F1 2016 Season Preview: Rules Changes

Day two of the 2016 Formula One season preview has us taking a look at the new rules for the new season. Most of the major rules changes will come next season when F1 introduces the new aero regulations. For now, the only significant rules changes for the 2016 relate to the tyres. Pirelli is bringing three dry tyre compounds to each race and overhauling the tyre regs as you know them.

Tyre Compound Allocation, Selection and Use

I can probably dedicate a whole post to trying to explain Formula One’s new tyre rules. The short explanation is that Pirelli is bringing three dry tyre compounds to each race. Teams are allotted 13 sets of dry tryes per weekend and they can select 10 of them from the three compounds available for each car.

The proper detailed explanation will probably take a few weeks to figure out. Even as the season progresses, the teams are going to be learning about which tyres work best where and how many they will need.

f1-2016-preview-pirelli-tyresSo let’s start with the easy part. Teams have to run at least two compounds during the race (if it’s a dry race) and they are obliged to start the race on the tyres they set their fastest Q2 time on. Teams are required to select their tyres eight weeks before a European race and sixteen weeks before a fly-away race so Pirelli can manufacture sufficient inventory for the weekend. If a team misses the deadline, they will be handed a default allocation reported to be three sets of the hardest tyres, three of the softest tyres and four of the middle compound.

The three compounds teams don’t choose will be automatically selected by Pirelli. One of those will be the softest compound of the three and is a designated Q3 tyre. If a driver doesn’t make Q3, they can use that set in the race. The other two are designated race tyres that may or may not be different compounds. Teams must run one of the two sets during the race but are not obliged to run both.

To encourage teams to run in practice sessions to liven up the weekend for fans, Pirelli is taking back tyres over the course of the weekend and they cannot be used again after that point in time. After the first 40 minutes of Free Practice 1, the teams must return a set of tyres to Pirelli. They must do so again at the conclusion of FP1. Each team must return two sets of tyres at the conclusion of both FP2 and FP3. That leaves teams with seven sets of tyres for the race. Of those, two are designated for use in the race and one is only available for use in Q3 or the race. If you make Q3, you hand back the designated Q3 set of tyres at the end of the session.

That means you have your Q2 set that you start on, the two designated race tyre sets that haven’t been used, the Q3 set of tyres if you didn’t make Q3 and three other sets of tyres that you likely used in qualifying. So if you’re one of the Q3 runners, you have your Q2 set and five more sets of tyres for use in the race, of which likely only the two race sets are unused. If you didn’t make Q3, you have your Q2 set (or free allocation for those who didn’t make it that far) plus six more sets of tyres, of which at least three sets (the Q3 and two race sets) are fresh.

This is going to make strategy a very big part of Formula One in 2016 and somewhat down to luck and planning. While you know what Pirelli is going to bring for the race compounds when you get to the track, you have to plan your weekend running and race strategy around having to use two dry compounds and using at least one of the two designated race sets of tyres. If both of Pirelli’s race sets are the same compound, that would make your planning work a little more difficult.

The introduction of Elimination Qualifying (see below) likely means that teams will have to put in more laps in Q1 and Q2 to get through to Q3. So giving back almost half of your tyres after the three free practice sessions could leave teams having to re-use worn qualifying tyres in the race if they don’t like Pirelli’s race set allocations. If you’re at a track where you want to run the hardest compound twice in the race and only one set is included in the race tyres, you’ll have to carry a set through qualifying unused since they won’t do you any good in quali.

Trying to logic it out in your head, it makes you glad that you’re not a race strategist or engineer this season. If you’re Ferrari and have the pace along with ease of use on the tyres, these new rules play into your hands since you can select more of the middle and softest compounds and carry them through quali and into the race for longer stints than the field. If you chew through your tyres like Williams can, this could be a long season and juggling tyre selection and use.

Ultra-Soft Tyre

f1-2016-preview-pirelli-ultra-softI didn’t mention above but Pirelli has increased the number of dry tyre compounds to five for this season. The new purple-sidewalled Ultra-Soft tyres are added to the line-up. As the name implies, they will be grippier than the super-softs but at the cost of a shorter life. They’ll be primarily used on street circuits and have been confirmed for Monaco and Canada so far. Those two races had softs and super-softs allocated last year. Austria, Singapore, Russia and Abu Dhabi also had that allocation so they along with Baku/Europe could see purple tyres this year.

