No Formula One season is complete without rule-change controversy, and this year is no exception. Early in May, the FIA announced that there will be sweeping changes to the aerodynamic regulations in 2019, and the changes have divided opinion.
The Formula One Commission, Strategy Group and World Motor Sport Council have all approved the changes, and they have been welcomed by a number of teams, including Mercedes and Ferrari, though not by the Red Bull team or by the two men tussling for the World Drivers’ Championship, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
The changes are separate to the more sweeping new rules that may come in two years later, after the current agreement with the teams expires in 2020, and have been aimed at increasing the possibility of overtaking in the short term. Commercial rights holders Liberty Media have backed the changes, and the hope is that by making it easier to overtake and reduce the costs of developing a Formula One car, Grand Prix will be more entertaining to watch, and the playing field will be levelled, allowing other teams to be more competitive.
It is notable that since the V6 turbo hybrid era got underway in 2014, only three of the ten teams involved in the Constructors’ Championship have managed to win a race, and Mercedes have won all three Championships during that period. Formula One is incredibly conscious of its image and keen to dispel the – largely false – impression among the general public that the sport is too predictable and dominated by the richest teams.
What effect will the changes have? Teams and pundits alike will be trying to weigh up the impact of the new rules, along with online sports betting fans who could be anticipating a major shake-up in the Formula One betting markets next season.
The changes focus on three key areas affecting aerodynamics: a simplified front wing featuring a larger span, the removal of winglets from front brake ducts, and a rear wing that is both deeper and wider. The two most obvious impacts are that a Formula One’s car aerodynamics will be simpler, which in theory could help smaller, less wealthy teams to close the gap. It is also likely that there will be an increase in lap times.
Ironically though, the short-term effect may not be a levelling of the playing field. The process of adjusting from the current setup to the new aerodynamic arrangement could be a costly and lengthy one, and once again, it will be the teams with the biggest budgets that will be able to adapt the quickest. It may not be until 2020 that the real benefits of these rule changes will result in a wider spread of Grand Prix wins among the teams.
However, the aim of increasing overtaking is likely to be met. More overtaking will undoubtedly help to make a more exciting and less predictable spectacle for fans, and while not all teams will welcome that, the overall effect is likely to be positive for the sport.
These are not the views of Mike Petch or F1.co.uk