The FIA feel a loophole was found in the 2022 regulations when it came to floors, but saw no team culpable of outright cheating.
A group of loophole-finding rule busters had been used to sniff out potential grey areas in the new 2022 Technical Regulations, but a part they seemingly missed was flexi-floors.
Porpoising, a bouncing effect associated with Formula 1’s move to ground effect aerodynamics, was a particular problem early in the season, leading to the FIA introducing a technical directive that came into effect as of the Belgian Grand Prix.
As well as bringing in a vertical oscillation metric to control the level of bouncing, floor changes were also announced for 2023 as the FIA looked to get a firmer grasp on the phenomenon.
But, ahead of the Spa Technical Directive, there were also hints from the FIA that some teams had been stretching the rules to their very limit with the design of their floors, prompting additional flexibility checks.
Teams were dabbling in a bit of “trickery” then say the FIA, but not cheating.
“Teams clearly always tend to work on the edge of the regulations, and we didn’t think anybody was cheating back then,” the FIA’s single seater technical director Nikolas Tombazis told Motorsport.com.
“But the way the regulations were written permitted a bit of trickery, let’s say, that was unintended. That’s why we clarified the regulations by a technical directive and put some changes in the regulations.
“There’s two areas of the regulations where we can act unilaterally without F1 Commission approval. The one is to do with stiffness, Article 3.15, and the other one is to do with safety. That gave us the necessary ability to act on that front.”
Adding that in hindsight the FIA could have been “a bit stricter with the floor edges” when the regulations were rolled out, Tombazis spoke of how tricky it can be to get teams to put their interests aside and reach a common ground, as the governing body found out when they attempted to raise the floor edges by 25mm for 2023.
Ultimately 15mm was the figure settled on, Tombazis saying the teams will quickly forget the good done for them before in such situations.
“It’s normally a predicament, because in Formula 1, almost everything is presumed to be benefitting somebody more than somebody else, because ultimately somebody has to win and somebody will not win,” Tombazis stated.
“So with the exception of some things like safety, where generally speaking most people tend to agree, there’s huge difficulty in getting people to agree on almost anything else. And I know that, because I’ve been on the other side of the fence.
“It’s so intense for them that they always forget very quickly things they’ve benefitted from occasionally, and always remember the ones that have penalised them.
“We try to be as even-handed as we can, and we definitely don’t look at benefitting one more than the other or anything like that. But inevitably, the psychology of being in a competition is such that it makes you think always that somebody is out to get you.”
Loopholes were bound to be discovered in the new FIA regulations
The FIA and Formula 1 went much further than past examples to make sure a game-changing grey area could not be found in these fresh regulations, the main aim being for them to work in tandem with the budget cap to form a more tightly-packed grid.
But Formula 1 houses some of motorsport’s greatest innovators, so it was effectively a given that one or more teams were going to find a clever loophole.
The positive is that no team found an innovation that sent them streaking clear of the pack. Although Red Bull won 17 of the 22 grands prix in 2022, Ferrari were at least in the mix for a large part of the campaign before they stopped developing the F1-75, while Mercedes also clawed their way to that leading pace, but lacked consistency.
The midfield pack did drop off slightly from the leaders, but it was not a gulf compared to the deficits in 2021.
Now, as teams take that season of learning about what works and what does not, and put that into the 2023 challengers, there is reason to be optimistic that the pack will start to close up a little once more.