107%: Why the FIA has failed
‘Formula One is the best. And we don’t need anything in it that isn’t the best.’ Those were the words of Bernie Ecclestone prior to the original introduction of the 107% rule back in 1996. He makes sense: as the commercial rights holder and representative of the modern sport it’s his job to defend the image of Formula One as the pinnacle of motorsport.
The original 107% rule was brought in when the number of entrants each race dropped to 26, which was the maximum number of cars allowed in a race. Thus, every car entered into a race meeting would make the race by default. To those relatively new to Formula One (myself included), this seems like a bit of a foreign concept. Since I’ve started following the sport, it’s simply the accept protocol that every team races. I would say that this is partly because most teams of the last decade have performed relatively well, and thus the competition on track was good.
Formula One, however, has now been put in a difficult position. Last year, the debut of Lotus, Virgin and HRT effectively created a two-tier competition. The new teams were never going to compete so far up as the midfield, nevertheless at the pointy end of the grid. Though this was expected, what wasn’t taken into account was the idea that one of those teams – which turned out to be HRT – was not only off the leaders’ pace, but also the pace of the other two new teams. They recovered throughout the year it must be noted, and actually finished 11th rather than 12th thanks to Virgin’s poor reliability rather than points based on pace.
The idea to reintroduce the 107% rule was floated last year, initially as a safety regulation. Some teams and drivers were worried that slow cars would become hazards for the faster ones – this point was illustrated in Valencia with the Webber/Kovalinen collision. So the official reasoning for the rule was at least well-natured.
However, reintroducing the rule seems contradictory to the idea of expanding the sport. Strictly speaking, we are still one team down on the grid after the collapse of USF1 and the decision last year by the governing body that none of the handful of entrants for the slot last year were fit enough to compete.
That decision was a critical one, because the criteria and judgement was different to that used in 2009 when the original team hopefuls lodged their applications to become competitors. Quite obviously, had the same checks been carried out, neither HRT nor USF1 would have been approved.
The 107% rule was brought in with the expectation that it would at some point or other come into effect and deny a driver qualification, and it follows that the slowest team of 2010 – HRT – would be the team most affected.
Here’s the problem, and here’s where I take exception to this rule. Whatever your opinions are of HRT, any chance they have of building themselves up have now been smothered by a governing body that refuses to face its mistakes. They approved the team without proper screening then told them that their introduction would be subject to a budget cap that would make it easier for them to compete which they would shortly after renege upon. The FIA failed HRT, and now believe it too inconvenient to deal with them properly. By introducing the 107% rule, they’re going to push them out of the sport without giving them the chance to find their feet, then blame their failings entirely on Colin Kolles and co. How can Kolles possibly expect to find investors to prop up his team, to make his team competitive, when he’s effectively barred from the sport in the first place?
For all we know, the team may fold on their own, whether or not they are allowed to actually go racing. From conception the team was on shaky ground. But the FIA have denied them a chance to survive, and as much as HRT might be a bit of a joke, they are entitled to that chance at very least.