Elimination Qualifying

It’s been a few years since Formula One has muddled with the qualifying format so to spice up the race, they’re going to change qualifying again. The hope is that the new Elimination Qualifying format will trip up the teams in order to mix-up the grid. While teams can get caught out, the cream inevitably rises to the top so I don’t see this working.

There will still be three qualifying sessions but drivers may not see the end of them. That’s because, in the most video game style of qualifying ever, the slowest driver will be eliminated from qualifying and his grid position locked in at specified intervals during the session.

f1-2016-australia-quali-infographicSo let’s look at the three sessions. Q1 is 16 minutes long. Seven minutes into Q1, the slowest driver is eliminated. Every 90 seconds after that, the slowest remaining driver is eliminated until seven drivers are eliminated and 15 remain. The mid-session eliminations are final. Only at the chequered flag can drivers complete a lap and elimination be determined as was the traditional knockout qualifying procedure.

Q2 is similar. It is 15 minutes long and seven drivers will be eliminated by its conclusion. At six minutes, the first driver is eliminated. Eliminations continue every 90 seconds until there are only eight drivers left. Q3 is 14 minutes long and will again eliminate seven drivers. Eliminations start at the five-minute mark of the session until one driver is left standing.

As I alluded to in the tyre section of the rules update, given the elimination format, teams will have to take extra care of their tyre use and selection in case they need to make multiple runs during a qualifying session. F1 just seems to be loading up on rules to encourage more running while stretching four power units over the course of 21 races which is up from last year’s 19.

Driver Coaching over the Radio Ban

The radio ban (as it is colloquially known) was originally introduced in 2014 ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix before being quickly being lightened and then increased again for 2015 and is now more or less enforced in full for 2016.

It’s not a full ban on radio communication between the team and driver. The ban was introduced in 2014 to stop engineers from coaching drivers around the lap with information about racing lines, braking points, gear selection and so on. The original ban included guidance to drivers about the operation of their car including fuel mixes and ERS settings.

The current rules of radio communications are limited to a few broad categories. These include messages about car and track safety, pit stop strategy, rules reminders and gaps between cars. If you’ve played F1 2015, you’ve basically inadvertently experienced the new radio rules already.

Screamer Pipe

In order to increase the sound of the cars in the new engine formula, teams now have new “screamer pipes” which allows excess exhaust gasses to exit through a wastegate and pass through a separate exhaust pipe rather than passing through to charge the turbo or ERS. Pat Symonds told Sky’s Ted Kravitz that this will result in 12% noise increase but will also reduce the efficiency of the ERS.

Superlicense Qualification

Max Verstappen’s F1 records as youngest driver to start a race and to score points are likely to never be beaten. That’s because the FIA has introduced a new system to grant a Super License to drive in F1 which would have likely prevented Max from entering F1 last year.

The new rule requires a driver to earn 40 qualification points from a number of major racing series based on championship finishes from the previous three years. Championship wins in the likes of GP2, European F3 and IndyCar are automatic qualifiers because they’re worth 40 points. Many other series require a longer track record of results to become eligible for a Super License.

There is an exception, though. The old 300 km in a current F1 car rule is still in place. The FIA can still vote to award a Super License outside of the qualification points system should an applicant demonstrate “outstanding ability in single-seater formula cars” and have run for at least 300 kilometres in a Formula One car.

Miscellaneous Sporting Regulation Changes

Stewards will be given greater discretion in enforcing track limits for this season. We saw Alonso get a time penalty for abusing the track limits in Sochi. The phrasing of the new rule is quite vague but it presumably will include time penalties for repeat offenders.

Drivers who cause a race start to be aborted will be required to start the race from the pit lane rather than on the grid.

The DRS will no longer be inactive for two laps after a virtual safety car period. Immediately upon the withdrawal of the virtual safety car, DRS will be active. The two-lap inactivity period will still be enforced after safety car periods.

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