Saturday, July 19, 2014

Rule changes in F1 in the past ten years and my opinion on them

Niki Lauda has suggested that the rule changes of the last ten years should be reconsidered. (Original article in German) The article lists the 77 rule changes of the last ten years. 45 of them were in the Technical Regulations and 32 in Sporting Regulations. Here are the changes and what I think about them.

Changes to the Technical Regulations for 2005

  • The engines must last 2 Grand Prix weekends (instead of one)
  • The front wing must be at the height of 15cm (instead of 10cm)
  • The rear wing must be moved 15cm closer to the car
  • The diffuser may be at maximum 12.5cm high
The longlife engines have been something I have never really liked. In my opinion, racing cars should be build so that they can just finish the race but could hardly last any longer. Finishing the race should be a technical challenge. As the engines are nowadays build to last multiple races, technical retirements have become quite rare in recent years. I would really like to see the return for new engines for each GP weekend but that is obviously very unlikely to happen. That would increase costs too much.

As for the aerodynamic changes for 2005, I don't have much to say. Obviously they were intented to help overtaking as the cars' aerodynamic sensitivity has made following another car so difficult.

Changes to the Sporting Regulations for 2005

  • The qualification consists of two single laps the times of which will be aggregated
  • Tyre changes during the race are banned
  • Teams from the fifth place in the Constructors' Championship may run a third car on Friday
The single-lap qualifying didn't work too well in F1. The previous format with 12 laps in 60 minutes didn't have much action early in the session but the single lap qualifying lacked the intensity of the last minutes in the previous format.

Banning tyre changes was a bad decision in my opinion. Having one set of tyres for the race forced drivers to look more after their tyres, and I don't think that kind of tyre management belongs to F1.

Allowing a third car for lower-placed teams wasn't a good rule in my opinion. After a weak 2004 season, McLaren had a third car for Friday practices whereas their title rival Renault didn't have one. That sounds like un unfair rule.

Changes to the Technical Regulations for 2006

  • Engines with 8 cylinders and 2.4 liter capacity
That was obviously not a very popular rule change back then after 3-litre V10s. But now people are missing even those V8s and their sound.

Changes to the Sporting Regulations for 2006

  • Qualification with a three-phase knockout system
  • Tyre changes are again allowed
The single-lap qualifying wasn't very popular as it lacked the intensity of the former qualifying format. The three-phase qualifying brought that intensity back but the knockout system means there is action on track already early in the qualifying.

Reintroducing the tyre changes was a good thing in my opinion. As I wrote above, I think one set of tyres for a race required too much tyre management.

Changes to the Technical Regulations for 2007

  • Maximum RPM of engines 19,000, development frozen
I was sceptical after 2006 about how the engine homologation will work out. I was afraid that one manufacturer will have a better engine than others and the others can't catch up in the following seasons. Well, the same engines in 2013 were pretty equal in performance, even though Renault had been given a permission to develop their engine before 2009 because they were behind others because of a different rule interpretation. But now there are new engines and their development for next seasons is restricted. My fear from 2006 may happen now; it is unsure if other manufacturers can catch Mercedes as they can't design a completely new engine.

Changes to the Sporting Regulations for 2007

  • The Friday practice consists of two 90min sessions (instead of two 60min sessions)
  • During a Safety Car period, the pit lane remains closed until all cars are in queue behind the Safety Car
  • Single supply tyres: During the race, both tyre compounds must be used
  • Maximum of 14 tyre sets per driver per race
  • Maximum of 30,000 testing kilometers per team
Costs have been tried to cut by limiting testing outside race weekends and the practice sessions were made longer to offer more testing during the race weekends.

I have had mixed feelings about single-supply tyres. On one hand, I think the tyre war belongs to F1. On the other hand, tyres may have played a bit too big role. In 2006, there were some obvious Bridgestone races and some obvious Michelin races. That was a bit too predictable. When it comes to the mandatory use of both compounds, I am not completely sure it improves racing. Most drivers will have the same optimal tyre strategy, even though it enables some gambles with strategy. But it means there are some drivers with different tyre compounds so that should create some overtaking. I wouldn't say the mandatory use of both compounds is such a bad rule. The limited number of tyre sets per weekend obviously helps to cut costs.

The Safety Car rules for 2007 were changed to prevent the race to pits during yellow flags before the Safety Car. The downside of those rules was that you can't exploit the lead you had before the Safety Car to have a pitstop plus if you had to pit for refuelling before pitting was allowed again, you got a penalty. Luckily that rule isn't anymore in effect.

Changes to the Technical Regulations for 2008

  • Introduction of standard electronics, no more traction control
  • Gearbox must last 4 GP weekends
A reason for introducing the previously banned traction control in 2001 was that it was impossible to police. Standard electorics enabled banning it again. I think the ban of traction control is a good thing. You can hear how people say that today's F1 cars are too easy to drive, the lack of traction control makes them at least a bit more difficult.

