F1 2011 Season Preview: The Rules

Welcome to part two of our 2011 Formula One World Championship season preview. Today, we look at the new rules that have been implemented this season. In the continuous search to lower costs, level the playing field and increase the quality of races, the FIA have put into place several new rules for this season. Last year’s rules seemed to shakes things up enough to keep the whole season interesting. Will this year’s new rules make the racing better still?

Adjustable Rear Wing
Gone for this year is the adjustable front wing and in its place is an adjustable rear wing. The long and short of it is that a driver who is trailing another by less than a second can lower their rear wing in order to aid overtaking. With this being F1, it’s actually a bit more complex than that. While the wing can be activated when a trailing driver is one second behind another car, the system will only be active in pre-designated parts of the track (presumably straights). The driver will be notified on his steering wheel that he can activate the wing and it will remain down until the brakes are used.

There has been a lot of talk about this new rule. Most of the criticism is about how the adjustable rear wing boosting straight-line speed is like something out of a video game. There is also complaints about manufacturing overtaking which takes away from the race as a whole. My question is what the electronic system uses as criteria to allow the wing to be lowered. Is it activated when trailing any car (like a backmarker) or just a car you’re racing for position? Who determines what the predetermined wing adjustment zones and will viewers know what it is? Will viewers actually know when the wing has been adjusted? I’m not completely opposed to the idea of preventing races from being parades but I can’t endorse it until we see it in action, let alone when actually get some concrete details as to how it really works.

After an agreement between the teams removed KERS for the 2010 season, it will return in 2011 in largely the same fashion it did in 2009. The KERS will still provide an 80 horsepower boost when activated and will still only provide a boost for six seconds per lap. Rules have been set out for upcoming seasons that will see an increase in KERS boost power and boost duration. For now, it’s a return to 2009. This season, teams are focusing on weight distribution based on the placement of the device. As a result of the return of KERS, the minimum weight of each dry chassis has been raised from 620 kg to 640 kg.

Engines and Gearboxes
No change has been made to the engine usage rule. Only eight engines can be used per car over the course of the season. However, last year the engines only had to last for 19 Grand Prix weekends. This season, they will have to last up to 20 races this season depending on the fate of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Gearboxes will have to be more durable this season. The sporting regulations now state that the gearboxes must last five races, up from the four races per the sporting regs last season.

Ban of Double Diffusers and F-Ducts
The ban of the two most recent aerodynamic fads was made at the request of the teams. The continued development of the double diffuser and f-duct would have cost millions of dollars for the teams to only gain fractions of a second. The double diffuser was banned after two seasons. The premise behind the ban is to reduce downforce in order to make the cars easier to overtake. Less downforce results in cleaner air at the back of the car which reduces the downforce loss for the trailing car.

The f-duct ban was made primarily to reduce costs. The irony of that line of thought is that more money would have been saved by banning the system last season before the majority of teams developed an f-duct for 2010. However, the straight-line speed and overtaking aid provided by the f-duct has been replaced by the above mentioned adjustable rear wing.

The cars are still running four tyres on the car. There will still be four different dry tyre compounds (super-soft, soft, medium and hard) and two wet weather compounds (intermediate and wet). The big change has been the change from Bridgestone tyres to Pirelli. The Italian tyre manufacturer has been hard at work testing for next season with a borrowed 2009 Toyota and with the two-day test at Abu Dhabi after season’s end. Pirelli says that their tyre compounds will degrade faster this year than Bridgestone’s last year in order to encourage a return to two-stop races. Last season saw a one-stop strategy become the best (and essentially only) way to go. Given how the Canadian Grand Prix turned out with Bridgestone tyres getting chewed up and spit out by the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Pirelli’s plan is definitely a very good way to improve the racing. Sebastian Vettel has gone on record as saying races could end up being three or four stops because of how quickly the tyres fall off.

107% Rule
With the return of cars running light in qualifying last season, the FIA reintroduced the 107% rule for this season. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen the rule in place thanks to the rules mandating qualifying with the same fuel that the race will be started with. The 107% rule states that a car must post qualifying time within 107% of the fastest car in order to be eligible to race. As all cars will be on track for Q1, that’s the times that will be used for the application of this rule. For example, if the fastest time in Q1 is 1:40.000 (100 seconds), any car with a time slower than 1:47.000 (107 seconds) will not qualify for the race. This really only will be a detriment to the newer teams. A team like HRT will struggle to make races with this rule in place. Fortunately, the rule includes a provision for stewards to grant entries to cars that didn’t meet 107% if there are exceptional circumstances. However, this was never used very often so I wouldn’t count on having full fields at every race.


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