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Formula One to use controversial standing restarts in 2015

Cars start the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix race at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, Sunday, June 22, 2014.

Darko Vojinovic/AP Photo

On tap this week:

  • Formula One Strategy Group strikes again
  • Reductions all around in F1
  • Spice it up by ditching warmers
  • Hamilton needs to strike back at home
  • Wickens proudly racing under the Maple Leaf
  • Hinchcliffe's yellow blues

If Formula One is trying to prove how little it understands its fans, the racing series left little doubt with its adoption of standing restarts for 2015.

Beginning next season, the rolling restart used after a safety car period will be replaced by the cars lining up on grid to repeat the red light procedure that starts every grands prix. The new procedure will not be used if the safety car comes out within two laps of a race start or any standing restart, or when there are less than five laps remaining in a grand prix.

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The rules now have the field line up in single file following a full course caution period with the leader essentially controlling when the cars accelerate back to racing speed once the safety car pulls back into the pits.

Severely criticized by fans on social media — one online poll had almost 70 per cent of fans opposed to the idea, with only 20 per cent agreeing with the idea — standing restarts is the most recent gimmick conjured up by the sport to help improve the show.

Standing restarts is the latest brainchild of the Formula One Strategy Group, a body that's made up of six members from the sport's governing Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), its commercial rights holder Formula One Management, and the top teams. The strategy group replaced the F1 sporting and technical working groups last year.

They are the same people who came up with the double-points season finale, another idea that was roundly dismissed as silly by most fans. They also recommended fitting titanium skid blocks on the undersides of the cars whose only purpose is to create artificial sparks when they hit the track surface.

Early indications are that most of the drivers also don't have a good feeling about the standing restarts, with several coming out against the idea last week. Championship leader Nico Rosberg of the Mercedes team said he thought it was "going too far with things."

Several also expressed concerns about safety, especially because there is no provision to change tires before the post-pace car restart.

The decision also seems to fly in the face of the safety emphasized by the FIA over the past two decades. Forcing drivers to launch from the grid on tires in various states of wear and then careen into the first corners that funnel the cars into close quarters simply does not sound like a good idea.

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Perhaps the best possible change for 2015 would be the elimination of the F1 Strategy Group.

By the Numbers: In addition to standing restarts, F1 adopted several other measures for the 2015 season mostly designed to reduce costs.

The number of engines per car will be four, although another will be added to the supply if there are more than 20 races. Starting next year, wind tunnel time will be lowered by 15 hours per week to 65, while wind-on time drops to 25 hours from 30 per week. In-season test days get cut by 50 per cent, with only four test days next year and half of those must be reserved for "young drivers."

Teams Computational Fluid Dynamics usage will be to be reduced by five Teraflops — the equivalent of the calculating power of about three Sony PlayStation 4s — to 25 Teraflops.

Random Thoughts: If F1 really wanted to spice up the show, the easiest way to do it would be to implement the one 2015 rule change it rescinded last week: The elimination of tire warmers.

The lack of the blankets certainly works to improve the show in IndyCar, where drivers need to get their rubber up to operating temperature without losing too much time. The elimination of tire warmers would not only put more emphasis on driver talent would but also make strategy decisions for the teams more complicated.

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Having drivers emerge from the pitlane on cold tires would make undercutting a rival more difficult and put added pressure on the strategy team. It would also force drivers to push harder and make more passes on track, because they couldn't rely on it happening in pitstops.

An undercut is when a driver pits before a rival ahead of them on track in the hopes of laying down a really fast outlap on their fresh rubber, which will help them leapfrog the rival when they emerge from their tire change. The warmers make this possible because there is hardly any time needed to get the tires to their optimum operating temperature, so the driver sees an immediate benefit from the fresh rubber.

And yes, put a foot wrong or try too hard too fast and things could end in disaster.

But getting tires up to temperature without crashing is a skill that most IndyCar drivers have mastered, so F1 drivers, who the sport loves to market as the greatest talents in the world, shouldn't have too much trouble figuring out how to nurse cold tires.

With these facts staring them in the face, F1 rule makers decided that the idea of eliminating tire blankets would only be revisited should wheel and tire diameter be increased. Considering that the group that recommended not to ditch the blankets could also propose to increase the wheel and tire diameter, the warmers are here to stay.

Technically Speaking: In his eight F1 seasons, Briton Lewis Hamilton has only managed to win his home grand prix once, a wet event during his championship 2008 season. He'll be hoping to repeat that feat again this weekend as the F1 circus arrives in Silverstone for the British Grand Prix.

With the 2014 calendar hitting the mid-point, Hamilton cannot afford to let teammate Nico Rosberg stretch his points lead. The German finished ahead of his Mercedes teammate in the past three races and with his victory two weeks ago in Austria, Rosberg extended the point gap to Hamilton to 29. With drivers getting 25 points per race win, Rosberg has a nice cushion to his teammate.

After falling behind Hamilton for the first time this season following his teammate's early May win at the fifth race in Spain, Rosberg bounced back with a pair of victories in Monaco and Austria, while also nursing his ailing car to second in Montreal where his teammate retired.

Away from the microphones and cameras, team insiders say that although he may not have the pure pace of Hamilton, Rosberg does have the technical smarts to find ways to make his car faster than his teammate's, something that may prove to be the difference in the 2014 title race.

Quote of the Week: "I rarely get to be at home on Canada Day due to my racing schedule. I was lucky enough to represent Canada in the A1GP Series a few years ago and winning a race for Team Canada in South Africa has easily been one of the highlights of my career so far. In the end, it really doesn't matter what series I am racing in, I always feel a great sense of Canadian pride when I'm standing on the top step of the podium and the anthem plays."

— Guelph, Ont.'s, Robert Wickens, who won his second career Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters Series race on Sunday at the Norisring street circuit, talking about his feelings about racing under the Maple Leaf.

The Last Word: Okay, he may not be finishing last but IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe is a nice guy who's simply not getting a break. The Oakville, Ont., native went through another rough weekend in Texas, seeing a possible win slip through his fingers yet again due to an ill-timed yellow flag.

Hinchcliffe was the class of the field in Saturday's race on the streets of Houston, masterfully negotiating a wet track in the early going and then keeping himself in contention as things dried out. In the end, he led a race high 32 of 80 laps but was foiled by a string of cautions at the end of the race which allowed several drivers to make it to the end without pitting. Hinchcliffe crossed the line seventh but was promoted to fifth after time penalties were applied to two drivers.

Two weeks ago in Detroit, Hinchcliffe looked poised to win until a caution ruined his race.

The good news for the Andretti Autosport driver is that despite the bad luck, the fifth place finish on Saturday was enough to put him into the top-10 in points for the first time this year.

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About the Author
Motorsports columnist

There's an old saying about timing being everything in racing and Jeff Pappone's career as a motorsport correspondent shows that it also applies to journalists covering the sport too. More


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