F1 2012 Season Preview: The Rules

Welcome to part two of our 2012 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, improve safety and increase the quality of races, the FIA have put into place several new rules for this season. Last year’s rules suited Red Bull quite well as they and Sebastian Vettel dominated the championship. Will this year’s new rules put someone else on top?

Exhaust-Blown Diffusers
The most critical change heading into this season is the banning of off-throttle blown diffusers, more commonly known as exhaust-blown diffusers. In 2011, most teams ran a system which caused fuel to continue through the engine so as to produce exhaust gasses which exited through the under-car exiting exhaust. This increased the downforce of the car by forcing more air under it which has to flow through more quickly which results in lower air pressure under the car relative to the top of it which aided in essentially sucking the car to the ground.

In 2012, the FIA is outlawing the engine mapping at allows the cars to blow hot exhaust gasses out when the driver is off the throttle and by mandating the position of the exhaust outlet. The sporting regulations mandate that the exhaust outlet is on the top of the car inside a specified area and mandate the angle that the exhaust pipes point. Now, instead of the exhaust being used to generate downforce from the underbody and diffuser of the car, teams will be pointing exhaust toward the rear wing in order to aid airflow over the car or increase downforce.

Nose Height
This is the most obvious change that we will see this year. Pre-2012, the maximum height of the nose was 625 mm (or 62.5 cm) above the reference plane (essentially, the top of the wooden plank underneath the middle of the car). For 2012, the rules have changed on nose height in order to mitigate the risk of a car being launched over another should the nose hit another cars rear tyre. Now, the nose height is limited to 550 mm (55.0 cm) above the reference plane ahead of the front crash bulkhead (where the front nose cone attaches to the rest of the chassis).

As most teams are running an evolution of the prior year’s car, they’ve kept the 625 mm nose behind the bulkhead in order to keep as much area under the nose as possible to aid airflow under the car for the purposes of generating downforce. This has resulted in the thin “platypus nose” ahead of the bulkhead becoming the most popular solution on the grid. Teams are finding that using a step between the 550 mm section of nose and the 625 mm section provides the most beneficial design in terms of overall aerodynamics. Aesthetically, these platypus noses are a nightmare but they seem to be the way to go as McLaren, the only front-running team not running a platypus nose, has yet to lead a day of pre-season testing. The FIA has already indicated that a rules modification is coming for 2013 which will attempt to eliminate the platypus noses.

Reactive Ride Height Suspensions
Lotus (formerly Renault) had sent their reactive ride height suspension to the FIA for approval before the season. This system would use small hydraulic cylinders to keep the front end of the car at its optimal height during running.

It was approved but suddenly the FIA was inundated with applications from other teams. So the FIA tried to save everyone some time and money by banning reactive ride height. They essentially called it a moveable aerodynamic device which makes it illegal under the rules. That quick about-face makes you wonder why the FIA would approve the system in the first place.

Tyres and Tyre Allocation
Pirelli’s 2012 spec tyres will see a reduction in the difference in lap speeds between the soft and hard (option and prime, if you’d prefer) tyres at each Grand Prix. Last year, Pirelli said the performance gap was 1.5 seconds per lap between the compounds. In 2012, Pirelli is targeting 0.7 seconds per lap.

As in 2011, Pirelli will provide teams with 11 sets of dry tyres for a Grand Prix weekend. Teams will again received six sets of the hard (prime) compound tyres and five sets of the soft (option) tyre. The difference is when the teams will receive the tyres. In 2011, teams received two sets of hard and one set of soft tyres from use during the first and second practise sessions (both run on Friday). The remaining four sets of each compound were released to teams on Saturday. Now, teams will have all 11 sets of dry tyres from the start of the weekend.

Defensive Driving
The FIA have added a clarification on drivers defending their position this year. In prior years, it was an unwritten expectation that drivers who moved off-line to defend and returned to the racing line would leave space on the edge of the track for the other car. Now, it has been written into the sporting regulations that drivers moving off-line then back would leave at least one car width worth of space on the edge of the track on approach to the corner.

Leaving the Racing Surface
Drivers now must not leave the racing circuit without a justifiable reason. After a number of incidents of drivers cutting part of the track to save fuel, cars are no longer permitted to leave the circuit layout unless they have a good reason.

Unlapping Under the Safety Car
New for this season is a version of NASCAR’s wave around rule. Lapped cars will be permitted to unlap themselves under the safety car so that the leaders will be grouped together at the head of the field to improve racing.

Time Limit
After last year’s Canadian Grand Prix which ran 4 hours and 4 minutes from the start of the race to the eventual checkered flag, the FIA have added an overall time limit to an event in addition to the two-hour limit on running time. Now, a Grand Prix race session can last no longer than four hours, including red flags. If this rule was in place last season, the Canadian Grand Prix would’ve ended four minutes sooner which would’ve left Jenson Button two laps short of catching and passing Vettel for the win.

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