Penalties in Formula 1


How many times have you heard the phrase “a level playing field” applied to sports? The governing body of the top level automotive sport, the FIA, has spent time and money in the pursuit of the fabled field and all they have managed to do is institute ridiculous laws, regulations and penalties.

Take the grid penalties applied if the team changes an engine, or gearbox or even bits of the engine. Last meeting for example, Alonso was hit with a total of 30 grid spots demotion. On a 20 spot grid that is more than faintly ridiculous.

However, why should the driver be penalized for frailties in the engineering of the car? When an engine looks like failing, surely replacing the faulty engine for one in better health maintains that level playing field?

(They brought in this nonsense over 40 years ago, so we stamped our ‘spare’ engine with the same number as the ‘race’ engine. Honda should be looking at that simple exercise, one feels. I can still remember the number 18GB UH 6436 UK.)

Of course the FIA would have technology these days to thwart miscreants like me, but amazingly they don’t have enough technology to ensure the cars have the same minimum ride height. No, they nail a plank of wood underneath and measure how much wood has been ground away. They had similar introduced in 1981, that’s 36 years ago, and we still need a carpenter in the team?

Here’s the FIA rules for your plank. It must be made out of a material with a specific gravity of between 1.3 and 1.45 (to prevent excessively heavy or hard planks producing a performance benefits and lowering the car center of gravity). Typically the plank is wood based, either jabroc a laminate of beech wood, although more exotic blends of woods and resins not unlike MDF have been used. Plank must measure 300 mm in width, with a tolerance of 2 mm. It must run from the frontmost point of the reference plane at 330 mm behind the front wheels centerline to the rear wheels centerline. Skid block may comprise of no more than three pieces, the forward one of which may not be any less than 1000 mm in length. Plank must be fixed symmetrically on the car center line in such a way that no air may pass between it and the surface formed by the parts lying on the reference plane. The lower edge (facing ground) of the front end of the skid block may be chamfered at an angle of 30° to a depth of 8 mm, and trailing, rear edge may be chamfered over a distance of 200 mm to a depth of 8 mm.

Many years ago, Formula Ford open wheeled race cars had to drive over a block as they came in from the race. Cleared it and you were fine. Unable to clear it, go and plead your case. Makes the F1 regulations ridiculous.

With the new owners of the F1 series, perhaps we will get some good ole American straight thinking come to the fore, rather than the convoluted rubbish we have these days.

Christian Horner, the team boss at Red Bull, brought up some good points. “What is Formula One’s primary purpose? Is it technology or is it a sport and entertainment, and man and machine at the absolute limit?” Well? It is time to see what direction it is heading.