Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, have published the final version of the 2010 rules and regulations ahead of the season opener in Bahrain in mid-March. The rule changes have been mentioned in previous drafts and the organisation have clarified a couple others. With this publication being final, the only changes that may now take place will have to be done so with the unanimous agreement of all teams competing this year, which in itself is a whole other topic that is still potentially up in the air.
Among the changes that have been confirmed is the adjustment made to the points structure. This is something that has caused some division among fans, but on the whole I feel has been generally accepted. Changing the points is perhaps one of the biggest and most visible things the governing body can do because of the knock-on effects it has with regards to the records. Furthermore, it can make following the sport from one year to the next more difficult – something I feel the constant changes to the rules do not help.
The sport has gone through this type of change in the past, and for a good long while the structure remained a constant 10-6-4-3-2-1 for the top six finishers. In 2003 however, it was decided to award the top eight finishers and the gap between P1 and P2 was reduced, thus creating the structure 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1. Since then this order has worked quite well, with many of the championships going down to the final race of the year and increasing the spectacle for the fans.
Bernie Ecclestone though, in his infinite wisdom (which I add sarcastically) decided that he wanted to change this last year, and proposed a radical solution to the apparent problem of drivers not always going for the win, but instead playing the strategy game as the season progressed. Ecclestone wanted to introduce medals for the top three finishers, much like the Olympic Games. Initially, it looked as though the FIA were behind this, although it is my impression that the majority of fans were not. Bernie’s idea was not well-thought out and caused more confusion than was necessary, especially as he intended to leave the constructor’s championship on the same structure with points awarded to the teams.
Thankfully, the FIA chose to ignore the ramblings of the old man but did however open discussions with the view of updating the points system. In late 2009, it was announced the sport would adopt a similar structure to MotoGP, awarding points to more competitors and thus giving the new teams a better chance to score and do well in their first years of competition. The new system was declared as 25-20-15-10-8-6-5-3-2-1, meaning the top ten would score and the difference between P1 and P2 increased once again.
With the new regulations, the system proposed in December has been tweaked ever-so-slightly, and now the drivers and teams will score 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1. This improves the difference between P1 and P2 to 7 points, equal to that between P2 and P3.
Also confirmed in the final draft of the rules is the fact that drivers who complete Q3 will have to start the race on the same tyres they used for their fastest qualifying lap, meaning that although no re-fuelling has finally abolished the nonsensical strategies adopted on Saturday, there will still be an element of tactics involved with the tyres. This may result in Q3 drivers running the harder compound of the two allowed in order to extend their first stint on Sunday. Or, we could see drivers go for a single banzai lap on the softer (and normally faster) compound before either pitting early and vacating the car or changing back to the harder tyre for safety. Thinking out aloud, I can see drivers waiting until the last moment in Q3 to go out and set a lap. As always though, there is much more to this than meets the eye and we will have to see how this plays out at the first race in Bahrain.
Exotic pitlane machinery has also been banned, presumably because of the emphasis now being placed on tyre changes. While I haven’t heard of teams intending to introduce new equipment to the pitlane, an additional rule now states that powered lifting devices are banned during the race. Previously (and presumably currently) when a car enters the pit box for new tyres, and front and rear are lifted on man-powered jacks, which essentially is completed in one swift movement from each end. Almost always the front goes up first as the person in charge of this end can wait in position and clench their bodies as a Formula One car hurtles towards them. The rear jack has be wheeled into place after the car has entered the box. However, in the time it takes to locate and position the air guns to undo the wheel nuts, the car is usually off the ground.
Testing has also been discussed, and in light of the number of driver substitutions last year, an extra day has been allowed for those teams who need to replace a driver mid-season. In 2009, Ferrari famously struggled in the second half of the year while Felipe Massa recuperated from his accident. Luca Badoer was charged with driving the F60, and although experienced, had not driven the car before and essentially embarrassed the Maranello squad. Jaime Alguersuari also caused some concern among the other drivers, the young Spaniard being given a promotion at Scuderia Toro Rosso despite having never driven a Formula One car around a circuit. Neither pilot were allowed to test the current car prior to their first race in it due to the in-season testing ban.
However, should a team require to change a driver in 2010, they will be allowed an extra day of testing providing the driver has not competed in the sport in the last two seasons and the test must be held at a non-championship circuit, like Jerez or Portimao. Popular testing venue Circuit de Catalunya is used for the Spanish Grand Prix, and therefore will be prohibited for such a test. Furthermore, the test must take place between 14 days prior and 14 days after the driver’s debut/returning race.
All is not lost though for teams wanting to substitute a driver with someone who has relevant experience. As the technical changes made to the cars is minimal, those who competed in 2009 will be able to get back into the groove much easier. Nick Heidfeld, who has recently been announced as the third driver at Mercedes, would be able to jump into the MGP-W01 and feel fairly comfortable from the get-go. Although different to the BMW he has been familiar with in previous years, the Mercedes shouldn’t be a completely unrecognisable machine to him.
The engine regulations have been tweaked as well, meaning that if a driver uses more than eight engines in a season, he will drop ten grid places at the first event the extra engine is used. This will continue unless another new engine is used, in which case the grid demotions will carry over. This means that if a driver uses two new engines at the tenth race, he will not be docked twenty grid places, but instead be demoted ten places at the tenth race, and ten places at the eleventh race as well.
Finally, a small change has been made to the formation lap procedures, stating that if a driver is slow away from the grid and cannot return to his original starting position by the first safety car line, he must start from the pitlane. This could delay a start because the driver, who is already falling behind the pack, will have to negotiate the pitlane while the field is lining up on the grid. The driver will then have to trundle down the pitlane at limited speed while avoiding the team personnel who are returning from the grid and wait at the end. Invariably, this will take longer than simply rolling around the final corner and tacking onto the back of the field. This situation is rarely seen though, so perhaps not so much of an issue.
So there we go, the ‘final’ 2010 rules and regulations have been published: what do you think of them? Will it improve the show, do they make sense, have I misunderstood something? Have your say in the comments below…
The full FIA Rules & Regulations can be downloaded from the FIA’s site.