As excitement builds towards Melbourne and the start of the 2020 Formula 1 World Championship, our attention begins to turn to how the latest round of rule changes might impact racing.
Comparatively conservative, this season’s updated regulations nevertheless implement changes that will subtly influence how teams set-up their cars and devise strategy. For instance, drivers will now have more control of the engine’s torque at the start of the race and enjoy an increase in the amount of permitted MGU-Ks (Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic), theoretically reducing grid penalties after nine drivers exceeded their MGU-K allowance last year.
Here we’ll take a look at all the major rule changes for the 2020 season, finding out what sort of effect they will have, from development and testing to qualification and race day.
The physical chequered flag makes a return. Cast your mind back to the Japanese Grand Prix last year when the flag’s electronic replacement accidentally signalled the end of the race one lap too early. Well, to prevent computer glitches like that, F1 drivers will see the familiar – and traditional – sight of a flag-waving human being signifying the end.
As well as the sight of the ‘old school’ chequered flag, another thing race fans will ‘see’ in 2020 is a return of the shark fin on top of cars. Along with T-Wings, these were outlawed in 2019 but will make an appearance throughout the year without having any aerodynamic effect on the car’s performance. The version we’ll see will closely resemble a smaller device McLaren used in the first part of last season, appearing as a plate above all engine covers. Predominantly a cosmetic change, the shark fin’s primary advantage is for spectators to see the driver’s number.
In terms of racing, the biggest change for 2020 is the fact that drivers will now have increased control over their car at the start of the race. With previous electronic functions assisting the driver at ‘lights out’, new regulations put the onus back on the driver’s own skill and timing to get the car off to a good start.
The stall prevention function still exists, as does the bite-point finder, but rules now stipulate ‘pull-type’ paddles of which drivers are in direct command of. With so many tracks offering few opportunities to overtake, we know just how critical a good getaway can be. Getting to grip with this subtle change in the rules could be critical.
After nine drivers exceeded their allowance in 2019, Formula 1 bosses agreed to increase the number of times cars can enjoy the temporary boost in power afforded by the Electronic Recovery System (ERS). The MGU-K, which utilises waste kinetic energy, can help provide up to 160bhp for around 33 seconds per lap. In 2019, drivers could draw on this power boost twice; in 2020, they can use it three times.
Technical Updates Regarding Parts, Fuel and Safety
Improvements in safety remain high on the agenda; the challenge is mitigating danger to drivers without impacting competitiveness. 2020 won’t see any groundbreaking changes come into play, but regulations around the materials used in front wings has been developed primarily with safety in mind.
These stipulate the amount of carbon fibre that needs to be in front wing endplates, stating that metal elements can only be evident 30mm back from the endplate’s leading edge. This new rule has been brought in to help limit the amount of punctures caused by fragments breaking off front wings after collisions.
Another technical change in 2020 concerns brake ducts. This season, these will be considered as “listed parts”, meaning teams must produce them rather than acquire them from another team or manufacturer. In other terms, the onus on cooling the brakes is on the team’s designers.
Elsewhere, a less discernible change will affect fuel use. In 2019, two litres was allowed to be outside the tank but this has been reduced to just 250ml. It means there is less advantage to be gained from having fuel outside the survival cell.
Restrictions During Testing
The most obvious change is that there will be less of it. Instead of 8 days of testing, the FIA has reduced this to 6. There’s also no mid-season testing and teams must use drivers other than their principle pairing in a minimum of one day of post-season testing. Such drivers will also be able to take advantage of the FIA, making super license points available for those that complete – as a minimum – 100 kms of free practice session runs.
Restrictions to testing also extend to screens which teams previously used to keep parts, specifications and changes hidden from prying eyes, like a tabloid photographer’s lens. While the full impact of Liberty Media’s 2017 takeover of Formula 1 won’t fully come into play until 2021, its influence is clearly seen here in the hopes that this increased focus on what goes on “behind the scenes” will offer fans a unique way to enjoy the action while attracting a new audience too.
Extra Rest For Mechanics
The unsung heroes of a Formula 1 team will get extra rest as new FIA rules mean mechanics and other pit crew now have a nine-hour non-working mandatory curfew on Thursday and Friday. This has been increased from eight hours in 2019.
In theory, there should be fewer penalties accrued by teams during the 2020 season as a result of a number of small changes including a relaxing of the rules regarding missed weighbridge checks and jump-starts. Last season, Sergio Perez and Pierre Gasly were hit by weighbridge penalties after accidentally missing the required check which resulted in their teams filing official complaints. Stewards have been asked to use their discretion.
Time to Race
While the teams navigate these comparatively subtle changes to the FIA’s racing rules for 2020, it’ll be down to the drivers to do the talking on the track. And what an intriguing season it promises to be as Lewis Hamilton goes in search of a record-equalling seventh championship title to tie the great Michael Schumacher, while the genuine threat of Red Bull and Ferrari adds intrigue and excitement ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.
Head over to our lobby to experience first hand the excitement of what this season of the Formula 1 Championship has to offer.