Explained: What is the F1 summer break and why shut down for a month?

Thomas Maher
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc leads at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc leads at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps.

Every year, Formula 1 enters a four-week shutdown that sees the drivers and teams specifically banned from carrying out any work. But why?

Last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix was the final race before Formula 1’s mandatory summer shutdown, which means a full four-week gap until the next round of the championship is held – the Dutch Grand Prix marking the beginning of the ‘second half’ of the championship.

While you might be mistaken for thinking that, in the relentless world of F1, no team is going to willingly go on holiday, it’s exactly that mindset that means the sport’s governing body has made it an unbreakable law in the rulebook to ensure staff gets some time to themselves during the year.

Why is there an F1 summer break, and what is it?

Over the years, with an expanding F1 calendar, the sport introduced an informal summer shutdown where there was usually a three-week gap between races.

But, with the calendar having swelled to over 20 races a season, the summer break has become a more integral part of the season’s scheduling in order to ensure every team member gets a chance to switch off in a way that prevents teams from exploiting it for a competitive advantage.

With a pause put on development and research work, it’s also a way to bring down costs, and offers a little bit of respite from the non-stop nature of the sport where pretty much every department has been flat out since before the car launch at the start of the season.

For 2014, the FIA made it an official part of the rulebook to ensure every team was forced to switch off their screens, put on their ‘out of office’ email notifications, and try to relax.

From that year’s Sporting Regulations onward, there has been a section of the rulebook to purposely target this unusual shutdown period and make sure everyone is on the same page about what is and isn’t allowed.

Article 24 of the 2023 Sporting Regulations dictates that every team must observe two mandatory shutdown periods during the year. One of these runs from December 24th to January 1st, inclusive, to give all staff a winter/Christmas downtime period.

Even though the gap in racing is four weeks, the downtime for the teams is only half that.

During the summer, all teams must also have a period of 14 consecutive calendar days, that must be used during July and/or August. Not every team is required to take these at the same time, meaning a small amount of flexibility, but with so many races scheduled, the window for this shutdown is obviously very narrow. As a result, every team will put in this mandatory 14-day shutdown during the gap between the Belgian and Dutch Grands Prix – although not necessarily on the same days.

Given that the days following the Belgian GP would have been given over to debriefs, analysis, and just generally settling back in at the factory after weeks on the road, most of the teams will choose to switch off completely once this working week is concluded – meaning the two middle weeks of the four-week gap is the ideal opportunity, before switching back on at the start of the Dutch GP race week.

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What is and isn’t allowed to be done during the F1 summer break?

In order to ensure fairness and equality, there’s very little allowed to be done by any of the teams. During the summer break, no competitor or affiliate is permitted to carry out, or even to instruct a third-party, to carry out many tasks.

All computer-based CFD simulations must be switched off, as well as the production or development of any wind tunnel parts, car parts, test parts, or tooling. The wind tunnels themselves must also be switched off entirely.

Assembly of cars, as well as sub-assembly of components, is also banned.

Employees, consultants, or sub-contractors, who are engaged in design, development, or production, are also banned from any work.

However, there are some caveats to these bans. Should a team have to worry about repairs or a rebuild following a hefty crash in the final round before the break, they can seek the agreement of the FIA to carry out the necessary repairs.

If a team is carrying out a show run, or wants to carry out maintenance on historic/show cars, they may do so – assembly and servicing of these cars is permitted, although the rules are written to ensure nothing applicable to current machinery or parts can be used.

A team’s wind tunnel may also be used, provided it is for projects with no direct relation to Formula 1, or on behalf of another team that has not yet entered its own mandatory shutdown (they’ve thought of all the loopholes!).

Wind tunnels may also be used for the purposes of maintenance or modifications to the facility. The same restrictions and allowances apply to the computers used for CFD simulations.

Teams may also do any activity the sole purpose of which is for projects unconnected to F1 – subject to prior written approval by the FIA.

The same restrictions also apply to power unit manufacturers – all of whom must switch off anything to do with their current work. Maintenance or modification of test benches is permitted, as is the assembly and servicing of power units for show/historic cars.

While anyone involved in the running of the cars isn’t allowed to work, there are still factions of the teams permitted to work and keep the factories and brands alive.

To this end, marketing departments can stay running as normal – as can accounting, financial, human resources, and legal departments.

Outside of the exact 14-day shutdown registered by each team with the FIA, they can operate as normal with all hands on deck as required.

How is it enforced?

While the FIA might not be expected to be able to keep an eye on every single team’s computer workstation, it’s a relatively straightforward ruleset to monitor – the teams are largely self-policing and will have no issues reporting each other for suspected breaches.

On top of that, employees can make use of the FIA’s Ethics and Compliance Hotline if needed, in order to report their employer if desired.

Punishing people for not going on holiday might seem a little unusual, but heavy penalties can be put on any team that breaches the 14-day shutdown, as heavily enforced as any rule in the Sporting Regulations.

What do the F1 drivers do during the summer shutdown?

With no work permitted at the factories, the drivers get the two weeks to themselves as well – most of whom choose to head off on holidays somewhere warm and sunny, although others might be tempted to lock themselves away on their home simulators to get some additional practice in ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix…

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