Analysing the changes to the F1 regulations: What's welcome, what will work, and what's not popular at all
Making sense of F1's latest attempt to right its own wrongs
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 11/12/13 8:54am
Double points in the final race of the season
By equal measure, the most eye-catching amendment to the regulations announced by the FIA and the most unpopular. Whether the notion of double points in the final race would have generated quite as much opprobrium had the last GP of 2014 been scheduled for a marquee venue - Silverstone, Monza, Suzuka etc - rather than a soulless, soporific arena in the Middle East is a moot point. Nevertheless, the principal complaint rests on the principle: this not so much a tweak as a credibility-impinging gimmick which, to quote Martin Brundle, is "an answer to a question nobody was asking".
The FIA themselves say that 'Abu Double' will 'maximise focus on the Championship until the end of the campaign', an explanation which all-but confirms their primary objective is to prevent Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull securing another title double with a vast chunk of the season. In the wake of the field being steamrollered in 2013, the temptation is perhaps understandable.
Nevertheless, the FIA's thinking appears to be critically flawed: not only have the other 18 races been devalued and demoted to second-class status but, at a rough count, only three of the last 20 driver championships would have ended differently had this points process been previously applied. The concept reeks as a knee-jerk reaction that neither heeds the past - Vettel and Red Bull would have secured their latest title double long before the season finale even if double points had been up for grabs - nor respects the future. There's a regulations revolution already proposed for 2014 so why not wait until the results of the 'rules reset' are in before reaching for the last resort? This is a 2013 ruling which has seemingly forgotten what 2014 was already poised to be.
In scratching around for a solution that nobody else was seeking, F1 has scored a spectacular own-goal that will have the sceptics scoffing and the purists seething.
Imposing a cost cap
If only it was as straightforward as the headline suggests. The devil in this proposal will be buried deep in the detail - how do you determine the cost of F1 to a multi-series organisation such as McLaren and Mercedes?, for instance - and even the FIA's own announcement is heavily cached in significant caveats. It's important to note even at this embryonic stage that only the 'principle' of a cost cap has been 'adopted' and the directive will only be applied from January 2015.
A working group will now be set up to crystalise the proposal into a concrete plan, a tough task made even more daunting by a June deadline. Can a the sport finally achieve in six months what Max Mosley first proposed almost six years ago and thereby nearly split F1 asunder? Doubtful.
Five-second penalties for minor infringements
The fine detail has still to be agreed - 'In what form such a penalty will be applied will be discussed with Formula One's teams in order that a new regulation be introduced for 2014 season', reads the FIA statement and opinion will inevitably vary on what constitutes a 'major infringement'- but this is a sensible and overdue proposal, offering the stewards additional flexibility when imposing punishments having previously been strictly limited to choosing between black flags, stop-gos, drive-through and retrospective grid penalties. Such rigidity fails to reflect the complexity and spectrum of infringements committed (was, for instance, Felipe Massa's wrongdoing in Brazil when he crossed the white line at the pit entry as bad as another driver forcing a rival off the road?).
The availability of a five-second penalty for such relatively trivial transgressions will be a welcome addition to the stewards' armoury and should, if reasonably applied, quell a great deal of last year's bickering. Phew.
Permanent driver numbers
Unless the numbering on cars is made more prominent, it's difficult to appreciate the point of this proposal from the perspective of spectators. Drivers are most readily identified by their helmets, not their car number, and given the recent tendency of drivers to change their helmets on what seems to be a race-by-race basis, instructing the field to choose a number for the duration of their careers seems rather irrelevant.
However, permanent numbering is a concept which has prospered in other sports and should, in the passage of time, provide some iconic imagery to F1 in the manner of Nigel Mansell's red number five. From a branding perspective it's an open goal - the wait is already on to learn what number Lewis Hamilton and his team of advisors select. In the meantime, expect every World Champion to reserve '1' for himself. F1 might be in a constant flux, but the number one digit in the sport will always be in the name.
An extra tyre test at Bahrain next week
Won't they ever let them rest? After the gruelling conclusion of a season which ended with six races in eight weekends, the bad news for the grunts at Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, Force India and Toro Rosso is that they will be back on the road next week, returning to Bahrain for a three-day Pirelli tyre test.
All of the teams have been invited to attend and it shouldn't pass unnoticed that the five non-attendees finished at the bottom of the Constructors' Championship. Given that clear apparent divide between the haves and the have-nots, funds rather than fatigue is the likely explanation for the latter's collective absence, an understated but salient reminder of the present-day harsh realities for those suffering at the sharp end of F1.
For the likes of Marussia and Caterham, F1 must still - and now perhaps more than ever - feel like a world apart.