My opinion on longlife gearboxes is similar to my opinion on longlife engines. In my opinion, no components should be required to last more than one weekend. But the longlife gearboxes are to restrict costs so they are there to stay.

Changes to the Sporting Regulations for 2008

  • Spare cars are banned
Not a big deal in my opinion. That may have reduced the number of mechanics needed so would cut costs a bit.

Changes to the Technical Regulations for 2009

  • The big aero reform with 180cm wide front wings (instead of 140cm)
  • 75cm wide rear wings (instead of 100cm)
  • 95cm high rear wings (instead of 80cm)
  • Diffuser height 17.5cm in center, 12.5cm outside
  • Winglets and fins on the bodywork banned
  • Return of slick tyres
  • Maximum RPM of engines 18,000
  • Maximum of 8 engines per year
  • KERS allowed, 82 hp for 6.7 seconds per lap
The new aerodynamics rules were aimed to help overtaking by enabling to follow a car ahead closer than previously. Unfortunately it is still difficult to follow a car ahead in fast corners where you could gain more time than in slow corners, so overtaking is still difficult. One downside of the 2009 regulations was that in tight racing, the wide front wings got easier damaged than previously. The return to slicks was aimed to compensate the loss of downforce by having more mechanical grip.

As it has became obvious, I don't really like the idea of longlife components but I have preferred the rules for engine life since 2009. Now you don't automatically get a penalty from an engine change unless you have used too many engines during the season or the car is in Parc Ferme after the qualifying.

The introduction of KERS was obviously something F1 had to do. They had to bring some eco aspect to F1, even though the road relevance of F1 KERS is debatable.

Changes to the Sporting Regulations for 2009

  • Pit lane during Safety Car periods again open, delta time for the inlap
  • Maximum of 15,000 testing kilometers and 20 test days
  • Maximum of 60 wind tunnel hours per week, 60% models at maximum, maximum of 40 teraflops computer capacity
The pit lane could again be kept open during a Safety Car period as with the delta time for pit stops, drivers were prevented from racing to the pits under yellow flags.

In order to cut costs, testing as well as the use of wind tunnels and computational fluid dynamics has been restricted. Personally I must say, I don't miss in-season testing so much. The downside of restricted on-track testing is that it favours teams with better wind tunnel and CFD facilities whereas smaller teams would be more in line with the big teams in on-track testing. On the other hand, unlimited track testing would mean that the richest teams could spend huge amounts of money in developing the car what smaller teams couldn't do.

Changes to the Technical Regulations for 2010

  • Tyre width restricted to 245mm (front) and 325mm (rear)
  • Minimum weight 620kg (instead of 605kg)
  • KERS voluntarily abandoned
The front tyres were too wide in relation to the rear tyres in 2009, so they were made narrower. But as a reason to return to slicks was to provide more mechanical grip, why did the FIA make the front tyres narrower and not make the rear tyres wider? Wider rear tyres would have brought more mechanical grip and made the cars less aero-dependent.

In 2009, KERS didn't bring much advantage; the two best cars of 2009 didn't even have KERS. The weight of KERS affected to the weight distribution of the car and to reduce that disadvantage, the minimum weight was increased, even though the teams had agreed not to use KERS in 2010.

Changes to the Sporting Regulations for 2010

  • New points system 25-18-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 (instead of 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1)
  • Refuelling banned
  • 11 tyre sets per driver per GP weekend (instead of 14)
  • Maximum cost of customer engines €9 million
  • 15 testing days (before the season) + 3 (after the season) with 1 car per team
  • At a restart after a Safety Car period, overtaking allowed after the SC line at pit entry (instead after the start/finish line)
  • Maximum of 47 staff members per team at track
The aim of the new points system was to increase the value of race wins. The previous system had the opposite aim, to reduce the points difference between winning and finishing second, in order to reduce team orders. But the problem was that the incentive to risk a second place for a win was too small. Now there is more incentive for that. Also, given the great reliability of the cars, getting points had gotten harder, so it is justifiable to give points to two more cars.

Refuelling was banned for safety reasons. I must say, I miss refuelling. It brough more tactical aspects to racing, even though that may have meant less action on track as the drivers were relying on the pit strategy.

Once again, costs were tried to cut with some rules: reduced number of tyre sets, cap on engine price, restrictions on testing, and restrictions on staff.

