Formula 1 Insight

Weighing the Pros and Cons

Nico Rosberg has been speaking against the unfairness of F1's weight rules, particularly now that KERS has limited even further the engineers' room to manuever. This might be seen as sour grapes from one of the sport's heavier drivers but he has a point.

Balestre and Bernie
The way we were - Jean-Marie Balestre and Bernie Ecclestone

The whole business of weighing drivers as well as cars dates from the early years of the turbo era, a time when the British teams, represented by Bernie Ecclestone and FOCA, were locked in battle with the FIA under Jean-Marie Balestre over the steadily increasing advantage of the turbo engines. In their quest to remain competitive, the Cosworth-powered teams were exploiting every loophole they could find in the FIA's rules and the main battlefields were ground effect and weight.

Ground effect had given the old 3-liter V8 a new lease of life at the end of the seventies, allowing it to make up for any deficiencies of power against the Renault and Ferrari turbos by maximizing the handling characteristics of those cars that used it best. The FIA tried to defeat this by specifying ground clearance but the engineers circumvented the rule by using dual-rate springs that allowed the body of the car to collapse to ground level at speed, so preserving the all-important suction zone under the floor. Ground clearance could not be measured while the cars were racing, after all.

When the FIA closed that loophole, focus moved to the minimum weight restriction. Once ground effect had been effectively taken out of the equation, the only chance for the Cosworth teams was to run lighter than the turbo cars and so came the clever invention of "water-cooled brakes". In those days, teams were allowed to fill up fluid containers before weigh-in after the races and the engineers realized that a tank filled with water, ostensibly for brake cooling but actually calculated to empty itself during the first couple of laps, would allow them to run below the weight limit and so remain in the hunt.

That loophole was closed by preventing any top up of fluids after the race and, as the British teams began to find turbos of their own, the war fizzled out. But it was during this period that the FIA began to consider the weight of the driver as part of the whole. I suppose the fear was that the Cosworth teams might start employing abnormally small drivers to give themselves an advantage but it was really taking the thing to ridiculous lengths. Although the lighter drivers have always had a slight advantage, that is part of the game and not an area that the engineers were ever going to be able to exploit. F1 has not taken horse racing's route of insisting on tiny pilots and it is never going to do so, skill being a much more important factor than size in this instance.

It is the insistence on weighing the car without restoration of fluids that has led to so many of the anomalies in the sport today. On this you can blame the idiotic fuel-burning qualifying periods of the last few years, the necessity to pick up garbage on the tires in the slowing down lap, the silly cool fuel saga of 2007 and so much more. All this is caused by a forgotten political battle long since fought and lost and irrelevant to the sport today.

There is irony in the fact that the battle was essentially about keeping the teams reasonably equal in performance. Turbos had reached the stage where they gave far more power than the Cosworth and the independent teams were merely trying to stay within range of the turbo teams. Considering the ridiculous efforts of the FIA nowadays to keep everything equal, even to the point of standardization, it seems strange to look back to a time when the governing body was doing everything it could to make things unequal.

Politics is the reason, of course. The aim then was to ensure that a French team win the championship and so the annoying little British teams should be legislated out of the game. Sound familiar?

As it happened, the aim was never realized and Alain Prost had to move to a British team to gain his first championship. The smaller teams managed to find turbo engines with which to compete and the years of McLaren and Williams domination arrived. But the rules devised in the turbulent years remained in the rulebook, to warp the whole business of weighing F1 cars ever afterwards. Do you weigh it with fluids or without? Do you take the driver's weight into consideration? Does the minimum weight apply at the beginning or the end of a race? It is all a bit silly.

Weigh the car dry, I reckon, and let the teams balance out the advantages and disadvantages of how much fluid they use thereafter or how heavy a driver they will employ. Nothing will change in essence except that we will hear a lot less of drivers going on starvation diets to secure some imagined and infinitesimal weight advantage. F1 is not about equality, it is about competition and, if a team is clever enough to gain an advantage, that is all part of the game.


Dave Spurr
I like you're idea of weighing the car dry and now that we have control tyres I think they should be excluded from the weighing too. Then all they'd have to do is remove the silly rules about not celebrating on the slow down lap (or whatever the rule is) and we can see winners showing their joy at winning while still in the car.
Date Added: 30/01/2009

Yes, and let Kimi do his donuts too!
Date Added: 30/01/2009

Steven Roy
The fundamental laws of physics will always favour lighter drivers however the rules are written. If you include the driver in the weight the lighter drivers have more ballast to play with and if you don't include the drivers weight the lighter drivers have an even bigger advantage.

It makes no significant difference how the rules are written tall drivers and heavy drivers will suffer. Trying to balance out driver weights and sizes by modifying the rules is destined to failure. You can track driver height being an issue to the day Colin Chapman sat the air intake for the Lotus 72 above the driver's head. Drivers like Gerhard Berger had to tilt or bend their heads on the straight to minimise their interference with the airflow to the engine.

The funadamental laws of physics dictate that if you are 5 foot 4 and 7 stone you cannot play basketball. Equally if you are 6 foot 4 and 13 stone you can't be a Formula 1 driver
Date Added: 30/01/2009

Agreed, Steven. So why does the FIA weigh drivers at all? Is it any of their business?
Date Added: 30/01/2009

Nick Goodspeed
Ecclestone is just trying to make sure no oner will be much larger than himself or tall enough to look his wife in the eyes!
Date Added: 31/01/2009

Hah! Maybe, Nick, maybe...
Date Added: 31/01/2009

Pink Peril
Jeepers, has Bernie EVER altered his hairstyle?
Date Added: 02/02/2009

IRL recently changed it's decades old rule about weigh-ins to include the driver, after many of the macho male drivers complained that 100 pound Danica Patrick had an unfair advantage over them. Do I sense an oink in the pit lane?
Date Added: 04/02/2009

Peril: Hey, that pudding bowl he purchased in 1972 has saved him millions in hairdresser's fees!
Date Added: 04/02/2009

Lonny: Seems to me the boys must be worried about her in that case...
Date Added: 04/02/2009

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