Tech Draft: Are 2023 F1 floor rule changes really proposed for safety?

The subject of Formula 1 revising the floor regulations for the 2023 season has been hotly debated recently, but is safety the main driver for change? Tech Draft discusses.

The chance that numerous F1 teams will protest the FIA’s proposed 2023 Formula 1 technical regulation changes relating to ground effect floors and vertical oscillations has increased in recent days as it seems as though six to seven of the ten teams are not supporting the premise of the changes.

Of course, we are all aware of the “porpoising” issue many of the F1 teams were experiencing earlier this year as they came to grips with designing and operating a ground effect car, and that Mercedes in particular were expressing concerns for the health and safety of their drivers, but as time has passed, particularly since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in June, it would seem as though most, or essentially all, teams have come to grips with the issue to such a degree that it is hardly noticeable anymore, and hardly a safety concern.

Mercedes smoke and mirrors

However, whether it was derived out of genuine concern for the health and safety of the drivers, or whether it was a result of intense lobbying by Toto Wolff, and even crafty thespianism by the Mercedes drivers, the FIA reacted with the issue of Technical Directive 039, which apparently detailed its intent to develop a metric to quantify and be used to police vertical oscillations to an acceptable level, and better regulate floor and plank flexing, although it is all supposition in a way for me because the FIA seemingly continues to refuse public access to any of its F1 technical directives.

Nevertheless, whilst the initial introduction date for the metric to be implemented, so that data could start to be collected for the FIA to understand the issue better, at this year’s French Grand Prix was pushed to the right, it will come into implementation at the upcoming Belgian Grand Prix.

Most concerningly for many of the teams, who by the way would have their design processes for next year well and truly under way, is the FIA’s stated intention of changing the technical regulations for 2023 to raise the underfloor venturi throat height, raise the minimum floor edge height by 25mm, and mandate the inclusion of a vertical oscillation sensor, which is still to be defined.

Vertical oscillations NOT a safety concern

Last week the FIA said in a statement: “It is the responsibility and the prerogative of the FIA to intervene for safety matters, and the reason the regulations allow such measures to be taken is precisely to allow decisions to be taken without being influenced by the competitive position each team may find themselves in.”

Safety?

As I have already mentioned, there is no doubt whatsoever that the degree of severity of “porpoising” is now much less, if it happens at all.

Yet, the question that I think really needs to be asked is ‘who’ or ‘what’ has decided that the issue of vertical oscillation of 2022 F1 cars is a safety issue? And, on what basis is that decision being made?

What I find most curious is that decisions of a technical nature such as this are generally made on the consideration of a set of empirical data collected in a controlled method, test results if you will, and yet the FIA has not even brought the oscillation metric – the very vehicle it will be using to collect that data – into effect.

So, let me put this simply for you: the FIA has decided to change the rules for next year for a phenomenon that isn’t really a concern anymore on the grounds of safety using a metric that they haven’t even collected any data for yet.

Now, I’m not usually one for profanity, but WTF?

Gerrymander, or let’s call it “Porpoisemander”

If the premise of the regulation changes being based on safety fails, which is what I am suggesting, then the only legal course of action afforded to the FIA is to take a recommendation of the F1 Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to the World Motorsport Council for ratification, and that simply won’t happen because there wont be enough votes on the TAC for the recommendation to be carried.

Wait a minute, though, because there is a twist to the story and the plot thickens.

Remarkably, the person responsible for overseeing TD 039 is the FIA’s Secretary General for Motorsport ad interim, Shaila-Ann Rao, who has been in the role since the departure of Peter Bayer earlier this year and who coincidentally was employed by the Mercedes team immediately prior to her appointment to the FIA, one Ferrari have publicly expressed concern about, as Special Advisor to none other than Toto Wolff.

If Technical Directive 039 and the related proposed F1 technical regulation changes I have discussed are not about safety, one cannot help but feel that this is all a gerrymander, entirely contradictory to the FIA statutes, but let’s hope that is not the case.