F1 2012: Rules and Regulations Changes, and What They Mean

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistDecember 25, 2011

F1 2012: Rules and Regulations Changes, and What They Mean

0 of 12

    It's that time of year again.  Excitement is in the air. Fans around the globe are holding their collective breath in anticipation, and everyone wants to know what's going to happen.

    Christmas?  New Year?  Jarno Trulli's annual haircut?

    Don't be silly.  It's the offseason, which means yearly announcement of the sporting and technical regulations for the coming F1 season!

    They were released in early December with little fanfare, and at a glance they don't look revolutionary.

    But do they mean anything that isn't immediately obvious? 

    And will the average fan even notice the difference?

    Let's see.

Regarding Exhausts

1 of 12

    The exhaust tailpipes are now strictly regulated in order to ensure that the aerodynamic effect exhaust gases have on the car is kept to an absolute minimum.

    Anyone who watched F1 last season will be familiar with the term "blown diffuser", and that's exactly what has been banned.

    This change has been in the pipeline for some time.  2011 cars made use of expelled exhaust gasses by channeling them through the diffuser at the rear of the car.  This increased the amount of downforce generated by the diffuser.

    To utilise the blown diffuser, exhaust gasses exited the car ahead of the rear wheels.

    The innovation already broke an existing regulation, which stated that any system using driver movement as a means of altering the aerodynamic characteristics of the car was not allowed. 

    But it's now been absolutely kicked into touch.

    The exhausts will now exit further back and higher on the car, well clear of the diffuser.

    This will also remove the practice of "off-throttle blowing."  This used clever engine mapping to keep the throttle open even when the driver was not depressing the peddle.  This was to continue the airflow over the diffuser.

    It didn't sound nice.

    To the average fan...

    The main change here will be theoretically reduced downforce at the rear of the cars, and a "looser" rear end.  This will lead (again, in theory) to slightly increased lap times, all else remaining equal. 

    Additional effects will include better fuel consumption figures, which will no doubt please the environmental lobby.  We might see less fuel saving than we saw last season if the cars are using less.

    And for fans who like to listen to the cars, that strange "dying lion choking on a lump of wildebeest gristle" sound produced by off-throttle blowing will be mercifully absent.

Regarding the ECU

2 of 12

    All engine standard ECU set up and control parameters, which were formerly contained only within a Technical Directive, are now contained within the relevant parts of the Technical Regulations.

    The engine control unit (ECU) is the brains of the car, and your road car almost certainly has one to control, among other things, the ignition timing and the amount of fuel fed into the engine. 

    It's common in aftermarket modification world to have them reprogrammed for additional horsepower.  But the F1 ECU would make even the most extensively tuned Skyline weep from all 18 exhausts.

    In F1, the ECU controls almost everything the car does.  Fuel mix, clutch, throttle response, and much more.

    A Technical Directive is something issued by the FIA instructing or advising teams that they should be doing something a certain way.  They're typically mid-season rule tweaks.

    The Technical Regulations are the actual set-in-stone rules, published at the start of the season.

    So this change isn't really a change at all—it just reinforces existing rulings by placing them into the more permanent Technical Regulations.  

    To the average fan...

    It's unlikely we'll notice a thing.

Regarding Car Safety

3 of 12
    • Better marking of in-car emergency switches operated by marshals are now stipulated.
    • The side impact structures will now have to be subjected to a further (upward) push-off test.
    • Cars may no longer take part in preseason testing without having passed all crash tests.

    Three sensible, but minor changes, and all explain themselves quite adequately. 

    It's strange that cars used to be allowed to participate in preseason testing without having passed the crash tests, though.  Modern F1 is obsessed with safety, but that was overlooked until now?

    To the average fan...

    It's unlikely we'll notice, unless someone fails a lot of crash tests and isn't allowed to do any testing at all.

Regarding Race Length

4 of 12

    There will now be a maximum race time of four hours to ensure that a lengthy suspension of a race does not result in a race that could run up to eight hours if left unregulated.

    The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix lasted a record-breaking four hours and four minutes, due to a two-hour stoppage for safety reasons, six appearances by the safety car and extremely wet weather.

    No one knew when (or if) it would restart, leaving the teams, drivers, commentators and viewers in limbo.

    The likelihood of lengthy delays has increased with the greater emphasis on safety, so the FIA has covered off the possibility of a six-, seven- or eight-hour marathon with this new rule.

    In a race with no suspensions, the long-standing two-hour limit still applies.

    To the average fan...

    Had this been in place last season, Sebastian Vettel would have won the Canadian Grand Prix.  We'd have noticed that.

    But four hours and four minutes was a record.  It's extremely unlikely any race this year will reach that length—this change is somewhat akin to buying a snow shovel for a driving holiday in Egypt.

    While you know you'll never need it, it's a reassuring presence nonetheless.

    But you can rest assured that if you set your DVR to record for four hours, you WILL get the whole race.  Complete with all the random, slightly uncomfortable visits to the pits by confused celebrities.

Regarding the Safety Car

5 of 12

    Before the safety car returns to the pits, all lapped cars will be allowed to unlap themselves and then join the back of the pack, ensuring a clean restart without slower cars impeding those racing for the leading positions.

    It used to be the case that lapped cars could slip past the safety car and resume their position at the back of the queue.  This meant the order behind the safety car was the race order.

    Last year, as you'll no doubt have noticed, they couldn't.  Restarts were blighted by the frequent presence of one or more backmarkers right in the middle of the battle for the lead.

    This happening totally ruins the opportunity for the driver in second (or third, or wherever) to get a jump on the guy in front, as he must first negotiate his way around a dawdling, slower car. 

    This is a return to the older style.  Or rather, the slightly-less-older style.  It's changed more than once down the years.

