This week, the FIA published the latest set of Sporting Regulations for the 2016 season, but while there are few outwardly major changes being made for the new season, a closer look reveals some subtle and important differences in being made in terms of car, tyre, and power unit usage.

Small as they seem, they could have a major effect on the racing, as Max Yamabiko explains....

Power Units
In 2016 as things sit at the moment Formula 1 teams will be allowed to use five power units per driver, an increase on the four allowed in 2015. The reason for this increase is the introduction of Azerbaijan and the return of Germany to a 21 race calendar. As it stands, this will actually make life easier for the engine builders as the life requirement of each power unit will go down slightly compared to 2015. Significantly, however, if only a single race drops off the calendar (and the US GP is looking to be struggling) then the allocation reverts to just four power units and an increase in the life requirement of each power unit. This will be creating something of a headache for the engine gurus at Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda and Renault (and Red Bull now) as they work out the life for each component. With five power units and 21 races, each unit will have to last for about 1,250km of racing mileage (note that this figure does not include free practice or qualifying) but with only twenty races each unit would have to last 1,500km. It may seem a small difference but - as Nico Rosberg showed when he pushed his ageing engine a little too far at Monza - once practice sessions are taken into account it could be a critical difference.

Interestingly the regulations also make life a little easier for new power unit suppliers. In its first season a new manufacturer gets an extra unit added to its allocation, something Honda probably would have liked in 2015, while they also get a slightly more generous token spend.

Every power unit used in 2016 must be homologated by the end of February, which means in reality the development work must be complete and signed off before the start of winter testing as a design dossier has to be delivered to the FIA on Valentine's Day. This means that the power units must be finalised before they have ever been run on track, it is clear that the FIA engine department does not want the power unit engineers to have an easy winter!

Crucially changes can be made after the deadline for reasons of cost, safety and reliability, and in season performance development will also continue within the token structure.

It will now also be possible for old specification power units to be re-homologated for use by specific teams, in other words, Toro Rosso can use a 2015 Ferrari power unit in 2016 while Haas, Sauber and the works team will use the latest spec units.

Testing
In terms of testing, firstly power unit suppliers are now banned from private testing using cars built to the 2012-2016 technical regulations. In 2015 it would have been possible for a power unit supplier to use a car designed to the F1 regulations but not owned by a team (for example the Perinn) to test.

Additionally, up to twelve days of in or post season testing can be conducted on behalf of the tyre supplier, currently Pirelli. This testing would be for the purpose of tyre development and not car development and is at the discretion of the FIA. These tests would be divided into six two day tests.

Only two pre-season tests will take place, both held at the Circuit de Catalunya in 2016, the maximum testing mileage remains 15,000km.

This further restriction on testing makes it even harder for teams to get an understanding of setup, tyres and the car overall, especially if any of them have production delays or reliability issues in the lead up to the pre-season tests. It also makes it rather tricky for young drivers to get up to speed in the real cars.

Safety study
The FIA is continuing its safety crusade and in 2016 much of that is focused on understanding crashes and what happens during a crash. For this purpose each car will be fitted with a high speed camera made by Magneti Marelli which will be used to study the drivers head movements during an impact. Additionally drivers will now all have to wear in-ear accelerometers whenever they are in the car.

Driving standards
This one will likely see lots of penalties applied through the season, in 2015 the rules said that "drivers must not deliberately leave the track without a justifiable reason", but in the 2016 rules it rather politely states that "drivers must make every reasonable effort to use the track at all times and may not deliberately leave the track without a justifiable reason." It is a subtle change in wording and I think leaves the situation rather open to interpretation. What does 'reasonable effort' really mean? I think this one will be revisited during the season.

Wind tunnel usage
The FIA has clearly become a little suspicious of some teams aerodynamic development rate so now requires every team to supply two digital photos (front and rear quarter views one must assume) with a date stamp on them of the wind tunnel models before each run. The pictures have to show the entire working section with the model clearly shown in full. This would highlight if a team has pushed the rules or even broken them, at least that is the theory. With data theft in the spotlight at the moment in F1 it is worth noting that the FIA is creating the ultimate F1 aerodynamic archive all in one place, creates quite a challenge in terms of cyber security.

Tyres
The new tyre rules need to be examined in more detail in the coming weeks but the headlines are that the teams have more freedom in terms of tyre selection strategies but critically those selections must be made a full eight weeks ahead of European races and fourteen weeks ahead of non-European rounds. This means that the tyres for the Australian Grand Prix must be selected on 17th December. This is quite a challenge for the teams as they have not run their 2016 cars yet and may not have tested all five compounds of slick tyre at the post season Abu Dhabi test, therefore they have to rely on Pirelli data which itself may not be fully validated on track. For Haas in particular this is a really tough call as it has yet to run its car at all. It's all a bit of a case of the one eyed man leading the blind.

Subtle though they may seem, even minor changes to the Sporting Regulations have the ability to shake up the order on the track. For me, rules are perhaps becoming overly complex and in some cases for no really good reason. However most of the changes have been made to stir up the order a little in a year when no major technical changes will be enforced and that can only be a good thing...

 

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