key bit is the part stating, “more than one change of direction to defend a position” that caused so much furor at Monza.

There, Michael Schumacher held Lewis Hamilton at bay for 20+ laps.

It is understood that a driver can make a move to defend an inside line for a corner, but they previously could move to re-take the racing line through said corner.

The rule change still allows drivers to do that. However, the defending driver must leave room outside (not including the curb) to allow the overtaking driver to pass as the defending driver retakes the racing line.

This will apparently prevent incidents such as the one involving Felipe Massa in Japan. The one where Hamilton clipped Massa, who should never have put his car in that position in the first place.

This rule change comes on the back of changes earlier this year to make reprimands handed to drivers more meaningful.

Since Silverstone, there has been a three-strike rule implemented that gives offending drivers a five-place grid penalty for receiving three reprimands.

FIA has chosen to toughen this up further by adding the capacity to add reprimands to other punishments—a drive through penalty for example—as a further disincentive to making mistakes.

Perhaps these moves will finally make Massa happy, as he has been whining incessantly about Hamilton since the Singapore race.

We won’t hold our breath on that one.

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