And then, the power units went silent.
When the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix came to a close — with yet another win for Red Bull and Max Verstappen — it not only concluded a race, but it brought the curtain down on the first half of the Formula 1 season. Now, the power units are silent until the end of August, when the grid will come back to life at the Dutch Grand Prix.
However, what is the reason for this extended break?
There are a few.
First, the rules. Under FIA’s Sporting Regulations, the break is written into the rules for F1. Under the most recent version of the Sporting Regulations, passed for 2023, Article 24 carves out the regulations for the summer shutdown.
Titled “Competitor Factory Shutdown Period,” Article 24 begins as follows:
All Competitors must observe a shutdown period of fourteen (14) consecutive days during the months of July and/or August. If two consecutive Competitions during this period are separated by only seventeen (17) days a shutdown period of thirteen (13) consecutive days must be observed. In either case Competitors should notify the FIA of their intended shutdown period within thirty (30) days of the start of the Championship.
The Sporting Regulations continue to describe exactly what activities are prohibited during the shutdown period. Those include:
- Wind tunnel usage, unless it follows under an exception
- Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) simulations, unless done under an exception
- Production or development of wind tunnel parts, car parts, test parts, or tools
- Assembly and/or sub-assembly of cars
- Any work activity by employees, consultants, contractors, and/or subcontractors engaged in car design, development, or production
As for the permitted exceptions to the above, FIA’s Sporting Regulations allow teams to carry out repairs to cars damaged in the “[c]ompetition preceding the shutdown period.” In this case, any cars damaged during the Belgian Grand Prix can be repaired. Team can also use wind tunnels and/or CFD simulations for non-F1 activities. However, this may become a point of contention given recent grumblings within the sport about teams using non-F1 activities as a means of avoiding cost-cap penalties.
Teams can also assemble and/or service show cars.
In addition, the shutdown period applies to “Power Unit Manufacturers.” Under Article 25 of FIA’s Sporting Regulations, these manufacturers also must observe a shutdown period:
All Power Unit Manufacturers must also observe the shutdown period described in Article 24.1 with an exception for factories based in countries where law and/or unions impose a different closing week. In this case, these factories may replace one week out of two weeks of the shutdown period by the locally imposed week. Power Unit Manufacturers affected by this must make a declaration to the FIA that their staff will not be permitted to transfer to work in the country that isn’t shutdown during these periods. In any case Power Unit Manufacturers should notify the FIA of their intended shutdown period within thirty (30) days of the start of the Championship.
Exceptions are carved out for these manufacturers as well, similar to the above.
How detailed are these restrictions? Consider this from Williams:
“Put simply, any activity that could contribute to making a better or faster car is strictly forbidden in this window. It is even prohibited to send emails, make calls or hold meetings about any such topics.”
Having gone through the rules, we can talk about the why. Why does the sport simply turn almost everything off right in the middle of the season?
One reason? Costs. The summer shutdown period offers teams a chance to bring costs down, even in the middle of the season. Given the recent implementation of the cost-cap, it gives teams a chance to avoid overspending in a given season.
Another reason for the shutdown? It gives team members a much-needed break. When you consider that the December holiday season is an extremely busy time for F1 teams, are they are right in the middle of developing their car for the upcoming season, the summer break gives team members a well-deserved respite from the rigors of an F1 season. Employees have basically been “full go” since the end of their December holiday breaks.
Putting that break in the rules, and requiring that all teams must hit the pause button, allows the sport to give those team members a break while ensuring that teams cannot exploit the period for a competitive advantage.
That naturally leads to this question: How is the summer shutdown enforced? Does the FIA have roving officials visiting each factory? While those enforcement mechanics might not seem outlandish given reports that the FIA has been performing “ruthless” raids as they leave no stone unturned in their investigation of potential cost-cap penalties, things are more relaxed when it comes to policing the summer shutdown. Teams are expected to self-police the shutdown, and they will not hesitate to flag potential violations by their competitors.
In addition, employees are allowed to flag potential violations under FIA’s Ethics and Compliance Hotline. The platform for such reports is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Any team found to be in violation of the summer shutdown rules would be subject to sporting penalties, such as a points deduction.
So, now you know why the grid will be silent the next few weeks. If you are looking for something to watch in the interim, we have you covered there too.