Formula 1: For 2021 season, Liberty Media taking steps in the right direction with new rules

  • For the first time ever, Formula 1 will have much-needed financial regulations in place come 2021.

  • For the first time in F1's recent history, drivers were consulted in the rule-making and fan research was conducted repeatedly.

  • In the previous eras of Formula 1, rule changes were often accompanied by threats of teams leaving the sport to start a breakaway series.

For several years, the general perception about Formula 1 has been that the series wasn’t exploiting its full potential as a sport and a business. The failure was often attributed to the flawed ‘formula’ of Formula 1 - the set of rules that defined the sport. After three seasons of owning, observing and learning, Formula 1’s owners, Liberty Media (also Formula One Group), announced a revolutionary set of rules for the sport from 2021. For the first time in decades, Formula 1 has seen a complete overhaul in the sporting and technical regulations. In fact, for the first time ever, Formula 1 will have much-needed financial regulations in place come 2021. The objective of the rules is simple - make the ecosystem of Formula 1 more appealing.

 Formula 1: For 2021 season, Liberty Media taking steps in the right direction with new rules

Formula 1 will witness rule changes for the 2021 season with sporting, technical and financial regulations coming into place. Reuters

Not just the rules alone but the manner in which Liberty Media tackled this beast is impressive. Given Formula 1’s complex governance structure, where the teams are involved in the rule-making and Ferrari have the ‘right to veto’, Liberty Media deserve a pat on the back for enduring the red tape while pushing their bold rule book forward. In the previous eras of Formula 1, rule changes were often accompanied by threats of teams leaving the sport to start a breakaway series. Also for the first time in the sport’s recent history, drivers were consulted in the rule-making, while fan research was conducted time and again using the popular F1 Fan Voice platform.

In general, the mood around the rule changes has been positive. The larger belief being that Formula 1 has finally taken a first step in the right direction - to make the sport more competitive, stable and less predictable. The 2021 rules also give a strong indication that Formula 1 is finally doing all it can to break away from its image of an old racing series that is stubborn to make changes.

A series that one assumes would eventually learn its lessons the hard way - when a younger racing series (Formula E?) came by and snatched its spotlight or when the team count dropped to lower than 10. However, the 2021 rules are definitely not the final destination and no one will know of their effect till the first few races are run. For now, one can only hope that the sport’s most cohesively worked and researched rules are just what the sport needs to propel itself into the future.

Sporting Regulations

The sporting regulations remain largely unchanged from the current ones. The biggest change has been the provision to increase the total number of races in a season to 25 - one that has been cheered on by the fans, but not the drivers and team personnel. After all, a typical Grand Prix weekend takes about 5-6 days depending on the racing venue - drivers arrive on Tuesday/Wednesday and depart after the post-race debrief on Sunday. This would mean that nearly half a year would be spent traveling around the world attending races. The remaining days would still see simulator activity, factory visits and sponsors commitments for the drivers.

Lewis Hamilton has questioned the race limit set at 25 for the 2021 season. AP

Lewis Hamilton has questioned the race limit set at 25 for the 2021 season. AP

However, Formula 1 will be condensing the current four-day weekend format to three days, to ease the load. While saving a day per race might not sound like much, it could still mean 25 days more at home for the traveling crew!

“25 would be pretty hardcore,” said Lewis Hamilton in pre-race press briefing. “It’s already hardcore at 21. I remember growing up racing, the more races the merrier. But then if you look for the guys that are away from their families, there’s got to be some sort of balance. The season’s already too long. It’s a little bit long. And 25, I just don’t really see the sense in that. But it’s more money, I guess, for Formula 1, ” concluded the reigning world champion.

Technical Regulations

The technical regulations are aimed to improve the spectacle of the sport by producing cars that are capable of engaging in wheel-to-wheel combat. Since its introduction in Formula 1 in the 70s, teams have chased aerodynamics in an effort to improve car performance. The overdependence on aerodynamics is one of the key reasons why drivers in this, and previous, era have been forced to sit a safe distance behind their rivals rather than launch a series of attacking moves. Under the leadership of some of Formula 1’s brightest engineering talents like Ross Brawn, Nikolas Tombazis and Pat Symonds, the regulations for 2021 are specifically written and tested in the wind tunnel to help Formula 1 cars follow each other better - a move that should improve on-track action.

