Sprint races are rekindling the debate on the Parc Fermé regime. The issue was raised after the last United States Grand Prix in Austin when the race officials disqualified the cars of Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton due to excessive wear on the skid block, the resin axis under the floor. On that occasion, Ferrari and Mercedes had made a miscalculation, opting for a very aggressive ground clearance to benefit from maximum aerodynamic efficiency. However, due to the Sprint format, the single free practice session did not help accurately estimate the wear on the floor, especially on a particularly uneven road surface.
The same difficulty was encountered at Spa, in a rain-affected weekend where the compression of Eau Rouge caused the cars to rub violently against the asphalt. However, none of the inspected cars were disqualified on that occasion. Nevertheless, discussions began in the paddock about a possible revision of Parc Fermé, which prohibits teams from performing certain operations on the cars from the beginning of qualifying until the end of the Grand Prix. “Opening Parc Fermé could be positive. Maybe we can discuss which aspects to open,” commented Frederic Vasseur in December. The concept of opening or closing Parc Fermé is not absolute; it can be discussed on various levels depending on the parameters to be addressed.
One of the most stringent aspects of the Parc Fermé regime is the prohibition of adjusting the mechanical suspension settings once qualifying has started. Article 40.1 of the sporting regulations states, “Each team must provide the Technical Delegate with a document detailing the suspension configuration for both cars before each of them leaves the pit lane for the first time during qualifying.”
Parc Fermé freezes the static camber and toe angles, various constants of stiffness and damping of the spring-damper group, and, above all, the ride heights. Currently, the main concern relates to the wear of the floor, a aspect closely linked to the ride height, the control of which is influenced by various parameters. If a decision were made to assist teams with skid block wear, the most plausible hypothesis would be excluding static ride height from the Parc Fermé regime during Sprint weekends.
Parc Fermé also prohibits changing the aerodynamic configuration of the car. The only concession is the adjustment of the front wing profiles, allowing for the correction of aerodynamic balance. However, the flaps can only be adjusted in incidence, with a prohibition on replacing them with different specifications for more or less aerodynamic load. The same prohibition applies to the rear wing and the beam wing, whose incidence, however, cannot be adjusted once the Parc Fermé regime comes into effect.
A debated topic is the car’s cooling configuration, including internal ducts, external grilles, and the rear outlet. A more “open” configuration benefits the cooling of the power unit and transmission, enhancing both reliability and engine performance but compromising overall aerodynamic efficiency. However, like ride height and floor wear, this is a challenging aspect to fine-tune in a single free practice session, especially in unforeseen circumstances.
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The only scenario in which teams can change the cooling configuration under Parc Fermé is in the event of a significant change in weather conditions, which must be attested to by the Technical Delegate and communicated officially to all teams. Currently, revising the constraints on car cooling is one of the more credible options in the event of a Parc Fermé revision.
The Parc Fermé regime also limits maintenance operations on the car. By regulation, teams are allowed to withdraw or replenish fuel, lubricants, and other fluids necessary for the operation of the car, provided that their specifications do not change during the weekend. Brake system bleeding is also permitted, as well as disassembling, measuring, and cleaning brake discs and pads.
Among the other contemplated operations, repairing electronic components and removing engine spark plugs for internal cylinder checks are allowed. Regarding the rest of the components, including the bodywork, repairs are only permitted in the event of an impact with the barriers, contact with another car, or damage incurred outside the track limits. Any other replacement requires approval from the Technical Delegate, provided that the new component is similar in shape, weight, inertia, and function to the original.
The methods for a potential opening of Parc Fermé first involve a debate on what type of competition is desired. Parc Fermé limits the teams’ opportunities to rectify setup errors during the weekend, especially during Sprint races. While this increases unpredictability and the possibility of unexpected events, it also rewards the quality of preparation work at the factory. Therefore, it will be up to the FIA, Formula 1, and the teams to jointly assess whether and which parameters of Parc Fermé to open in the future, an eventuality limited to Sprint weekends for now.