Changes to the Technical Regulations for 2011

  • Double diffuser banned. Maximal diffuser height over the whole width 12.5cm
  • F-duct banned
  • Introduction of the Drag Reduction System. Free use in practice and qualifying, in race in certain places
  • KERS again allowed
  • Minimum weight 640kg (instead of 620kg)
  • Fixed weight distribution +/- 1%
  • Gearbox must last 5 GP weekends
Unintented loopholes in aerodynamic regulations were removed, like double diffuser and F-duct. KERS was introduced again, and with the higher minimum weight, carrying KERS wasn't anymore such a disadvantage but an advantage because of its extra horsepowers. Gearboxes must last one more race longer, obviously to cut costs.

Drag Reduction System was an easy solution to increase overtaking. When you are close enough, you get a speed advantage helping you to get past the car ahead. But that kind of passing isn't very spectacular. I would have regulations that would make the cars such that you can overtake with them more easily, without aids like DRS. And if there must be an overtaking aid, I would prefer IndyCar-style push-to-pass. You can use it only for a certain number of times during a race, so you must manage push-to-passes, and you can use it also to defend.

Changes to the Sporting Regulations for 2011

  • Team orders allowed
Ferrari's team order at Hockenheim in 2010 showed that the ban on team orders doesn't work so there is no need for that ban, even if team orders aren't good PR for the sport.

Changes to the Technical Regulations for 2012

  • Chassis height at the front axle 55cm (instead of 62.5cm)
  • Regulations for the position of the exhaust tailpipe
  • Retarted ignition with all 8 cylinders banned
The FIA wanted to prevent teams from using exhaust gases to improve downforce. Quite understandable when the series aims towards fuel efficiency.

Changes to the Sporting Regulations for 2012

  • Race duration with breaks 4 hours at maximum
  • When overtaking, both drivers must leave a car's widh space
  • Unlapping during Safety Car periods
I don't like the unlapping rule during Safety Car periods. People were complaining when there were lapped cars between cars fighting for the same position preventing the driver behind attacking at the restart. But why should he be able to attack at the restart; he was so much behind before the Safety Car that there were some lapped cars between. This seems like a rule intented to improve the show. Of course, there was a safety aspect, some slow lapped cars might have been dangerous at restarts. But this unlapping also takes some time, why do those lapped cars have to unlap themselves, why couldn't they just be told to let the cars behind lap them? That would take much less time.

With standing restarts in 2015, it seems like Safety Car periods are being used to bring some action. I much prefer how they do at Le Mans where they try to avoid safety car periods with yellow flag zones where you must slow down noticeably. Le Mans wants the Safety Car to affect to the race as little as possible, F1 as much as possible.

Changes to the Technical Regulations for 2013

  • Double DRS banned
  • DRS use also in practice and qualifying only in the DRS zone
  • Minimum weight 642kg (instead of 640kg)
An obvious reason to allow the use of DRS only in the DRS zone also in the practice and qualifying sessions was to avoid using it in dangerous places. On the other hand, less opportunities to use DRS may lead to teams going for shorter gears. Then the advantage from DRS in the race is smaller.

Changes to the Sporting Regulations for 2013

  • Maximum of 12 testing days (instead of 15)
  • Maximum of 60 staff members at track
These regulations were obviously aimed to control costs.

Changes to the Technical Regulations for 2014

  • The big engine reform with 1.6-litre turbo V6, direct injection, and  two electric units MGU-K and MGU-H
  • Maximal fuel flow of 100kg per hour
  • 8-speed gearbox (previous maximum 7-speed)
  • Maximum of 5 engines per driver per year
  • Exhaust position central in rear, only one exhaust
  • Maximal nose height 18.5cm
  • Front wing width 165cm (instead of 180cm)
  • Rear wing with two elements at maximum (previously three)
  • Minimum weight 691kg (previously 642kg), brake-by-wire allowed
  • Gearbox must last 6 GP weekends
  • Introduction of a standard side crash structure
The new engins have been criticized a lot, mostly because they are too silent. I can imagine it takes something away from the live viewing experience. But I think the new engines were a step to right direction. Hybrid technology is getting more and more important for car manufacturers, and for them to participate in F1, F1 must have some road relevance. But I think the fuel flow maximum could be abolished, I don't think saving fuel belongs to F1.

Changes to the Sporting Regulations for 2014

  • Maximum of 100kg of fuel for a race
  • Double points in the season finale
  • Introduction of penalty points: with 12 points during 365 days a race ban
  • Personal numbers for drivers for their entire career
  • Ban of FRIC?
The double points in the last race are another rule to improve the show. I don't think that belongs to F1. F1 has always been about who is the best driver throughout the season, not who is the best driver at the end of the season. I'm afraid F1 may be going towards a NASCAR-style Chase for the Championship where the last races decide the champion and early races don't have much importance for the outcome.

The personal numbers aren't such a big deal but I would have preferred assigning the permanent numbers to teams. In car racing, the numbers usually belong to the car owners, and the number system used in F1 until 1995 basically had semi-permanent numbers for teams, so there would have been legendary numbers like 27 and 28 for Ferrari or 5 and 6 for Williams.

