After each race this season, the FIA will select a finishing car at random and subject it to a more in-depth level of checking and analysis than is usually the case, focusing on particular areas.
We trust the teams to come with fully legal cars, and indeed the sporting regulations of F1 specify that “competitors must ensure that their cars meet the eligibility and safety conditions throughout each session. of practice and the race ”, and that“ the presentation of a car for the initial scrutineering will be regarded as an implied declaration of conformity. “
The cars are not reviewed in detail every weekend. For example, after the race in Bahrain, all the finishing cars were weighed, and all underwent a series of parameter tests related to how their powertrains performed during the race.
However, only Sergio Perez’s Red Bull and Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri have undergone extensive checks in every possible dimension. In addition, nine cars were checked specifically for oil consumption, and oil samples were taken from Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes and Max Verstappen’s Red Bull. Hamilton’s car also donated a fuel sample.
What hasn’t been seen so far during post-race scrutineering or any other time over the weekend is that the FIA regularly dives under the skin of a car and dismantles components individuals for a more detailed analysis.
The change in philosophy is so significant that it was revealed to the teams in a technical directive and then explained to the whole world via a note from the Bahrain GP stewards.
Ferrari mechanics in the garage with one of their cars
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
“The reason for this process is that it is obvious that the cars have become more and more complicated and very difficult to dismantle,” said FIA technical manager for single-seaters Nikolas Tombazis.
“And also, on a race weekend there is very little, if any, opportunity to go into sufficient detail.
“All teams are deeply suspicious of their competition, and they think, well, maybe Team X or Y is doing something. And I’m sure maybe on occasion, certain things may have gone under our radar.
“We have no suspicions or anything at the moment, but we thought it was good practice to start checking the cars a bit more.”
To facilitate the process, the FIA added three staff members.
One of the reasons for early warning was to ensure that teams always had service engineers who could answer any questions that would emerge from inspections.
“The Sunday after the race, they must have the necessary support at the base if necessary,” explains Tombazis. “We don’t want them to tell us’ John is actually at a barbecue. Sorry, we don’t have the guy. “We want this guy to be available.
“Clearly we hope we never find anything wrong, because we don’t want people to cheat of course. But in the distant case that someone is cheating, we would like the team at the start of checking us out. say the other car is the same, or not the same.
“If we have doubts about a car, we can always select another car to do the same, it doesn’t change our normal operation in any way. But being random, it means that it can theoretically hit every car at any time and therefore if anyone had something questionable, they will think twice. “
What the new checks are not meant to reveal is something akin to last year’s biggest tech scandal, the Racing Point brake duct copy housing:
A mechanic works on Valtteri Bottas’ car, Mercedes-AMG F1
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
“On the copy side, we’re doing other checks for that. And we’ve done some already, for example, this year, and these are separate. It’s more CAD and so on. not what we do on Sunday night. “
How will the process work?
Essentially, a car number is selected from a hat. This car will undergo the usual technical checks of the bay, then will be brought back to its garage.
“What would generally happen is that the car will be selected immediately after the checkered flag and communicated to all the teams,” said Tombazis.
“This car will be accelerated through the platform and the normal conventional weighing and checks, so that it returns to the team garage as soon as possible.
“Two or three people from the FIA will be there to start. Then the FIA people who finish the normal post-race [checks] will join them. It will start from two or three and end with five or six people there. “
The actual work of disassembling the car will be carried out by the team’s own mechanics.
“We don’t have the knowledge,” concedes Tombazis. “We have at least two people in our team who are senior mechanics or former mechanics. And we did it in order to have that higher level of familiarity with the cars.
“But cars are pretty specialized these days and you can’t just start going there and taking them apart.”
FIA staff will know in advance which parts of the car they intend to deal with.
“We will divide the car into around 20 macro-zones,” explains Tombazis. “And we’re going to select two or three to check carefully each time. As we build a little more trust and make sure the logistics we can handle, we can hopefully increase that. . “
Inevitably there will be an element of time pressure. In flyaway races, cars and equipment have to be packed for freight on Sunday evenings, and in Europe there is always an urgent need to put the cars on the carriers and go. Now the teams will have to wait until the FIA guys have finished their work.
Mechanics push back Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M, in garage
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
“There is no time limit. So if we find that there are aspects that are deeply troubling, then the worst-case scenario is that we would say to the team, ‘Sorry, you have to stay here until. until we finish. ‘
“Clearly we’ll try to be reasonable. And we don’t want to disturb the whole world by causing them to lose their flight in freight. And we have the option if something is too complicated to put it in a box and seal it. then check it afterwards.
“We didn’t put in the maximum time, but we will try to be reasonable and not screw up everyone’s schedule.”
An intriguing aspect of the checks is that, although they focus on technical compliance, they will also provide the FIA with valuable information related to the control of the cost cap.
“We would do this job anyway, unrelated to the cost cap,” Tombazis explains. “However, what we do more thoroughly during this process is register parts of the car.
“Teams have to report in their cost cap the inventory they use. Clearly a car has maybe 15,000 parts on it. We can’t verify 15,000 parts. But if a team says it does. are the 15,000 parts that are on my car, we can check 50 random components and verify that they’re on their list, and basically keep them honest that way. “
The car chosen after the race in Bahrain was the Mercedes of third finalist Valtteri Bottas, and the focus was on its suspension.
A Mercedes could still be chosen at random for checks in the next race, or the one after. The FIA also has the right to select a second car if it has a specific reason for doing so.
“We will do this in every race,” says Tombazis. “I can’t tell you that there won’t be a race or two when there might be another big drama going on, and maybe we’ll get distracted or something. is not like we have to do it from a regulatory point of view, but we want to do it.
“Sometimes when we’re a little more used to it we can pick two cars if needed. Or if through the random process we had a car that wasn’t selected for 15 races or something like that. , we may decide to add and do additional checks, eventually, or if we have any suspicions, we may still decide to do so.
“But we want to have that random aspect so that any car can be checked at any time. So, theoretically, the same car could happen five times.”