It’s one of the great grey areas that has blighted Formula 1 stewards and the public alike: the infamous ‘one move’ rule as it’s commonly known. As usual, the FIA wouldn’t be the FIA if it didn’t fail to provide a watertight regulation. The crucial pieces in this puzzle are articles 16.1 and 20.2 of the official 2011 FIA F1 sporting regulations.
Let’s first take a look at the articles in the regulations. I’ve put the relevant parts in bold:
any driver, which is reported to the stewards by the race director (or noted by the stewards and referred to
the race director for investigation) which :
– necessitated the suspension of a race under Article 41 ;
– constituted a breach of these Sporting Regulations or the Code ;
– caused a false start by one or more cars ;
– caused a collision ;
– forced a driver off the track ;
– illegitimately prevented a legitimate overtaking manoeuvre by a driver ;
– illegitimately impeded another driver during overtaking.
Unless in the opinion of the race director it was completely clear that a driver was in breach of any of the
above, any incidents involving more than one car will normally be investigated after the race
deliberate crowding of a car beyond the edge of the track or any other abnormal change of direction, are
To me the rule is pretty clear: you are allowed to make one change of direction to defend your position. In 99% of the cases this means that the defending driver will take the inside line to defend, thus making his one change of direction. However, many argue that after having made the defensive move, moving back to take the racing line does not really count as making a second move. How clearly making a second change of direction does not equate to making a second move is beyond me. Think about it: the defending car exits the previous corner on the racing line but sees the attacker is stuck on his gearbox, so he moves off the racing line to the inside in preparation for his defense into the next corner. By doing this he effectively (and at this point, still totally legitimately) makes a change of direction and prevents the attacking driver to take that inside line which would likely result in him taking the position.
However by entering the corner from the inside line, the defender compromises his corner entry as well as his corner exit, as he has to effectively take a tighter corner. This opens up possibilities for the attacker in the run up to the following corner because if the attacker plays his cards right, he can have a better run out of the corner than the defender as the latter had to compromise his ‘ideal’ line in his defense. It really is a game of cat and mouse and that’s what real racing is all about. Some might say ‘oh, but then the defender is defenseless in the next corner!’. Not true. The defender can brake later or park his car on the apex-without brake testing of course- to also compromise the corner exit of his attacker and the game of cat and mouse continues until the attacker outsmarts the defender or the defender makes a mistake under pressure.
However if you allow the defending driver to first take a defensive line but then make another change of direction by moving back onto the racing line you are effectively giving the defending driver the best of both worlds. By defending and taking the inside line, you force the attacker to try and pass you on the outside which is rather unlikely to happen on most corners (though of course it is possible, F1 has seen many awesome passes round the outside). What happens when you allow ‘moving back to the racing line’ is that you block the pass on the inside by going defensive, but by moving back to the racing line you then block the pass on the outside, and then you don’t have to suffer any of the downsides (worse corner entry and exit) you would have had to deal with by taking the inside line.
It’s all win for the defender, no downsides. In my book that’s just blocking, pure and simple, not defensive driving. Real skillful defensive driving is taking the defensive line, living with the worse corner entry and exit so the guy behind can’t use his advantage. Making the rule less ambiguous would solve this instantly but ofcourse, it’s the FIA we’re dealing with here. Still, the rules clearly state that only one change of direction is permitted but teams, drivers and fans have in effect created an addendum to the rule by saying that moving back to the racing line does not constitute a change of direction. Looking at it objectively this interpretation is so obviously a sack of horseshit.
The rule does not state ‘one move’. No, it states ‘Manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such as more than one change of direction to defend a position’. It talks about changes of direction, and only a single change of direction is allowed. No matter how you look at it moving back to the racing line equates to a second change of direction after the initial defensive change of direction towards the inside line. Imagine we have a right hander coming up and we’ve made our one move, janking the steering wheel to the right to defend the inside line. We then jank the steering wheel to the left to get back to the racing line, then enter the corner as we steer right. Clearly; before you enter the corner (the final steering input to the right) you have effectively steered from left to right, then from right to left. That’s two changes of direction! However unless you explicitly forbid it in the rules there will always be debate about this, no matter how farcical this interpretation really is looking at the rules. All the FIA need to do is to add this line to article 20.2: ‘After a driver has made one change of direction to defend his position he is bound to maintain his chosen line until corner exit’.
A simple rule ‘clarification’ like this will greatly help F1 in the delicate issue of promoting overtaking. What many hail as great defensive driving is in fact blocking, and it is happening from F1 down to GP3 and beyond. It will be safer for all parties involved. It will allow the truly great passers and defenders to shine. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly: it will set the standard for the young up and coming racing drivers. Some of the moves seen in the feeder series are shocking, but who can blame the youngsters if they see the big boys getting away with it time and time again.
Of course, then the question arises of how far can race direction allow these battles to go. I’m not calling for an immediate penalty in the case of such dubious double moves. I believe the approach taken by Charlie Whiting in Monza by first warning the Mercedes team to rein in their driver a was the right one. After all, everything happens so fast behind the wheel of an f1 car so I don’t want use to become rulebook nazis. If after such warnings the driver does not comply, then a penalty is in order. But don’t worry, I have a fairly massive blog post upcoming on the issue of stewarding and penalties in 2011 so please stay tuned for that and for now just consider the infamous little ‘one move’ rule and share your opinion on that in the comments below.