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2015 F1 – Points, penalties and the pursuit of safety

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Although 2015 isn’t a season of massive rules upheaval, as we had last year, the changes being introduced for the second season of turbo power are significant. Here, then, is our rough guide to the new sporting regs that are likely to impact on racing this year.

At the top of the list is of course is in-season engine development. At the moment the benefit or otherwise of the manufacturers’ ability to develop 2015 power units beyond the end-of-February homologation date stipulated in the 2014 regulations remains to be seen, but the extra time will undoubtedly allow power unit suppliers to attempt to draw closer to a pacesetting outfit, though they too will obviously benefit from an open-ended homologation timeframe.

The flexibility could also help with another of the 2015 changes – the drop in the number of engine available to each competitor from five to four, although five will be permitted if the calendar (as originally scheduled) rises above 20 races.

Last year saw a number of drivers suffer tough grid penalties as they exhausted their allocation of five power units during the season. Those rules are getting tighter in ’15 with just four whole units for each driver. As in 2014, the power unit will be classed as consisting of six elements, which can be rotated between power units depending on requirements. A driver will have use of four examples of each element. However, once that allocation has been exhausted, penalties will be incurred each time a new element is used.

In a change to 2014, however, the replacement of a complete power unit will no longer result in a penalty, instead as specified in the current regulations, penalties will be applied cumulatively for individual components of the power unit.

Last year when those penalties were incurred, if the amount of places to be dropped on the grid was beyond the back of the grid, the excess penalty places were carried over to the following event.

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That changes this year and from now on excess penalty places will incur a time penalty according to the following scale:
* 1 to 5 grid places untaken: A penalty under Article 16.3(a) will be applied.
* 6 to 10 grid places untaken: A penalty under Article 16.3(b) will be applied.
* 11 to 20 grid places untaken: A penalty under Article 16.3(c) will be applied.
* More than 20 grid places untaken: A penalty under Article 16.3(d) will be applied.

The first of these (Article 16.3(a)) provides for a five-second penalty. This was introduced by the FIA in 2014 for minor racing infringements. Deemed a success by race stewards the 2015 rules also now provide for a 10-second penalty for more serious infringements (Article 16.3(c)). This will be taken in the same manner as the five-second sanction, with a penalised driver entering the pit lane, stopping at his pit for at least 10 seconds and then re-joining the race. As with the five-second penalty, no work can be done on the car until the time penalty has been served. If the penalty is imposed in the final three laps the penalty does not have to be served but a 30-second time penalty will be added after the chequered flag.

Article 16.3(d) provides for a 10-second stop-and-go penalty while subsection (d) allows stewards to apply a discretionary time penalty. Other infringements and the penalties they incur have also been given a bit of scrutiny.

Prior to the start of a race if any team personnel or team equipment remain on the grid after the 15 second signal has been shown, the driver of the car concerned must start the race from the pit lane. A ten second stop-and-go penalty will be imposed on any driver who fails to do this.

In the case of an unsafe release from a pit stop during a race a ten second stop-and-go penalty will be imposed on the driver concerned. An additional penalty will be imposed on any driver who, in the opinion of the stewards, continues to drive a car knowing it to have been released in an unsafe condition.

Following the accident involving Jules Bianchi at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, the FIA conducted a series of tests at the season’s remaining events involving a ‘Virtual Safety Car’. The system provides for a speed limit to be imposed around the track and according to the new regulations: “The procedure may be initiated to neutralise a race upon the order of the clerk of the course. It will normally be used when double waved yellow flags are needed on any section of track and competitors or officials may be in danger, but the circumstances are not such as to warrant use of the safety car itself.”

The Safety Car rules also get a tweak this year. As was the case in 2014, lapped cars may unlap themselves behind the safety car; however, the safety car will no longer need to wait until those drivers have caught up with the rest of the field before leaving the track. Instead, the safety car is free to pull back into the pits on the following lap after the last lapped car has been waved through.

Meanwhile, in the event that a race is suspended for any reason, cars will no longer form up on the grid to await a restart but will pull in to the pitlane. This was the case in Suzuka last year and the practice will be continued in 2015.

The Parc Fermé rules have changes as well, with cars now being classed as in parc fermé from the start of qualifying instead of third practice, with Article 34.2 saying: “Each car will be deemed to be in parc fermé from the time at which it leaves the pit lane for the first time during qualifying practice until the start of the race. Any car which fails to leave the pit lane during qualifying practice will be deemed to be in parc fermé at the end of Q1.”

Article 34.2 now also states that if a team changes a part under parc fermé conditions the replacement must be “similar in design, mass, inertia and function to the original”.

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Testing, too, gets a makeover for 2015. Whereas in 2014 the three in-season tests took place in Jerez and Bahrain, 2015’s regulations stipulate that the three pre-season tests must be held in Europe. Therefore we’ll kick off in Jerez at the start of February before heading Barcelona twice, from 19-22 February and finally from 26 February to 1 March, just two weeks before the start of the season.

In 2014 there were four in-season tests but this year that number has been reduced to just two two-day in-season tests (at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya in May, following the Spanish GP, and at our home track the Red Bull Ring in July, following the Austrian Grand Prix). Each team must allocate two days from these tests to running young drivers.

Teams will also have the opportunity to use their current cars at two demonstration events during the year. These may only be carried between the end of the last Event of the Championship and the end of the calendar year. No such demonstration may exceed 15km in length and only tyres manufactured specifically for this purpose by the appointed supplier may be used.

There are also a number of small tweaks and clarifications contained in the new regs. These include a ban on teams taking out fuel from the car or adding to the fuel load while the car is on the grid; a clarification of the rules concerning elimination from qualifying, depending on the number of cars on the grid (24 cars, seven excluded from Q1 and Q2, 22 six and six and so on); a new rule now states that “should two hours elapse before the scheduled race distance is completed, the leader will be shown the chequered flag when he crosses the control line at the end of the lap following the lap during which the two-hour period ended; there are also new curbs on wind tunnel time.

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What’s not included

Double Points – One of the more welcome changes for 2015, in the eyes of most drivers and fans, is the ditching of the controversial double points rule for the final event of the season. For 2015, all races will carry the same amount of points. Normal service has been resumed!

Tyre Blanket Ban – This cost-saving measure was to have been introduced in 2015 and featured in the provisional regulations until June of 2014 when it was rescinded at a meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in Munich.

Standing Restarts – Suggested as a means of improving the show but greeted with a mixture of suspicion (by fans), scorn (drivers) and concern (teams and drivers), standing starts following a safety car period were written into the regulations at the June meeting of the WMSC but were removed from the regs just six months later when the WMSC met in Doha last December. The reason: “After consultation with the teams, who raised a number of safety concerns, Articles 42.7 and 42.8 on standing restarts have been rescinded.” (Infiniti Redbull Racing)

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