In the current generation of cars, the following car experiences around 40-50% reduction of downforce due to the ‘dirty air’ from the car ahead. In 2021, the new rules are expected to reduce the effect of dirty air to around 15%. In the build-up to the announcement of the new rules, the teams weren’t entirely sure if such a change would be effective. However, not many know better than till the first race of 2021.

The new aerodynamics will result in a drastic change to the look of the cars. Additionally, the cars will be heavier by 25 kgs thanks to the introduction of 18” wheels, other safety measures and restrictions on usage of certain materials to keep costs in check. Finally, the loss of aero and increase in weight will lead to the cars clocking slower lap times, a 180-degree U-turn from the approach pursued in 2017 - where Formula 1 cars were designed to break lap records and have managed to do so at several circuits this season. But worry not, Formula 1 will still be the fastest single-seater racing series in the world, only that it might welcome a lot more track action.

The topic of fastest cars vs. race-able cars has often been a topic of intense debate, with fans and drivers asking for both. The rules from 2017 are a living example of how it is immensely difficult for the two to co-exist. As for those ruing the loss of speed and lap time, it must be remembered that Ayrton Senna’s most-celebrated lap around the streets of Monaco (1988) was nearly 13 seconds slower than Lewis Hamilton’s pole position time in 2019. For 2021, simulations prove the cars to slow down by up to 3.5 seconds per lap. However, as the regulations stabilise, one would expect the teams to claw back performance like they usually do.

While admitting that the rule changes in 2017 were a mistake, Ross Brawn said, “These cars from 2016 to 2017 had a huge increase in downforce, and it’s worth thinking back on that experience, because it was done for reasons I don’t understand. It was a case of ‘let’s make the cars go faster, let’s make F1 better’. But what we have actually done is make it worse, because the cars can’t race each other.”

The 2007 Formula 1 World Champion and Alfa Romeo driver Kimi Raikkonen explained the reduction of pace in his inimitable style, “I think even if we are 10 seconds slower, for people to watch the races, if it’s more exciting, nobody cares.”

Financial Regulations

The most interesting and probably the least straightforward aspect of the new rules is the inclusion of financial regulations. Formula 1 has gone to great lengths to explain these set of rules, their inclusions and exclusions, while also setting a strict governance and reporting structure in place. Any team guilty of breach could face a financial penalty or even an exclusion from the Formula 1 World Championship.

Numerically speaking, a budget cap of $175 million dollars would be enforced towards all teams. This number would include all R&D and other performance related expenses - including transactions between parent company (example Daimler) and team (Mercedes). Marketing, driver salaries and other non-Formula 1 costs are the notable exclusions from this budget cap. Basically, costs that directly impact on-track performance are covered under the budget cap.

Among the current teams, only the top-3 teams are believed to be operating on a budget higher than the cap set in place. While the remaining 7 teams might not be impacted by the budget cap as such, Formula 1 could benefit overall if the top-3 teams are forced to spend less with the hope that this would further level the field. A budget cap is a fairly popular concept used across various sports series such as the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) and even the Indian Premier League (IPL).

A budget cap will go a long way into making the business of owning a Formula 1 team more sustainable. After all, when was the last time a Formula 1 team was invested into for its successes rather than its financial decline? Ironically, it was back in 2011 when Sahara bought shares of Force India Formula 1 Team from Vijay Mallya.

FIA President Jean Todt confessed, “For about seven out of 10 teams it (budget cap) will have no influence. It will only have influence on three teams. But still it will diminish the gap between those seven teams and the three others. So it’s a good thing. But I think the important thing is that it’s a first step. It was to initiate the principle. Then once it is initiated it will allow us to move after that to the second step.”

Additionally, the sport has put rules in place to avoid wasteful expenditures - like teams being forced to race the cars they enter scrutineering with and so on. And of course, a more equitable distribution of prize money among all participants, one of the biggest bones of contention in recent times. Although news about extension of racing contracts (or the Concorde Agreement, as it’s called) post 2020 are yet to be explicitly confirmed. At the moment, the assumption is that all ten teams will race under the new regulations in 2021.

The overhaul of rules doesn’t guarantee anything come 2021 or later. However, the rules would be considered a success if they induce unpredictability and give a larger spectrum of the grid an opportunity to fight - the biggest deficiency of the current rules. We may still have one or three teams dominate the sport, but it is the overall competitive quotient of the grid that one expects to be uplifted. The best example of this would be a reminder of one’s days in school, where every student had access to the same facilities and material. But despite everyone’s best efforts, there would always be the one student who always came out on top.

Updated Date: Nov 03, 2019 14:31:08 IST