AvaTrade explains the F1 rulebook
Together, with our Official Trading Partner AvaTrade we guide you through the intricacies of Formula One and help you make sense of the rules and regulations you need to know.
Formula One can be a daunting place – the sport is notoriously complex. The sporting and technical regulations alone stretch a total of 290 pages and even if you read them from cover to cover, you'd still be scratching your head over the whys and wherefores of some of the rules.
Whether you're completely new to F1, have fallen head over heels after watching Drive to Survive or just looking to sharpen your already encyclopaedic knowledge of the sport, we've teamed up with our Official Trading Partner AvaTrade to help you make sense of the rules and regulations you need to know.
In the first instalment of our living, breathing guide, which will be updated throughout the season, we broke down the intricacies of F1 Sprint as the intriguing race weekend format made its return at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix before dissecting the rules around the Safety Car in the second instalment.
Ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix – a race where securing a good grid position on Saturday is paramount due to limited opportunities for overtaking around the narrow streets of the Principality – we took a closer look at how Formula One qualifying has evolved through the years.
Now, before the Spanish Grand Prix, it's time to explore the Drag Reduction System, its predecessors, and how it works.
Formula One has been using a switchable overtaking device – the Drag Reduction System – for over a decade. It has its fans and detractors as DRS balances technology against entertainment. How did it come to be? To answer that, it's worth looking back at the history of wings on F1 cars.
When Formula One engineers first started playing with wings in the late 1960s, they were quickly surprised by the amount of aerodynamic load that could be generated, pushing the car to the ground. Racing cars suddenly had more grip and more speed. It was eye-opening. But these early wings were mounted on tall struts and would frequently shear and break – often leading to huge accidents.
Beefier wings were mandated for the remainder of the 1970s for safety's sake, and then ground effect aero arrived in F1 in 1977. This saw grip generated by huge underbody tunnels, generating mammoth levels of downforce and significantly faster cornering speeds as teams began to push the limits. What was critical was sealing the car to the track as effectively as possible, so the governing body brought in minimum ride-height regulations.
F1 teams would make sure the car complied with the rules while stationary – the only point at which it could be measured, obviously – but could easily be lowered once out on the track, thus defeating the aim of the regulations. That has effectively remained the same ever since as teams ensure their bodywork can pass the FIA's static load tests, but push the envelope as soon as the car is running at speed on the track.
Article 3.2.2 of the FIA Technical Regulations stipulates that 'all aerodynamic components or bodywork… must be rigidly secured and immobile.' There are compliance tolerances built into the rules – a millimetre or two here and there – and the bodywork of every car is measured and load-tested at each and every Grand Prix.
In 2010, the innovative F-Duct solution allowed the driver to stall the rear wing by sealing a cockpit duct with their elbow, thus diverting air away from the rear wing down the straights. There were no moveable aerodynamics but this was outlawed for the following season.
But in 2011, teams were allowed to use DRS for the first time, allowing the driver to open a flap on the rear wing and momentarily reduce drag and increase top speed along the straights. It is still the only part of the car where a moveable aerodynamic device is permitted.
How does DRS work?
The DRS flap is operated by the driver toggling a switch in the cockpit, which activates a hydraulic servo that flicks the rear wing mainplane upwards – in effect, 'opening' the rear wing.
When can DRS be used?
DRS can be deployed after the opening lap of the sprint; and the opening two laps of a Grand Prix. It is disabled in the wet, and at the discretion of the race director if conditions or visibility make it unsafe to use.
It automatically toggles off as soon as the driver hits the brakes and can also be de-activated with a second press of the switch.
How is DRS usage detected?
It is permitted in DRS Zones, only when a driver crosses an activation strip less than one second behind the car ahead. The DRS deployment zones are defined by the FIA, who have managed and finessed them for over a decade. Each deployment zone is preceded by an activation point – cars are measured through this timing strip.
Sometimes, such as in Baku this year, DRS Zones are shortened, because the benefit they offer is too great; conversely, a fourth zone was added to this year's Australian Grand Prix to further assist with overtaking around a track where it is typically tricky. It's a balancing act.
What are the benefits of DRS?
Teams have optimised DRS in different ways – so there's no single measurable uplift, it varies from car to car. In general, however, deploying DRS increases top speeds by around 8-12km/h (5-7.5mph) and is a helpful assist when passing another car.
Qualifying is as easy as Q1, Q2 and Q3 – but it's not always been that way.
Since the World Championship began, the grid for the Grand Prix was set with one-hour timed sessions on Friday and Saturday. But, in 1996, television audiences had grown, and broadcasters soon realised that the qualifying sessions needed to be shorter and sharper.
An hour-long format was ushered in for 1996, in which drivers were given four sets of tyres and 12 laps to give their best. This meant a lull in proceedings as drivers waited for the surface to rubber in, and then a frantic end to the session.
Qualifying for the 1997 European Grand Prix in Jerez was particularly exciting as three drivers set exactly the same time of 1m 21.072s. Jacques Villeneuve took pole ahead of Michael Schumacher and Heinz-Harald Frentzen as the Canadian set his time first, a rule that continues to decide dead heats to this day.
That system lasted until the end of the 2002 season when 'one-shot' qualifying was brought in. Each driver would set their fastest lap on Friday and the order would be reversed for a qualifying shootout on Saturday, giving the slowest driver from Friday the most 'rubbered-in' surface and a theoretical advantage.
