While the FIA would like to provide more design freedom to engineers, it believes that restrictive technical regulations are necessary to prevent teams from gaining excessively large advantages that would be difficult to bridge within the budget cap. The Federation is aware that, although the cost limit may help reduce the gap between top teams and those with fewer resources, it makes it more challenging to approach the reference teams during the season.
Since the 2021 season, the budget cap, a new system for cost management and control, officially came into effect, aiming to narrow the gap between top teams and those with fewer resources in the plans of Formula 1. Ideally, this should also help bring teams closer in terms of sports, as there should no longer be expenses like those of past years when certain teams reached total budgets of over 300 million per year.
In an attempt to further compact the grid, the FIA and F1 have introduced more restrictive regulations with less design freedom. As with any major technical revolution, in the first year of the new regulatory cycle, significant differences in interpretations were seen among various teams, with Ferrari, Mercedes, and Red Bull presenting three different philosophies. However, already in the second year, it was noticeable that many teams decided to converge towards the concept initially adopted by the Milton Keynes team.
Although there will still be differences between various cars, many fear that starting from the next championship, the grid could see very similar cars, which would clearly remove an intriguing technical element. The imposition of a cost cap has led to discussions on how regulations could be modified to provide more freedom to teams.
The hope of seeing on-track tests, both collective during the season and private, is very remote. During the Christmas lunch with the media, Frederic Vasseur explained that there would be no room to set up a complete program, not to mention that teams also have to participate in the Pirelli tests during the year, making it a difficult expense to fit within the budget. The hope is then that, at least for the future, regulatory constraints from a technical standpoint, which are currently very tight, could be eased.
In terms of 2026, only the regulations for Power Units have been defined so far, on which constructors have already started working, while those for aerodynamics will only be published halfway through the next season, although the development of new prototypes will actively start only from January 1, 2025. Nikolas Tombazis is aware of the pros and cons of an opening on this front, as the FIA has wanted to make regulations increasingly rigid in recent years. “There is a fine line between excessive limitations, and clearly, this is a technological sport and must remain so. But on the other hand, with excessive freedom, potentially very large gaps are created between cars, and this is a very difficult line to follow.”
“Clearly, if you ask a team engineer, he will tell you that there are too many limitations. I myself am an engineer, and I would like there to be a total technological battle among all cars. But we have to consider that there are other factors at play that are important for the sport.”
According to Tombazis, limiting the design freedom of teams is also essential to prevent a team from gaining a significant advantage through a specific project: “Compared to the old days, when perhaps there was a bit more freedom, we have financial regulations, and we also have to try to limit some of the activities that take place. Otherwise, there is a risk of having teams building an advantage through an R&D project of some kind and then having an advantage for a very, very long time without the possibility for other teams to catch up with restrictive regulations.”
“So, there is a demarcation line between freedom and the competitiveness of the championship, and financial regulations put us in a position. So, I don’t think there is a perfect answer,” Nikolas Tombazis added. Undoubtedly, one could argue that Red Bull enjoyed a considerable advantage this season, but in its case, several elements contributed to the dominance seen in 2023, starting from the wrong choices of other teams that had to intervene in the course of action.
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However, the same cost cap has also limited this recovery, with its pros and cons. This is an aspect that the Federation itself is aware of, emphasizing how it will be much more challenging than in the past to significantly reduce the gap during the season, having to focus resources more on winter development. For example, Ferrari would have had to revise a good part of the chassis to compensate for some limitations of its design philosophy approaching that of Red Bull (such as the position of the intrusion cones), but with a cost cap, producing a largely revised shell would have been practically impossible.
It would not have been just a matter of building two new chassis, but at least another 3 or 4 units, as the innovations would not have fit with the old shells that had already been produced. Similarly, Mercedes would have had to make significant changes to other aspects, but it was decided to wait until winter to fit within the cost cap.
“The problem with financial regulations is that, on the one hand, they mean that someone cannot spend three times more than another, which is positive. But on the other hand, they also mean that if you are behind someone, you cannot simply throw everything away and bring a big update. In the past, sometimes some teams started a season and found themselves in a really bad situation because maybe they had made a mistake in the project or the concept or something else. They came and were humiliated for the first races,” Nikolas Tombazis recounted.
“I found myself in a situation like that, but then a package of massive updates was made for Barcelona, for Canada, or something else, and practically the entire car was redesigned in three or four months, and then some races were won during the season. The current financial regulations limit the amount of updates that can be made. So, if someone is behind, the recovery can be quite long and painful,” added the FIA official.