Hellmund Reacts to Rule Changes

F1 Austin boss talks team orders and new engines

Tavo Hellmund on team orders:
Tavo Hellmund on team orders: "No-one cries about the fact that NASCAR has a lucky dog pass if you're a lap down." (Photo by John Anderson)

Last week, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile announced a slew of rule changes that will hit Formula One over the next three seasons. With the Austin Grand Prix passing a major county vote Tuesday, we talked to project boss Tavo Hellmund about the changes.

What's really caught the attention of most of the F1 press is the announcement that team orders are now legal. Quick guide: Each team fields two drivers, and they are supposed to let each one race on their own terms. However, as the season progresses, and teams start eying the end-of-year rankings, they may devise strategies that benefit one driver over another. Hellmund said, "When companies and teams are spending that kind of money, it's almost ridiculous to think that you're going to be able to tell them how to do it."

Previously, Hellmund has been very diplomatic on the issue of team orders, refusing to be drawn on their merits (trust us, we've tried.) With the rule change approved, he was open about his belief that it's not a critical change to the way the sport is played. "No-one cries about the fact that NASCAR has a lucky dog pass if you're a lap down," he said. "No-one cries about the fact that, every single race, people in NASCAR let someone past to lead a lap to collect an extra five points." The difference, he concurred, is that team orders can change the outcome of a race but "when points are on the line, how is that any different from letting someone lead a lap?"

The other reality is that team orders happen anyway. Just this last season, Ferrari was fined $100,000 for ordering Felipe Massa to let his team mate Fernando Alonso past to take the win at the German Grand Prix. That victory placed Alonso, then fifth in the driver rankings, in a better position in the title hunt (ultimately, he placed second behind Sebastian Vettel.) However, Hellmund argued that it may still be tough for management to convince drivers to take one literally for the team. He said, "These guys are racers, and they're getting a call on the radio, and it's going down like broken glass."

The other big change that seems to have gone under the radar is the decision to give broadcasters access to team communications. While there may be some Federal Communications Commission issues to be resolved, "I really believe that, from a fan engagement standpoint, that's one of the things that you've gotta do," said Hellmund. It's always a balancing act, one that has hit football and NASCAR as much as it has F1: Teams want secrecy, but viewers want to know what's going on. However, Hellmund doubted that this access would cripple team tactics, and simply compared it to hand signs in baseball. "Everyone knows growing up that a one is a fastball and a two is curve ball. It just means that the team has to change their signals up."

For gearheads, the big change is the shift in engines in 2013, from a 2400cc V8 to a 1.4 liter four cylinder. Hellmund said, "I don't think there's going to be a performance letdown." He compared it to the early 1980s, when the old Brabham team had a four cylinder BMW engine that pumped out 1,300 HP, but he called the new limit to 12,000 RPM "disappointing. … I love the current engine configuration. From a pure sporting standpoint, there's nothing like a motor that revs at 19,000 rpm." However, he said, "I understand the way of the world and being more fuel efficient. Fuel injection is more applicable, four cylinders are more applicable."

As for the proposed kinetic energy recovery systems, Hellmund called them "the right way to go." He predicted some team reluctance because of the additional weight of any system and the heat it produced, but he firmly expected teams to solve those engineering problems. "There's nobody who advances a system or a technology better than Formula One people," he noted. "Four years from now we'll have a technology that came from the Formula One ranks, and we'll look back at what we had in 2011 almost like a dinosaur."

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Tavo Hellmund, US Grand Prix, Formula One, Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, KERS, Kinetic Energy Recovery System, Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, F1, FIA, Sebastian Vettel

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