Atlas F1

1998 Rules: Pros and Cons

by Matthew Reading, England
Formula One is going to be subject to major rule changes next year and many don't believe the changes will be in the right direction. Significantly, Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher have both come out as being opposed to the rules. Villeneuve has gone so far as to been involved in a bitter war of words with FIA president Max Mosley, calling the rule changes "a joke". I'm not an engineer and I'm only fifteen years old, but I have a fair amount of Formula One knowledge. I would like to take this opportunity to give you my opinion on what should be done.

First of all, there is a brief overview regarding the rule changes and the rationality behind them below. If you've heard it before, skip the next two paragraphs.

The rule changes are in two main parts, with cars being narrowed by 20cm and tyres now having grooves in them (3 at the front, 4 at the rear). The major motive behind this, says Moseley, is to increase safety. Speeds have increased dramatically this year and the grooved tyres will slash grip and, thus, cornering speed. Since, as Moseley says, the grip of the tyres is proportional to the energy of a crash, this will help increase safety. The change would be simple to police. If speeds escalate further, simply add a groove or two. This will lead to longer braking zones, which will increase overtaking opportunities -- something desired by all racing fans.

The theory behind the narrower car is it gives the designers less room to play with to create downforce. It will have the same affect as widening the circuit, giving more space for the drivers to race on.

So what does Villeneuve say? Well, he believes the fun will be taken out of Formula One, that the cars will be far too slow and this will allow less skilled drivers to compete easier. Another argument from the teams (all except Ferrari seem opposed to the changes) is it will be costly to research the rules in order to build a competitive car.

My personal opinion is somewhere between the two schools of thought. It is evident that something has to be done about the escalating speeds in Grand Prix racing. Otherwise, the sport will become ridiculously unsafe. Clearly, what needs to be cut are cornering speeds, and therefore grip, which is what Moseley says. However, I think he's going about it in the wrong way. When Moseley says that the grip of the tyres is proportional to the energy of the crash, what he means is the grip of the car. Grip can be reduced in two ways, either reducing the contact patch of the tyre (the grooves) or reducing downforce. I am in favour of the latter. It will have the same effect safety-wise (lowering corner speeds) and achieve the FIA's main goal.

However, there is another side to this. Although the FIA won't admit it, a viable reason for these regulations is to improve the show and increase overtaking opportunities. I am all in favour of this, as I believe that something has to be done about the difficulty of overtaking in Formula One. A solution to the problem cannot be determined unless the problem is known. So, what's the problem with the current situation of overtaking? Coming from drivers' comments, the main factor seems to be the massive loss of front downforce when running in turbulent air behind another car. The following car loses ground in the corners, making it impossible to get a significant tow down the straight. This slipstreaming problem has increased since smaller rear wings were introduced in '95, meaning that the car in front creates a smaller vacuum to tow the other car along.

In my opinion, the way to tackle the "dirty air" problem is to take the emphasis a car's grip away from the aerodynamics and back to the tyres. A contemporary Formula One car gets the majority of its grip from the wings. Therefore, it loses a massive percentage of its grip when running in dirty air. If downforce was cut dramatically, the percentage of grip coming from the wings would be less. So, when running in dirty air, the total percentage of grip loss would be much less as tyres are unaffected by dirty air. To increase the bias towards tyre wear further, you could increase the size of the tyres as long as this didn't make the grip level too dangerous. This would also increase drag and, hence, the opportunity of getting a tow.

Any rule changes, including the ones I have suggested, are going to favour the haves over the have-nots. The Formula One field will most likely become more spread out again after this year's brilliant close racing. However, this is unavoidable, as there will be rule changes. The regulations I have proposed would have the same effect as the grooved tyres in increasing safety, but would also improve the racing and improve overtaking in Formula One. The cars would also slide more, making the job of the driver more difficult. This way, everyone would be happy. I don't know how these could be put in to practice, as I don't have the knowledge of F1 aerodynamics to be able to do so, but this would surely be the ideal solution.

There is one more "improvement" I would like to mention. It has nothing to do with the technical regulations, but is worth thinking about. Anyone who has seen an Indycar race at the Cleveland circuit will know what a difference a wide track makes for overtaking. Run on mostly aircraft runways, this race never fails to have an extraordinary amount of overtaking and excitement in it. The wide track means more lines are available through the corners, and the racing is always great. How about it, Max? It might be interesting to hold a race with a similar design.

Matthew Reading

Matthew is, as he puts it, a 15 year old "fanatical F1 fan" from England. We would add the word "intelligent" too.

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