In what is becoming continually drilled into the copybooks of established journalists and budding writers, Article 3.15 of the technical regulations was once again out in full display this week, as the FIA moved to clamp down on yet another piece of innovation in Formula One.

Its latest use comes in the wake of the ban on off-throttle diffusers from Silverstone onwards and the subsequent prohibition on all blown devices from next year.

Article 3.15 states that:

“With the exception of the driver adjustable bodywork described in Article 3.18* (in addition to minimal parts solely associated with its actuation) and the ducts described in Article 11.4, any specific part of the car influencing its aerodynamic performance :

- must comply with the rules relating to bodywork ;
- must be rigidly secured to the entirely sprung part of the car (rigidly secured means not having any
degree of freedom) ;
- must remain immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car.

Any device or construction that is designed to bridge the gap between the sprung part of the car and the ground is prohibited under all circumstances.

No part having an aerodynamic influence and no part of the bodywork, with the exception of the skid block in 3.13 above, may under any circumstances be located below the reference plane.

With the exception of the parts necessary for the adjustment described in Article 3.18, any car system, device or procedure which uses, or is suspected of using, driver movement as a means of altering the aerodynamic characteristics of the car is prohibited.”

Although it is quite obvious that the advanced engine mapping and the use of extra fuel contravened with the sport’s attempts to appear road relevant and green, what is less sure is the argument that the use of the acceleration pedal constitutes a movable aerodynamic device.

However the latest ban is not the first time that the FIA has fell back on this infamous article, and it certainly looks like it won’t be the last.

Fans only need to cast their minds back to 2006 when the major talking point was the ban on the tuned mass damper system, which Renault had pioneered and was using to its full advantage.

The system, which was located in the nose of a number of teams, used a weight mounted inside a spring to reduce vibrations from the tyres whilst cornering, thereby allowing the rubber to stay closer to the surface of the circuit and thus increasing grip.

Although Renault successfully passed scrutineering in Germany of that year and argued that it was part of it suspension system rather than aerodynamics, the FIA launched an appeal – which eventually led to its Court of Appeal banning the device on the grounds that the system was not immobile in the sprung part of the car.

However there would be a major point of contention behind the ruling, with the FIA failing to explain how the system, which was located inside the car, met its own definition of bodywork – with Article 1.4 defining it as:

“All entirely sprung parts of the car in contact with the external air stream, except cameras and the parts definitely associated with the mechanical functioning of the engine, transmission and running gear. Airboxes, radiators and engine exhausts are considered to be part of the bodywork.”

Fast forward to last year and although the FIA did not rule directly on it, following a decision taken by the Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA), last season’s F-duct system also fell foul to early calls from some competitors that it was a movable device, this time enacted by the driver in various ways.

Although it was generally accepted that the F-duct system did not fall into this bracket it too also found itself on the scrap heap at the end of the year due to costs – only adding to the worrying decline of innovation in the sport.

Speaking at the time of the ban on the F-duct, Mercedes’s Nick Fry said it was “sensible to nip in the bud technologies that, on the face of it, don’t really have a relevance for use outside of F1.

“By the end of the year I know we, and I am sure most of the other teams, will have an F-Duct on their car and that neutralises the advantage of having it. The engineers have already come up with ideas for next year that are zany in the extreme, and it is difficult to see how they would be used elsewhere. Plus they would be expensive…”

Although it is fair to say that Formula One is right to continue to assist in the development of road car technology, it cannot sell itself short as a sport – both on and off the track.

Whereas the F-duct or the blown off-throttle diffusers may not appear in your next family car, would DRS or the current tyres used in the sport?

Formula One has always been about teams getting ahead of the game and coming up with new ideas to achieve this. Of course, more often than not this has resulted in these breakthroughs dripping down to the rest of the automobile world – but not always.

To continue to cut innovation stifles future engineering talent and send the sports further down the path of standardisation.

Thankfully all talk of a uniform KERS eventually died down, but with energy recovery systems set to continue to expand with the all-new 2013 regulations there is nothing to say that cost-cutting will once again apply unwanted pressure.

So should F1 continue down this path or should it be more open?

Of course it’s a fine line: certainly fans do not want to see a repeat of the early 90s or 00s where electronic devices ruled the roost, but they also don’t want to see anything substandard.

Meanwhile it is likely that the use of Article 3.15 will continue to persist, but let’s hope that it is in a productive manner and does not deter future designers attempting to push the boundaries.

*DRS System

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3 Responses to The worrying decline in F1 innovation

  1. Paul Douglas says:

    By that interpretation of the article in question, arguably the DRS is banned. I’m sure it has some sort of written exemption, but it still makes clear how absurdly broad that application of the rule is – it would ban the FIA’s pet gimmick.

    One thing I fond particularly worrying about the FIA war on innovation is the restrictions on KERS technology. It would be far more interesting and relevant (Both to F1 and to road cars, the ostensible reason for its introduction) if the teams were able to develop the part, find ways of getting more out of it etc.

    • Fergus says:

      “With the exception of the driver adjustable bodywork described in Article 3.18* (in addition to minimal parts solely associated with its actuation)…”

      So yeah, DRS has an exemption. And it’s not really absurd.

  2. That is a very good point actually. KERS was one of the few areas which could have been opened up to constructors in this ever-sterilised world.

    However I believe the current output of the system is too low and should either be increased or opened up completely. Yes it certainly would drive up competition and open up a considerable gap between the teams, but it would also tie in with moves to make it more road relevant.

    Surely that should be something which F1 is trying to grasp with both hands? – Possibly not.