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How the Rules of Formula 1 Have Changed

It’s no secret that the rules of Formula One have changed many times over the years and in fact, continue to change even now. Formula One has been around for almost 75 years, so developments and modifications are necessary to help keep the sport safe. As the governing body of the organisation, the FIA is behind all rule changes and has the power to ban technological improvements, slow race cars down and impose severe penalties on drivers who do not adhere to their word.

Lotus Elise Side View

Lotus Elise Side View

Many Formula One fans have an intense dislike for the FIA and consider the governing body to be unduly harsh, highly unfair and more than a little interfering. They cite incidents like the FIA’s 2002 spat with Ferrari – caused when the body decided to actively intervene in the team’s winning streak. They did this not because they wanted to make the sport safer, but because they decided that Ferrari wins were starting to get boring for spectators.

It’s certainly fair to say that the FIA is a controversial association, but can it also be said that its rule changes have improved the sport?

During the very, very early days of the sport – safety wasn’t much of an issue, says journalist Pawel Hyrkiel. The general mentality was that death was a risk that came with the job. Though drivers in the 1950’s didn’t have any of the technological enhancements that we do today, their races were still extremely fast and more than a little dicey. The first official FIA rule change didn’t come until 1958, when the use of alcohol based fuels was banned.

It was not until after the needless death of Ronnie Peterson in 1978, that modern day Formula One regulations really began to take shape. Deaths were not uncommon in the sport and many drivers began to see this as a very serious problem. By the end of the decade, many of the longer tracks had been officially outlawed and many others has been fitted with safety features. This though, was negated by the invention of ‘ground effect,’- a technology which created huge amounts of down force on a car, causing it to go much, much faster. By 1979, double guard rails had been built, engine sizes restricted, air boxes banned and cockpits made more accessible.

Despite the deaths of Patrick Depailler, Gilles Villeneuve and Riccardo Paletti, Formula did appear to be getting safer. Ground effect technology was successfully banned in 1983 and not a single driver perished for another 12 years after this change had been implemented. According to fan website, turbo-charged machines were also banned after 1988. Unfortunately, the good times were not to last.

Many people – fans and experts alike, began to believe that deaths at Formula One were a thing of the past. The FIA seemed to agree and hastily banned all performance enhancing technology. J J Lehto, Jean Alesi and Rubens Barrichello were all involved in near-fatal crashes before the season had even started. They survived, but Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lost their lives at the San Marino Grand Prix just days later. The global outpouring of grief for the two drivers provoked urgent safety modifications, says journalist Brad Spurgeon. Engine power was reduced from 3,500 to 3,000 CC, drivers were given extra head protection and accident intervention procedures were swiftly revised.

Save for the introduction of HANS (head and neck safety) systems in 2003, there have no major safety modifications since 2000. There have been many rule changes – but these have been mostly concerned with cost reduction. After the arrival of the global credit crunch in 2008, costs either had to come down or teams had to start dropping out. A loose association of car manufacturers was formed and this association teamed up with the FIA to try and bring costs down and save the sport. Over a period of 8 years, the FIA decreed that all engines must last two race weekends, all drivers must only be allowed 14 sets of tyres (seven dry, four wets and three extreme wets) and in-race refuelling would be banned.

More than 70 years and hundreds of changes later, Formula One is a different beast to the one it started out as. Whether this is a bad or a good thing is largely dependent on personal opinion.

Author Bio:  Eva Holmes is a Motorsports safety official and avid Grand Prix fan. She recommends Grand Prix Merchandise for top quality merchandise and memorabilia.

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