Penalty points and the return of testing

On the Friday before the British Grand Prix, the World Motor Sport Council (the most powerful decision-making body in the FIA), passed a long list of changes to the Formula One sporting and technical regulations, effective for the 2014 season.  Two days later, tyres were exploding all over the Silverstone circuit and, just as the dust (or rubber) was settling, Mark Webber’s run-away tyre took out a cameraman at the German GP.  In the rush to fix these problems, the changes for 2014 have been pushed into the background. Luckily, TPL has you covered.  Today, we will take a look at some of the most significant changes, and what they mean for the 2014 season.

todtFIA president, Jean Todt.
Photo credit: itupictures via Flickr

First up, the new penalty point system:  “If a driver accumulates more than 12 points he will be banned from the next race. Points will stay on the driver’s licence for 12 months. The amount of points a driver may be given for infringements will vary from one to three depending upon the severity of the offence.”

On the surface, this may seem like a good idea – penalizing drivers who are always causing accidents or endangering their colleagues.  However, there is already a system in place to ban drivers from races: if you do something worthy of a ban, you get banned.  And there are already grid-place penalties, drive-through penalties, stop-and-go penalties and time penalties.  Now, there is the potential for a bunch of small incidents to pile up, even over parts of two different seasons, leading to a ban.

Also, why is the maximum number of points a driver can receive for any one incident three?  Since there will still need to be the option to ban someone outright, no matter how many points they have accumulated (say, for driving into someone intentionally – known at TPL as “pulling a Schumacher”), the range of potential penalties should be broadened.  For example, there is obviously not a big difference between receiving two or three penalty points, but if the next possible penalty is an outright ban, there is not a lot of room for nuance.

Pulling a Schumacher. (via YouTube)

I guess we will have to wait and see how this plays out next year, and how liberally the penalty points are distributed, but we should also be worried about what will happen to drivers who are nearing a ban.  Will they suddenly become so timid that they become an obstacle on the track?  In the end, the penalty point system seems like a case of, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

Next up, there will be “[a] significant reduction in the amount of wind tunnel testing and CFD work has been imposed to help reduce costs and potentially allow two teams to share one wind tunnel.”  We have already talked about what happens when F1 tries to implement cost-cutting measures – teams find somewhere else to spend their money.  It is interesting that the FIA notes teams might now be able to share wind tunnels.  This could potentially help a smaller team like Sauber, who are having financial problems but have their own wind tunnel, as they could rent time to another team.  On the other hand, given how closely teams F1 teams guard their technology, would any of them want to invite another team into their factory?

By far the best change is the relaxation of the in-season testing ban: “Four two-day track tests will be allowed in season in place of the current eight one-day promotional days and the three-day young driver test. These will take place at tracks in Europe on the Tuesday and Wednesday after a race in order to ensure minimal additional resources are necessary.”

There are a lot of benefits to allowing teams to test during the season, including avoiding tyre incidents like we saw at the British GP (and not leaving teams to guess at how the various tyre compounds will perform in different conditions); giving test/reserve drivers more time behind the wheel, on the track; allowing teams to test new parts and set-ups outside of race weekends, when they should be focused on maximizing the cars’ performances for the race; and, through these benefits, giving us better races.

testPre-season testing in Jerez.
Photo credit: CaterhamF1 via Flickr

Another change designed to give provide fans with a better spectacle is that “[e]ach driver will be provided with one extra set of tyres for use only during the first 30 minutes of the first practice session on Friday, to encourage teams to take to the track at that time without having to worry about using valuable tyre wear.”  This is primarily for the benefit of fans who have paid to be at the track and taken time off work to be there on a Friday morning.  To conserve tyres, teams have generally not been running for the first 30-or-so minutes of the 90-minute FP1 session, leaving everyone watching an empty track and cheering every time an engine revs in the distance.  Now, the teams will have no excuse not to run.

Finally, “[f]urther to a request from Mercedes, it will be permitted to supply engines to a maximum of four Formula One teams in 2014.”  The rich getting richer.  This just means that Mercedes will be able to make even more money from their engine program to subsidize their own team’s budget.  However, it may only last one year, as McLaren has already decided to switch from Mercedes to Honda engines for 2015.

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