Formula One Adds Race In Azerbaijan, Simplifies Grid Penalties

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The FIA World Motor Sport Council decided on many issues related to racing all over the world today, but all eyes were on Formula One. Today, they not only approved many of the F1 Strategy Group’s proposed changes, but they released the 2016 race calendar. Welcome back, Germany, and say hello to Baku.

Formula One is the struggling star of the FIA’s lineup, so it’s the one whose pending decisions by the World Motor Sport Council were the most awaited. Sure, representatives from everything ranging from Formula E to the Truck Racing Commission were in attendance, but none of them had nearly as many big changes on the table.

“[The FIA World Endurance Championship] is in the opposite situation of F1,” explained WEC CEO Gérard Neveu on a stop-over in Austin before heading to the World Motor Sport Council meeting in Mexico City. “There’s no big changes on the table because [our series] is working.”


Neveu is right: the WEC is a four-year-old series that’s constantly growing and focusing on adapting fast to keep that growth year after year. Thus, their big news was the approval of the new LMP2 class regulations for 2017, which feature a selection of four allowable chassis constructors and one single provider of a 600 hp engine. The new LMP2 regulations will help somewhat standardize the class around the world, make one-off entries from regional series at Le Mans easier, and keep costs of entry down for the second-tier of prototype racing under LMP1. They’re the second biggest FIA championship after F1 now after a relatively short time, hence the short list of changes.

F1, however, is the grand old lady of the FIA’s sanctioned series. It’s struggling to maintain its growth and prominence lately amid heavy criticism from fans unhappy with a single team’s domination of the series amid rule changes that haven’t gone over well, such as the change to quieter V6 hybrid turbo engines.

Most of F1’s proposed changes were already in the news, thanks to the Strategy Group’s meetings during the season. The least expected news regarding Formula One was the 21-race schedule, which includes the German Grand Prix again (yay!) and a new race in the capital city of Azerbaijan: Baku (oh dear).

Azerbaijan, of course, is another oil-rich country whose political system is succinctly labelled as “not free” by Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization that monitors that sort of thing. Worse yet, Azerbaijan has a questionable tendency to try and smooth over its also questionable human and political rights record with lavish gifts and junkets for foreign dignitaries—a policy often referred to as “caviar diplomacy.”


Psst. FIA. Yes, you guys. Didn’t another international sporting group just get in a heap-load of trouble for getting in bed with shady garbage countries who were more than happy to bribe their way into winning the chance to hold an international sporting event? (The likes of which would say, “Please look at our top-level sporting competitions and ignore all the everyday oppression?”) Umm.

Hopefully all of Formula One’s accounting is above-board this time.

Formula One’s newest grand prix isn’t the first major race to call Baku home, but rather, just the latest. The Blancpain GT Series’ season finale also used to take place in Baku. “We hold great sporting events. Please don’t write that they’re not.”


Naturally, president Ilham Aliyev dismisses the numerous accusations of his de facto dictatorship of the country, most amusingly in a Twitter account that reads like good ol’ fashioned propaganda.


Well, at least Aliyev is trying to schmooze all the right people...right?


Bless your hearts. I got nothin’.

You can find the full schedule of beloved traditional venues and questionable states with the right amount of moolah here.


There is one bright spot among the traditional venues, though: Germany! Yes, the home country of numerous Formula One drivers and the dominant team of the year which bizarrely did not host a grand prix this year is back on the schedule. While the venue was not listed, it’s a safe guess to say it will be at Hockenheim given the fact that the Nürburgring’s complete fumble of the situation caused German Grand Prix to be dropped from the schedule in the first place.

What were the more expected changes? Well, there’s the stuff the Strategy Group already gave their blessing to. Per today’s release from the FIA:

The WMSC has approved the rule adjustments proposed by the F1 Strategy Group and approved by the F1 Commission. These are:

- The simplification of the power unit penalties, ensuring that the most a driver can be penalised is to be demoted to the rear of the grid – this will eliminate penalties during the race for these infractions.

- New power unit manufacturers to F1 will receive an extra power unit for each driver to use throughout Grands Prix for the season, bringing the total to five – one more than the existing power unit suppliers. This will be applied retrospectively to Honda.

These changes to the sporting regulations will come into force with immediate effect.


Hooray for struggling teams—no more ludicrous penalties for not being able to serve all of your penalties!

Disappointingly, none of this really addresses the costs of competition and the distribution of Formula One Management income, which really ensure that the successful teams stay successful, and the others can’t catch up.


Additionally, the World Motor Sport Council tweaked the F1 Super License regulations. Per today’s FIA press release, drivers who qualified for a Super License but had no opportunities to race in F1 will now be able to keep their Super License eligibility for up to three years. The FIA explains that this was in response to the plight of the test driver, where a test driver hopefully moves up to a race seat in three years, but doesn’t always see race time right away.

In response to criticism after the new Super License point system’s initial roll-out, the FIA added more series to be eligible for points, now including Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters and the World Touring Car Championship in the points list. They’re still missing any sort of non-LMP1-class sportscar racing from the list and curiously, Formula E. The points themselves were also tweaked, with 40 being the highest amount of points awarded for a championship in F2, GP2, F3, WEC LMP1 and IndyCar. According to the FIA, Super License points were adjusted based on the strength of series on the list.


(The full list of series whose championship results are eligible for Super License points can be downloaded here.)

Formula E got a different concession in the Super License game, though. Today’s FIA press release states that the series’ champion will be granted a Super License despite the fact that Formula E gets no points in the Super License points system. Super License points are also going to be applied to a new e-License for Formula E, wherein competitors must have 20 Super License points, be a former holder of an F1 Super License (cue the “F1’s Retirement Home” jokes), or have previously participated in 3 Formula E races before the e-License was a thing. Additionally, competitors must undergo training on electrical safety as well as the technical and sporting aspects of the series.


What about the nonexistent Formula 2 series on the Super License points sheet? The World Motor Sport Council is moving along with this as well, acknowledging in today’s release that they have received an offer from GP2 Series Limited to be the promoter of the new Formula 2, but reiterating that they’re working to secure the best possible deal.

While none of Formula One’s decisions from today’s meeting were particularly earth-shattering, perhaps this is the beginning of a kinder, gentler F1: one where we don’t penalize competitors for merely getting too many penalties. Next up, maybe it’s time to fix the issues related to making more teams competitive? That’s really what we’d like to see.


The full list of FIA World Motor Sport Council decisions can be found here.

Photo credits: AP Images

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