Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Over the years, Formula One racing has become ensnared by its own rules. What was once a free-for-all, unlimited budget only has to last two hours flavor of innovation and competitiveness has become a sport better suited for lawyers. Every significant pass or off is litigated – was it fair? – within the rules? It is hard not to hear a note of mockery in the commentary.
The evolution did not come without good reason. It was a horribly dangerous sport; several would die every year. It was not hyperbole to say you were never sure you would survive a race. Drivers began to reject overtly dangerous conditions such as heavy rain. Especially with the advent of ground effects where the cornering force improves with speed as the aerodynamics glue the car to the track. Untrained drivers find it hard to force their brains to allow them approach corners with speeds adequate to fulfil the car’s promise. Deaths have plummeted under the new safety rules.
Add to that the fantastic cost to run a team. Innovation for mature, thoroughly engineered cars does not come cheap. Championships could really be bought and it was becoming a struggle to field enough teams to make the races engaging. Innovation fairness has worked its way into the rules.
A good example of the disfunction of the rules is the Drag Reduction System (DRS). At its core, it’s a simple idea. Have an actuator change the spoiler angle on command so that the car achieves maximum downforce in corners and lower drag on the straights. But, of course, this can’t happen without a healthy dose of rulemaking. So here’s how it works. DRS can only be applied if you are within one second of the car you want to pass, but only on certain portions of the track and not for the first lap or two after the race restart.
For two cars the trailing car has a definite advantage -lots of passing adds some spice to the race. But what if three or more cars are all within DRS. The second driver has DRS which makes him faster, but must defend against the third driver. It is not uncommon to see a train of cars not able to pass a clearly slower car.
But how is DRS policed? How can we be sure that teams aren’t using DRS outside of the rules. Since it’s software-controlled, each team must submit their code for review, not just part of the code, as it is easy to sneak in an adjustment elsewhere in the code.
Last week Mercedes was involved in quite a controversy. It seems that the rear spoiler was a whole 0.85 mm (0.035″) out of spec. Yup, that’s enough to become a scofflaw. Except, perhaps it’s more complicated than that. You see Mercedes appears to set up the rear spoiler to deflect at speed – it deforms to create a de-facto DRS. Innovation isn’t dead – it just works in the service of evading rules rather than making a better car. Long gone are the days of six-wheeled F1 experiments.
On-track adjudication isn’t much better. A few races ago Bottas was fourth in the standings. One of his adversaries was his teammate, the other two were on the track ahead of him. He was slow off the start but decided to absolve himself by braking far too late in the corner (an error unworthy of a professional driver). In doing so, he runs into the #2 and #3 drivers, damaging one car so badly that it needed its engine replaced. This is F1 so you can’t expect to replace an engine without a penalty. In this case, the offending car starts the next race five places back from where it should. Of course, Bottas is not off the hook for his infraction, you guessed it, he starts the next race five places back from where he should.
I have only scratched the surface of how cloying the rules have become. This is a sport that once highlighted ruthless competition. Drivers fought it out on a track using cars improved in novel and unexpected ways. Now it is pit strategy and how to push the rules without getting caught.
The purpose here is not to argue the merits of any team or driver (Although even an unbiased observer such as myself can objectively state that Verstappen is clearly being screwed by F1 rulings). The passions that once fought over the better way to make and race a car have mutated into arguments of how best to make the race fair.
There is plenty of bitterness. Unfortunately, this is not the spur to achieve a better result. This is the bitterness that comes from feelings of betrayal. F1 has allowed itself to become distracted from peak human achievement to focus on how each player has been wronged.Published in