    To the average fan...

    This will provide a better opportunity for some racing action at restarts, and result in less immediate field spread.

    Safety car periods may last longer.  Hopefully not, because I doubt race control will keep it out any longer than necessary, but the spectre of them extending it by a lap to allow all the lapped cars to unlap themselves will be a hovering presence.

Regarding Defensive Driving

6 of 12

    Drivers may no longer move back onto the racing line having moved off it to defend a position.

    What, never?

    Sorry.  When taken in a non-literal sense, this is an attempted clarification of the "one-move rule." 

    As it stands, a driver may make only a single direction change across the track in order to defend his position.  Doing otherwise is referred to as "weaving," and if the Stewards notice the driver, will receive a penalty.

    Some interpreted this to mean "one move to defend, one move back to the line," which clearly wasn't the intention.

    This change is designed to remove any doubt.

    To the average fan...

    What this means is that the defending driver must, if he leaves the racing line while defending, brake for the corner on the "dirty line."

    While most drivers already took the old version of the rule to mean exactly what this additional line states, a few perhaps did not.  It's clear the Stewards weren't quite sure, either.

    So it's possible we'll see overtaking become a little bit easier if everyone sticks to it—and penalties become a little more frequent if they don't.

Regarding Testing

7 of 12

    One three-day test will be carried out during the season, formerly there were none.

    Exactly what it says on the tin.  The session will be held at the beginning of May, between the Bahrain and Spanish Grands Prix.

    And it will be held at Mugello, for some strange reason.  A track which one Italian team knows extremely well as they own it, but which the other teams have no experience of at all.

    2011 had four preseason tests.  2012 will have three, and one during the season.  At first glance, it might look like an extra test, but all that's happened is a test has been taken from one place and put somewhere else.

    The total testing limit of 15,000 kilometers remains. 

    To the average fan...

    Gaps between the cars may well narrow between Bahrain and Spain.

    A team starting the year with a bad car might have spent the rest of the season trying to address the issues, rush-testing new parts in Friday practice and using less than ideal simulations. 

    A proper test could allow them to make a huge step forward all at once.

Regarding Tyres

8 of 12

    All tyres allocated to a driver may now be used on the first day of practice; formerly only three sets were permitted.

    The entire tyre allocation for the Grand Prix weekend can now be used during Friday (or Thursday, in Monaco) practice.

    Sometimes teams like to put a single heat cycle through tyres.  This is simply heating the tyre up through a very short period of use—typically a single lap or two—and allowing it to cool. 

    Doing this can increase the hardness of the tyre compound, and in turn increase the longevity.  In theory, the tyre will perform at a higher level for longer.

    This is what a "scrubbed tyre" is.  Sometimes drivers prefer this, sometimes they don't. 

    However, with Pirelli moving to softer compounds next season, it may be something we see more often.

    To the average fan...

    Difficult to say.  It depends on whether the teams utilise the heat cycle strategy more.  This change will let them cycle as many tyres as they want. 

    Previously, they had to fit in what heat cycling they could during qualifying.

    Teams like Ferrari, which struggle to get heat into the harder compounds, probably won't.  Red Bull used it on at least one occasion last season, and might do the same in 2012.

    But even if they do, I can't honestly say I've ever thought "ah, he's using scrubbed tyres, that's why he's stayed out an extra two laps", but you never know.  Maybe we'll notice it at some point.

Regarding Race Stoppages

9 of 12

    Cars which were in the pit lane when a race is suspended will now be allowed to re-join the cars on the grid in the position they were in when the race was suspended.

    Previously, a car in the pits had to stay there, and could only restart the race after the other cars had gone.  That could be a huge blow, depending on how the driver was doing.

    So this change makes perfect sense.

    To the average fan...

    Race suspensions and restarts are rare, but if one does occur, we won't see anyone starting from the pit lane unless they actually want to.

    And drivers who pitted at an unfortunate time shouldn't suffer.

Regarding Cutting Corners

10 of 12

    Drivers may no longer leave the track without a justifiable reason, i.e. cutting a chicane on reconnaissance laps or "in" laps to save time and fuel.

    This happened a few times last season, the most notable of which was Sebastian Vettel doing it during qualifying for the Korean Grand Prix.

    He was not punished—no advantage was gained, as he would still have made it to line to start his qualifying lap had he not cut the chicane—but it got the FIA's attention and this is the result.

    Cutting a corner could be the difference between getting another lap in and missing out, so it was a surprisingly important gray area which needed colouring in properly. 

    To the average fan...

    We won't really notice this one unless someone does cut a corner or chicane.

    If they do, a few qualifying laps might be taken away, and this could even affect the championship—but now we have clarification, it's unlikely to happen.

Regarding Penalties

11 of 12

    All stewards’ decisions which are not subject to appeal are now in one place instead of being in various places within the regulations.

    Rather than keeping our 27 chickens in 13 different coops of varying levels of comfort, quality and accessibility, they now live in a single, three-storey coop with a floor plan and directions, meaning each egg can be easily located.

    Particularly useful to farmers Hamilton and Massa.

    To the average fan...

    This means absolutely nothing, unless we decide to go scouring the regulations for ourselves.  And the average fan probably won't. 

And That's the Lot

12 of 12

    So there we go.  Every rule change explained, and hopefully most of the ramifications highlighted and considered.

    Bigger shifts in the fabric of the F1 regulations are in the pipeline for 2014, so no one expected huge things this time out.

    The exhaust systems are the biggest change from 2011, while the "lapped cars behind the safety car" alteration is noteworthy too.

    The rest, perhaps not so much.

    But changes or not, hopefully 2012 will bring a more interesting season than 2011 turned out to be.

    Merry Christmas.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.