How would I change regulations?

As for the Technical Regulations, I would go for more road relevance, that would bring more car manufacturers to F1. Maybe more freedom in the regulations. At Le Mans, Audi, Toyota, and Porsche have completely different engines. If you think about F1, Ferrari and Renault are completely different car manufacturers. What is relevant for one of them is not necessarily for another of them. Allow more freedom and F1 would be more attractive for car manufacturers. As for the Sporting Regulations, I would prefer less gimmicks to improve the show and I would like the rules to promote more pure racing.

And moreover, I would prefer more stability with the rules. At the same time, F1 wants to cut costs but is constantly changing rules, which brings costs to teams. More stable rules would make F1 more attractive for new teams and engine manufacturers.

Monday, July 7, 2014

What next for Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer?

Today's Wimbledon final was a big match for both players, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. Djokovic's last Grand Slam title was from the last year's Australian Open. After that, he has always been beaten in slams by the eventual champions, and he didn't seem to play his best tennis in those matches. Most recently, he lost the French Open final to Rafael Nadal after winning the first set. The question was if he could finally play his best game in a Grand Slam final and win it.

Federer won his last Grand Slam title at Wimbledon two years ago, which made him again the World No. 1. But 2013 was a bad year for him, for the first time since 2003, he fell out of the top 4, he won only one title, and his Wimbledon title defense ended on the second round ending his streak of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals. His 2014 season with a new racquet and a new coach Stefan Edberg had started much better; he was fourth in the Race to London ranking and now he was playing in his first Grand Slam final in two years, at the mature age of 32. Could he win it and surpass Pete Sampras in Wimbledon titles as well as get one further Grand Slam title away from Rafael Nadal.

Well, Djokovic won the final in five sets. He was the better player most of the match. Federer took the first set to tiebreak and won it but Djokovic won the next two. Djokovic was up a break in the fourth set and serving for the championship but then Federer broke back, his first break in the match. In the following game, Djokovic had a match point in Federer's serve but Federer could hold his serve and broke Djokovic's serve in the following game to take the match to the fifth set. At this point, it seemed like Federer was the better player on court. But Djokovic could hold his serves, and nerves, and at 5-4, he broke Federer's serve to win the championship.

But what to expect from these players in the future? It is somewhat surprising that Djokovic won his second Wimbledon title before his second US Open title as grass is considered as his worst surface and hardcourt as his best. The higher number of excellent hard-courters compared to excellent grass-courters explains that, as well as today's Wimbledon playing more like a fast hard court where you don't necessarily need special grass skills. Still, despite the US Open not being his most successful tournament, he is now my favourite for that title. He is the best hardcourt player on the tour. Hopefully now after ending the Grand Slam drought at Wimbledon, he has more mental strength in big points, what he has lacked so often at slams in the last two years. And as he is very unlikely to reach Federer in Grand Slam title count, or even another great of this era, Nadal, his biggest aim must be to complete the career Grand Slam at the French Open. I wrote about his chances to win the French Open in the last month, and now all I can add to it is that at least next year he won't have the pressure of winning no Grand Slam titles in the previous 17 months.

Then, what to expect from Federer? I am afraid this was his last big chance to win a slam. He is playing an excellent year, he will be the World No. 3 on Monday, ahead of Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka. But I am afraid it is not anymore in his racquet. Djokovic is now better than Federer on grass. Nadal is better, at least on clay and hard courts. I think also Wawrinka is very dangerous, he beat Federer on Monte Carlo's clay and I believe he can play on a higher level also on hard courts. And there are dangerous players like Nishikori and Gulbis. As well as Roger is playing, he played better in 2012 when he won his last slam. In 2012, he routined Djokovic in the Wimbledon semifinal, today he lost to him. Although I don't rate Djokovic even close to peak Federer as a grass-courter, I must say he is now better on grass than Federer, today's match showed that. And if Murray can find his old form, I think he could also be better than Federer on grass. All in all, I am afraid the days are over when Federer could outplay the opposition to win a slam. Even on his beloved grass, there are now players that can play better than him. Now he needs some luck to win a slam, he needs others underperforming. Outside grass, that is very difficult, there are too many players that can beat him. On grass, a slam might be possible, there aren't so many excellent grass-courters. But there is only one slam on grass, and every year Federer is one year older and has declined more. I see it very hard for Federer to win another slam. Maybe the chance to surpass Sampras in Wimbledon titles motivates him to fight against decline to win one more Wimbledon title. But I am afraid Wimbledon 2012 will remain as his last Grand Slam title. Today he had a chance to win yet another but he couldn't do it. It won't be any easier in the future, just harder.