The competitive landscape of Formula One could change radically next year, when new regulations governing the sport come into effect.

Formula One teams are already coming to grips with the new regulations, which impact the sport in three key areas – engines, tyres and the qualifying format for each race. Each of the new regulations has the potential to shake up the Formula One pecking order in 2006, bringing new levels of excitement to the 19-race Formula One World Championship calendar.

The three major rules changes include a switch to V-8 engines, the return of tyre-changes to pit stops and a new knockout qualifying format to bring even more drama to the quest for pole position.

For Formula One fans currently enduring the sport’s winter off-season, the new regulations make the wait for the first race of 2006 season even more filled with suspense.

And the excitement isn’t just for Formula One fans. The new regulations, published by the sport’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), are providing new challenges to the engineers, technicians and tacticians who make Formula One the world’s most sophisticated form of motorsport


The Return of the V-8 Engine

One of the biggest impacts of the new regulations will be at the heart of the Formula One car – the engine. For the past decade, Formula One has been dominated by high-revving V-10 engines, most recently with three litres of displacement.  For 2006, the standard changes to require the use of smaller-displacement, potentially even higher-revving, V-8 engines.  

The V-8s for 2006 will be limited to 2.4 litres of displacement.  According to the FIA, this 20-per cent reduction in engine displacement is expected to cut peak power by approximately 200 brake horsepower. 

FIA officials expect lap times five seconds slower at most circuits as result of this significant technical change.  Some teams without access to a competitive V-8 engine may be allowed to use 2005-specification V-10 engines which will be rev-limited to restrict their output.  

Make Wakem, Shell’s Engine Oil Development Leader, explains: ‘By reducing the swept volume (cubic capacity) of the engine you reduce the power, if everything else is the same.  However, the natural target of F1 is ever improving performance, so although the engine has been scaled down, teams will try to get maximum performance out of that in terms of revs and, therefore, horsepower, and we at Shell will be contributing to that’.



Tyre Changes Return

For 2006, Formula One will abandon the 2005 regulation which banned routine tyre changes during pit stops.

Tyres became the focal point of the 2005 championship, eclipsing other technical, tactical and competitive sporting factors that have contributed to making Formula One the pinnacle of modern motorsport.

The new tyre regulations revert largely to the pre-2005 format, but each driver will have access to a slightly larger number of tyres at each race.

Each car will be allotted seven sets of dry-weather tyres for each race weekend, as well as four sets of wet-weather tyres and three sets of extreme-weather rubber.

Drivers will be required to make a final choice of dry-weather compound before qualifying begins.


New Knockout Qualifying

The FIA is introducing a new three-part knockout format for qualifying in 2006. It’s a new regulation designed to make each Saturday qualifying session across the 19-race schedule a nail-biter for spectators and global television viewers.

Gone is the single-lap system used in 2005.  In its place is an entirely new system with three parts that should guarantee an hour of on-track excitement.  On the one hand, this new system embraces Formula One’s traditional qualifying format in which drivers can run as many laps as they wish during each qualifying session. On the other hand, it adds a new spice of the “knockout.”

Here’s how it will work during the one hour allotted for qualifying at a new time, 14:00 local time Saturday, at each race:

Part 1 – All race entrants can use this 15-minute session to run as many laps as they wish. At the end of this session, the slowest cars – at least five depending on the size of the entry list – will be eliminated and assigned the bottom five spots on the starting grid. These cars may be refuelled prior to the race.

Part 2 – After a five-minute break, the clocks are reset for another 15-minute qualifying session. Once again, the five slowest cars of this session drop out at the conclusion of this session, filling grid places 11-15 and being allowed to run any fuel level they desire in the next day’s race.  The remaining 10 cars have five minutes to prepare for part 3, when the clocks are reset for the final knockout round.

Part 3 – Now the tension deepens as the fight for pole position pits the 10 fastest cars so far into a battle against each other – and the clock.  The fastest lap of this session wins pole position.  As in the other sessions, each car can run as many laps as desired within this final, 20-minute window. Each car must start with the fuel load it will run in the next day’s race. Weighed at both the start and conclusion of Part 3, each car will be topped up with fuel to the level at which it must start the Grand Prix.


 The new qualifying format promises to make qualifying tense and action-packed at every event, with the battle for pole position almost certain to continue up until the final chequered flag waves on the one hour of qualifying time.  

A further change in the race-weekend format reduces the Saturday morning free practice on a one-hour session starting at 11:00 local time, replacing the previous format of two 45-minute sessions.  

While the eyes of Formula One fans will be on the pre-season test sessions already underway, the full impact of the new regulations won’t be known until March, when the Grand Prix of Bahrain kicks off the 2006 season.