After the legendary driver Ayrton Senna died during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, the sport’s rules on car design and safety strikingly changed. Now, Formula 1’s rules and the decisions of the F.I.A., the sport’s governing body, are rarely out of the spotlight.
The sport had acted quickly in response to losing its biggest star. It introduced requirements that the cars obey a speed limit in the pit lane and made the teams alter their car designs to lower speeds.
No one has died in 2023, nor have there been serious accidents, but there has been significant arguments over safety. These have intensified the already heavy scrutiny of the decisions made by F.I.A. officials.
“They’re not stupid, and they’re trying to do the best job possible,” George Russell, the Mercedes driver, said after the Australian Grand Prix last month. “But things do need to be ironed out to understand where their approach is going to lie. We’ve seen a few crazy or rogue decisions being made recently.”
Russell, a director of the Formula 1 drivers’ representative body, the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, who is in regular contact with the F.I.A. about its rules and decisions, was discussing the fallout from the race stoppages in Melbourne after three accidents. When that race was restarted with just two laps left, there was a pileup at the first corner, leading to a debate after the race over the F.I.A.’s decision to try for a full racing finish instead of the event ending behind the safety car, with no overtaking permitted.
The governing body explained that “collaboration with the drivers and all stakeholders is a priority for the F.I.A.,” then worked with the teams to introduce a new procedure on late restarts. This is aimed to ensure tires are hot enough to give the cars more maneuverability to avoid crashes.
But there have been rule debates at every race. The most awkward concerned a late-race incident at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix last month, where F.I.A. officials allowed the pit lane to fill with people as Esteban Ocon of Alpine raced into the lane.
The F.I.A. required the people involved in the incident to explain their actions to the race stewards. As a result, the organization pledged to take “immediate steps” to keep pit lanes clear, a rule that went into effect at the Miami Grand Prix this month.
Beyond safety, some teams are unhappy about the F.I.A. penalty Red Bull received last year for exceeding the sport’s cost cap in 2021. The team was fined $7 million and told to reduce its aerodynamic testing by 10 percent for a year, testing that helps teams develop their cars.
With Red Bull winning the first five races this year, that 10 percent cut did not seem to have much of an effect, which Frédéric Vasseur, the Ferrari team principal, pointed out last month.
But Red Bull has said the penalty was indeed severe.
Christian Horner, the team principal, has said it amounted to “a significant handicap that we carry for the majority of the year.”
This is a complex motorsport. The current focus on its rules rises from one incident after another, such as the F.I.A.’s demand that, because of safety concerns, mechanics no longer climb pit-wall fences to celebrate victories, which mechanics have done for years.
But, just as was the case following the dark weekend at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, there are suggestions that closer collaboration between the teams and the F.I.A. could help with safety.
“Certainly,” said Andrea Stella, team principal of McLaren, for which Senna won all three of his world titles, “we support simplification of the regulations.”
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