After the legendary driver Ayrton Senna he died during Grand San Marino 1994 Prix, the sport’s rules for car design and safety have changed dramatically. Now, the rules of Formula 1 and the decisions of the FIA, the sport’s governing body, are rarely out of focus.
The sport acted quickly in response to the loss of its biggest star. It introduced requirements for cars to obey the speed limit in the pit lane and forced teams to change the design of their cars to lower speeds.
There were no deaths or serious accidents in 2023, but there was significant controversy over safety. These intensified the already demanding control of decisions made by FIA officials.
“They’re not stupid and they’re trying to do the best job they can,” said Mercedes driver George Russell. Australian Grand Prix last month. “But things need to be ironed out in order to understand where their approach will lie. We’ve seen some crazy or dishonest decisions lately.”
Russell, director of Formula One drivers’ representative body, the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, who is in regular contact with the FIA over its rules and rulings, discussed the fallout from the three-crash suspension of the Melbourne race. When the race was restarted with only two laps remaining, a pileup occurred at the first corner, leading to post-race debate over the FIA’s decision to attempt a full race finish instead of ending the race behind the safety car, with no overtaking allowed.
The governing body explained that “cooperation with drivers and all stakeholders is a priority for the FIA”, then worked with teams to introduce a new procedure for late restarts. The aim is to ensure that the tires are warmed up enough to give the cars better maneuverability to prevent accidents.
But there were debates about the rules at every race. The most unpleasant involved a late-race incident at last month’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, when FIA officials allowed the pit lane to be filled with people as Alpine’s Esteban Ocon entered the lane.
The FIA demanded that those involved in the incident explain their actions to the stewards. As a result, the organization pledged to take “immediate action” to keep the pit lanes passable, a rule that came into effect Miami Grand Prix this month.
In addition to safety, some teams are unhappy with the FIA penalty Red Bull received last year for exceeding the sport’s cost limit in 2021. The team was fined $7 million and said to reduce its aerodynamic testing by 10 percent a year, the testing that helps teams develop their cars.
With Red Bull winning the first five races of the year, the 10 percent reduction doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact, which Ferrari team principal Frédéric Vasseur pointed out last month.
But Red Bull said the punishment was indeed severe.
Christian Horner, team principal, said it was a “significant handicap that we carry for most of the year”.
It is a complex motor sport. The current focus on its rules comes from one incident after another, such as the FIA’s demand that mechanics due to safety concerns they no longer climb fences from the pit to celebrate a victory, which mechanics have been doing for years.
But just like it was after the dark weekend in San Marino Grand In the 1994 Prix, there were suggestions that closer cooperation between the teams and the FIA could help with safety.
“Of course,” said Andrea Stella, the boss of the McLaren team, for which Senna won all three of his world titles, “we support the simplification of the regulations.”