One-shot qualifying was deemed a success but it wasn't easy to ensure parity given track conditions would change rapidly over the session – and the arrival of rain would hurt some drivers disproportionately. In 2004, the one-lap sessions were moved to Saturday but the flaws were still evident.
Perhaps the most convoluted qualifying format, 2005's aggregate system saw the grid decided by taking the average of times set over two single-lap qualifying runs: one on Saturday and another on Sunday. This was changed in 2006 with the introduction of the Q1, Q2 and Q3 system that is similar – but not identical – to the one we have now.
The format was tweaked and honed with the most significant change coming in 2010 when a ban on refuelling was brought in, while the top 10 were no longer forced to start the race on the set of tyres with which they set their fastest lap in Q2. There was also a complicated timed elimination process that lasted but one race (Australia 2016).
Currently, Saturday qualifying works like so: Q1 lasts 18 minutes, Q2 lasts 15 minutes, and Q3 lasts 12 minutes. Five drivers are eliminated and their grid positions are set in Q1, and the same goes for Q2, setting the grid from 20th place to 11th place and leaving 10 drivers to fight it out for pole in Q3. The format does change for F1 Sprint – scroll down for more on that.
Does the current system work? Yes; it's fair, not easily manipulated, not convoluted, and meritocratic. But it's always going to be under the microscope as the sport looks to improve the spectacle.
What is here to stay is the 107 per cent rule. This ensures that only cars that qualify within 107 per cent of pole position can compete in the race, eliminating slow competitors. That rule was introduced in 1996 when there were 11 teams on the grid, and while the 107 per cent rule was dropped when 'one-shot' qualifying was introduced in 2003, it's been in place ever since 2011.
Since 2011, only four drivers have been excluded from the race for a slow showing in qualifying.
As for tyres, teams can use any compound in Q1, Q2, and Q3, though you'll generally see red-banded Soft tyres on the cars. Those who make it to Q3 have to hand a set of Soft compounds to Pirelli, giving those 10 cars a slight disadvantage on race day.
So, it's all pretty simple. But there's another change coming.
For two Grands Prix in 2023, Pirelli will mandate the use of Hard tyres in Q1, Mediums tyres in Q2 and Soft tyres in Q3 as part of ongoing sustainability changes. That should shake things up even more.
The Safety Car
The Safety Car is a common sight in modern Formula One – but that wasn't always the case.
First used at the wet 1973 Canadian Grand Prix, it picked up the wrong lead car – a mistake that resulted in McLaren's Peter Revson apparently regaining a lap to win the race. Or did Emerson Fittipaldi win? Or Howden Ganley? Nobody's really sure. Yes, it really was that chaotic.
Appearing intermittently through the years, it wasn't until 1993 that Safety Car usage became more streamlined, and it's been a regular ever since.
The Safety Car effectively neutralises a race, safeguarding competitors or officials attending an incident that's not serious enough to warrant the full stoppage of a session. When deployed, the Safety Car joins the racetrack, tasking drivers with forming up behind it at reduced speed. No overtaking is allowed – until drivers are given explicit instructions, usually a signal for backmarkers to unlap themselves. And Safety Car laps are counted as regular race laps – they don't add extra laps to the tally.
Of course, it wouldn't be F1 if teams couldn't eke out a strategic advantage from the deployment of a Safety Car. In simple terms, stopping for tyres during a Safety Car period is strategically advantageous – because drivers lose less ground in the pits when the whole field is slowed.
That explains why there's usually a flurry of activity during a Safety Car period and, equally, why some teams optimistically hang their strategies on their arrival at certain races.
Then, of course, there's the Virtual Safety Car. Introduced in 2015, the VSC is an enforced speed/time limit that's enforced upon every competitor on the track. It's quicker and easier to implement than a full Safety Car, is used for smaller incidents and carries less strategic advantage; it's usually over, or converted to a full Safety Car, before teams can roll those tactical dice.
Sprint race rules
The F1 Sprint Race was introduced in 2021 as a way to inject extra variety and risk into the race weekend. The rationale was that, with Saturday's Sprint result generating the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix, there was added scope for unpredictability.
The results were a mixed bag: the shorter format of the Sprint (100km – basically one-third Grand Prix distance) meant there was less scope for variety; the low points allocation (three points for a win in 2021; for '22 it was upgraded to eight points for victory down to one point for eighth) gave drivers fewer incentives to take risks, and the somewhat confusing qualifying format (quali on Friday saw the pole winner start first in the Sprint, with Saturday’s winner on ‘pole’ for Sunday) was unpopular with fans.
The Sprint was rolled out at three races in 2021 (Silverstone, Monza and Interlagos) and ’22 (Imola, Austria and Interlagos). This year, there are six Sprints – at Azerbaijan, Austria, Belgium, Qatar, USA and Brazil – and a revised format.
Now, a sole practice session will precede Friday's qualifying session, which will set the grid for Sunday's Grand Prix. A separate quali session on Saturday morning will establish the starting order for the Sprint, effectively making Saturday an independent event.
Otherwise, the format stays the same: eight points down to one for the top eight finishers, no pit-stops and 100km maximum distance.
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