Formula One has been running for 69 years, and has come a long way since the 1950s. Back then the cars were fairly large bulky machines and now, they are streamlined beasts. To achieve this feat of becoming aerodynamic machines, there have been a number of changes in the Formula One Car regulations over the years.
From 1950 to 1953, Engine specs set at 1500 cc maximum size for engines with a compressor (supercharger or turbocharger) or 4500 cc for naturally aspirated engines. There was also no weight limit during those times. Also for 1952, crash-helmets were made compulsory; but these helmets were made with dubious materials and were a far cry from the modern day helmets.
Then, from 1961 to 1965 engine specs amended to a naturally aspirated engine of between 1300 cc and 1500 cc. From this point onwards, the FIA began to to take safety a little more seriously, with frequent inspections. A Formula One car’s speed increased significantly since 1950, however the development of safety measures was not proportionally rapid.
Many of the drivers felt that the danger level involved in the sport was unnecessarily high. All this was in spite of Formula One car regulation changes by the end of the 1960s. Leading the winds of change was Jackie Stewart, and his stance grew stronger after the avoidable death of Ronnie Peterson.
The sport finally woke up and made the changes to maintain the modern safety standards. of safety which it enjoys today. It was also worth noting that from the 1970s, there were no longer any long circuits.
Ground effect, a technology that created huge amounts of downforce, was soon discovered. The technological genius, Colin Chapman can be credited for this, and he implemented it for his Lotus team. Once all the other teams caught on, the overall grid performance skyrocketed over a period of 2 years.
In 1972 the minimum weight increased to 550 kg, and safety foam was added in fuel tanks. Magnesium sheeting had to be at a maximum on 3 mm thick, there was also the mandatory use of a red rear light, along with a head rest. The fuel tanks needed to meet FIA specifications, and a six point harness was required for safety purposes. Finally, a driver’s code of conduct released.
After Niki Lauda’s near-fatal accident at the Nordschleife, the circuit was taken off the 1977 calendar. Also in 1978 Brabham came out with the BT46B ‘fan car’, which was a novelty for its time. However, it was soon deemed illegal and banned after one race, which it actually won.
In spite of the deaths of Patrick Depailler, Gilles Villeneuve and Riccardo Paletti, the sport actually became a lot safer. The downforce also became an issue, with a number of drivers crashing heavily enough for their careers to end abruptly. As a result, the technology was banned outright at the start of the 1983 season.
Then, the aluminium chassis was replaced by carbon fibre chassis, as a further bid to improve safety. Needless to say, the switch worked and there was no driver fatality for the rest of the decade. Unfortunately, with one step forward, the FIA took two steps backwards. In other words, the power output was increased dramatically, owing to the turbocharged engines.
Then, from 1986 onwards the FIA’s attempted to rein in the turbo engines before finally banning them altogether in 1988. Once Bernie Ecclestone took over the reins, the series became an official business, with its own standards, while sticking to the Formula One car regulations set by the FIA.
Although the teams have to make their own cars, they are still allowed to purchase engines and gearboxes from independent manufacturers. Flexible side skirts banned to reduce downforce created by ground effect, mandatory ground clearance of 6 cm required to limit ground effect further -wing size limits set in place. All cars now subject to a frontal crash test to be deemed race worthy.
Despite several near misses Formula One managed to go almost 12 whole years without a single fatality at a race meeting. The strength of the carbon fibre chassis being used and the fortunate escapes of many drivers involved in high speed accidents during this period made many people inside the sport believe that death was a thing of the past in Formula One.
This was undone when the FIA hastily banned all electronic technology that the teams depended on for the start of the 1994 season. This made many of that year’s cars nervy and edgy to drive. With more horsepower than 1993 but with less in car stability some observers, most notably Ayrton Senna concluded that 1994 would “be a season with lots of accidents”.
Near-fatal accidents of JJ Lehto and Jean Alesi during pre-season and in season testing proved Senna right. Then came the tragic 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, with Rubens Barrichello being severely injured in practice. However, that was just a sign of things to com, as San Marino witnessed the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Senna himself.
The sweeping changes that the FIA implemented post-Imola proved to be almost as rash as the ones at the end of 1993 and nearly claimed the life of Pedro Lamy in a testing accident.
Most of the changes that the FIA have implemented to the regulations in the nine seasons since the year 2000 have been aimed at trimming speed off the cars and, later in the decade, at reducing the costs involved in Formula One. These have risen by a factor of between three and four for the top teams like Ferrari and McLaren. This sudden increase in budgets has largely been down to the influx of big spending car manufacturers setting up teams in the sport since Mercedes paved the way by buying 40% of the Mclaren team.
In 2002, Team orders banned after Rubens Barrichello was forced to hand victory to Michael Schumacher at final corner of the Austrian Grand Prix. In 2003 though a landmark decision was made, to allow the HANS (Head And Neck Support) system to be mandatory.
A year later, engine penalties were introduced, where offending drivers would cop a 10-place grid penalty. Each driver must select his wet and dry weather tyre compounds before the start of the race. In addition to that, launch control was banned, as well as fully automatic transmission.
In 2007, there was a single tyre supplier, namely Bridgestone, after Michelin withdrew. Drivers also had to used both hard and soft compound tyre during the course of race. Engine development was frozen until the end of 2008 to cut costs, further restrictions to regulations means no teams may run a 3rd car on Friday, both sessions on Friday extended to 90 minutes in length, engine changes on first day of practice no longer subject to grid place penalty, pit lane restrictions during any period the safety car is on the track, annual testing limited to 30,000 km to reduce costs.
There was also a ban on all aerodynamic devices other than front and rear wing. Slick tyres made a return and the engines were limited to eight race per unit. There was also a reduction of rear wing width from 1000 mm to 750 mm and an increase in height from 800 mm to 950 mm. The biggest change to the Formula One car regulations, was the introduction of KERS (kinetic energy recovery system). The idea was to store some of the energy generated under braking and convert it into a temporary horsepower increase of around 80 bhp that can be used 6.6 seconds per lap by the drivers for overtaking.
A year later, as part of cost-cutting, In-race refuelling was banned. There was also a ban on testing during the season. The ban on team orders was lifted, though the FIA could use disrepute clause for misuse of it. There was also another addition to the Formula One car regulations, the Drag Reduction System, DRS, in 2011.
Finally, in 2019, the new Formula One car regulations made the front wing much simpler and the rear wing was made 100mm wider, with a larger DRS opening to improve DRS. The aim was to reduce dirty air and promote more overtaking.