Formula 1 is diving into a well-earnt mid-season break, but the sport never really stops.
In fact the next few weeks could be as busy as any other in the sport, with several rules changes still pending confirmation before racing resumes in Belgium at the end of the month.
Some of those rules are still being hotly contested despite being just months out from coming into effect — and despite work on next year’s cars already underway.
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But the FIA is intending to force through changes on safety grounds, as is its prerogative, and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is imploring his rival team bosses to listen to the medical advice upon which they’re based, with growing concern for the long-term effects of car bouncing on driver health.
It’s not the only fight the FIA is managing, however, with the battle with drivers over the interpretation and consistency of the application of the rules still bubbling away, particularly with world champion Max Verstappen leading the line of complainants about the status quo.
And while we’re still lacking confirmation of Oscar Piastri’s debut next season, we’ve at least got a first hint of when the Aussie will finally get into a modern-day F1 car for his first practice session, and it isn’t too far away.
F1 DRIVERS RISK BRAIN DAMAGE FROM BOUNCING: WOLFF
Toto Wolff says drivers risk brain injury if the FIA doesn’t intervene with new regulations to prevent cars from porpoising.
Wolff was quoting an FIA study into the health effects of F1 cars vertically oscillating in the latest except in the battle of the bounce.
Bouncing has been a major topic of debate this season under the new rules, though its severity has varied by car and circuit.
Mercedes has been one of the worst affected teams, but at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix enough drivers experienced the bouncing that they united to lobby the FIA for relief.
Some rule clarifications will come into effect in Belgium after the break, and more substantial changes will be made next season.
The proposed rules will make the floor less powerful, but because the floor is central to performance in this generation of rules, as many as five teams are reportedly pushing to water down those rules.
Mercedes, however, is in support of intervention, and Wolff implored the dissenters to consider the health of the drivers rather than the pursuit of performance.
“There’s all this talk of lobbying in either direction, but I think fundamentally, what are we talking about?” he said, per autosport.
“The FIA has commissioned medical work on the porpoising. The summary of the doctors is that frequency of 1 to 2Hz sustained over a few minutes can lead to brain damage.
“We have 6 to 7Hz over several hours.
“So the answer is very easy: the FIA needs to do something about it.”
The chief counterargument is that bouncing has improved considerably without rule changes and is therefore not a safety concern, but Wolff said the reduction has had more to do with the circuits visited rather than the natural elimination of the effect by the teams.
“The argument is we haven’t had any porpoising and bouncing in the last few races. But it doesn’t count, because Silverstone, Paul Ricard, and Austria aren’t exactly tracks that we bounce at anyway.
“I don’t want to have it in Spa or at some of the later races where the track is not as smooth as on a conventional racetrack and we haven’t done anything and people say, ‘Well, now it’s too late’.
“I still fundamentally believe that there is no choice for the FIA and for us to do something.
VERSTAPPEN LAMENTS FIA TREATMENT
The FIA can’t seem to catch a break right now, with Max Verstappen protesting that the governing body is treating the drivers like “amateurs” in debates over the application of the rules.
There have been several flashpoints between the drivers and the FIA this season alone, largely around matters of driving etiquette and the stewards’ hard line approach to some regulations under the race directorship of Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich.
However, the more recent of these has been arguments about the policing of track limits.
This season the entire circuit is notionally being monitored for drivers putting all four wheels beyond the white line. It’s a departure from the previous approach of only enforcing track limits at some corners and sometimes based on the white lines and other times based on the kerb, which frustrated fans for the inconsistency of application.
In Hungary Verstappen’s Red Bull Racing teammate, Sergio Perez, ran afoul of track limits in qualifying in curious circumstances. He had his first Q2 lap deleted, and by the time he finished a compromised second lap, the time was reinstated upon review of what turned out to be a fine-margins call.
Neither lap ended up being fast enough to make it into the shootout.
It came two rounds after Perez was thrown out of Q3 long after qualifying had concluded when the stewards discovered he’d marginally infringed on track limits during Q2, dropping him well down the grid.
“I just don’t think the system is really up to it,” Perez said afterwards. “We have to review it and see how we can move forwards to have some more consistency.”
But Verstappen said drivers’ attempts to co-operate with race control was proving frustrating, lamenting that FIA officials preferred to dictate to them rather than work together to improve the consistency and interpretation of the rules.
“As drivers, we always want to help and give our advice, but nothing was heard, and for me that’s extremely frustrating,” he said. “I don’t want to fight with them, I want to just advise them, but it seems like they don’t really care.
“They actually, for my feeling, look at us a bit like we are amateurs. I don’t think that’s correct.”
PRACTICE OUTINGS SET FOR LAWSON AND PIASTRI
While the F1 paddock awaits confirmation that Oscar Piastri will make his full-time debut next season, a matter that should have been made considerably clearer by Fernando Alonso’s shock decision to move to Aston Martin from 2023, the Australian is reportedly being penciled in to partake in his first practice session.
According to Alpine sporting director Alan Permane, Piastri is poised to jump in one of the Alpine cars during the triple-header immediately after the mid-season break.
“It’s not a huge issue to find a weekend; there are plenty,” he said. “I think we’ll see Oscar in our car either in Spa or Monza for the first time.”
Each team is required by the regulations to devote one practice session per car to a rookie driver with less than three grands prix of experience.
Assuming Piastri gets the nod to replace Alonso next season, the Australian would be expected to fulfill both mandatory rookie sessions.
The Melburnian is also undertaking a training program involving extensive running in last year’s car.
The triple-header will be a good few weeks for antipodean hopefuls, with Franz Tost confirming AlphaTauri will used the first of its rookie outings on Kiwi Liam Lawson, his and Red Bull Racing’s reserve driver.
Lawson, currently eighth in the Formula 2 championship with Carlin after finishing runner-up in the DTM championship last season, will appear in one of Tost’s cars at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Ferrari has confirmed Robert Schwartzman, who finished second to Piastri in last year’s F2 championship but is without a full-time drive this season, will complete both its required rookie practice sessions later in the year.