Sometimes the FIA’s quarterly World Motor Sport Council meetings drop bombshells on us. Sudden regulation changes usually require all hands on deck and a race to get the shock news out to you, the readers.
Wednesday was not one of those nights. So we’re taking a different approach.
There are subtle tweaks and a few confirmations. There are also some minor additions to the regulations which are surprisingly meaningful, even if they don’t look like it on the surface.
Here’s the breakdown:
Strap fines have been tightened up
Several crews clocked fines at the Monte Carlo Rally for having their helmet straps undone, much to the bemusement of the accused.
It’s not something that’s done on purpose by the crews and both Carlos del Barrio and Martin Wydaeghe didn’t even think their straps were undone at all – if they were, there was no indication that their helmets were loose.
Ott Tänak was miffed to be given a suspended ban for driving on a wheel rim when not having a helmet fastened was only a few hundred euros fine in punishment. “A human life is worth €400, comparing to what we have done,” was his riposte.
But now the crews have a “strong incentive” to stop and fix loose straps, according to the FIA’s latest WMSC bulletin. Article 53.1, the rule responsible for policing helmet strap breaches, is being modified to allow crews to stop, fix their helmet straps and then continue on their way without penalty in 2022.
Whether it makes any meaningful difference remains to be seen. Factory drivers would probably rather push on and pick up a fine than stop and lose 10 or 20 seconds. And while we’re waiting for the exact wording of Article 53.1 to be unveiled, it’s hard to see what incentive would make them change their approach.
Lindholm loophole shut – but only partially?
Faced with being told to sit at home due to a limit on the number of WRC3 entries a driver is allowed to make each year, Emil Lindholm concocted a clever workaround. He rocked up to his eighth event of the year as a priority driver but, on his official entry paperwork, he wasn’t driving. His co-driver Reeta Hämäläinen was.
In practice that’s not what happened, of course. Lindholm piloted the Toksport-run Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo to class victory in Spain but with Hämäläinen registered as the driver, she scored the points.
And Lindholm wasn’t the only one. Stéphane Lefebvre was effectively banned from WRC3 courtesy of his stint as a manufacturer-nominated driver for Citroën in 2017, breaching a rule that didn’t allow those who’ve been factory runners in the top division for five years to enter the third-tier category. He pulled the same stunt with Gilles De Turckheim to enter Rally Monza in a privateer C3 Rally2.
There will be no more of that in 2022. Whoever is nominated as the driver on a rally’s entry form is now required to drive every special stage to be eligible for points, though with a continued exception for situations like Chris Patterson deputizing for Petter Solberg during the final stage of Rally Sweden in 2011.
Interestingly, though, the wording focuses on removing points eligibility. Not stopping competitors from registering as priority crews, which was the motivation behind Lindholm’s call as it afforded him a better road position.
So perhaps we won’t have seen the last of this trick after all – merely the end of co-drivers scoring points in the drivers’ championship. A comb through the 2022 sporting regulations will be needed once they’re published to know for sure.
Reliability rules locked in
We already knew restrictions on engine and hybrid unit consumption were coming but the WMSC bulletin was a stark reminder that reliability woes will be heavily punished in 2022.
Manufacturers may now only use two engines per car during the course of the season, down from three. There’s a more generous allowance for the hybrid units which are yet to be used competitively, with the manufacturer points-nominated cars limited to a pool of nine units over the season.
Privateers in Rally1 have it a little easier; they’re allowed both a primary unit and a spare at every rally they enter, rather than spreading a nine-unit allocation over an entire year.
A common-sense 10kg increase in minimum weight was also ratified, a useful tool to combat any potential research and development spending war to shed weight at any cost.
Tire warming zones introduced
There was one specific fine that has been issued with great regularity in the European Rally Championship during the last few years: weaving on public roads.
Drivers would attempt to get heat into their tires on road sections leading up to special stages, often leading to a long list of drivers getting slapped with fines if the local constabulary were paying attention.
There will hopefully be far less of this from 2022 thanks to a new rule in the 2022 Regional Rally sporting regs, allowing for tire warming zones to be implemented between stage-in time controls and start lines.
So long as ERC rally organizers elect to take the FIA up on its newly established rule, the fine jar won’t be as stuffed full as usual in 2022.
ERC event sent to the naughty step, wait for Ypres continues
Many WRC fans were hoping the last addition to the 2022 calendar would be ratified at the final WMSC meeting of 2021. Alas, Northern Ireland, which has been widely tipped to take the final slot, has not got an agreement across the line in time to trigger a calendar update.
We did get ratification of the ERC’s calendar though, albeit only confirming what we basically already knew except the fact Rally Hungary won’t return. Instead, we’ve gleaned two points from today’s bulletin.
Ypres joining ERC remains an ongoing ambition for next year but there’s plenty of time to get it across the line. It wouldn’t feature until the second half of the year so there’s no need to rush it out.
Interestingly though, the Canary Islands Rally is in a spot of bother. It’s been given a yellow card by the FIA, meaning the event has shown a “serious lack of compliance with the regulations and the commitments undertaken” in 2021.
While the FIA did not disclose the precise reason for the yellow card being issued, a 48-year-old spectator had to be airlifted to hospital on the Saturday of this year’s rally after falling down a hillside on the Vallesco stage.
If it gets a second yellow, you can probably guess what happens next. It’s a pretty simple sporting metaphor. But it can also clear that yellow card with an uneventful and straightforward running of its event in 2022, ensuring its place on the ERC calendar long-term remains safe.
Familiar face takes ERC manager role
With the departure of Eurosport Events as ERC’s series promoter, long-time championship co-ordinator Jean-Baptiste Ley also exited stage left, necessitating a new captain to steer the ship.
The WMSC bulletin confirmed that Iain Campbell will take the reins, a man with decades of rallying experience.
In addition to his stints as manager of the British Rally Championship and as Rally GB’s clerk of the course, he’s also officiated several WRC rounds as chair of the stewards.
“We’re not planning huge changes for 2022 but I’ll be keeping a keen eye on ideas for the future as the season progresses,” said Campbell of his new appointment. “It’s great to take up this role at the start of WRC Promoter’s ERC tenure and I can’t wait to get started.”
Campbell will take up his new role in January.
Limited tire options in ERC after all
Early signs had suggested that ERC would remain a free-for-all when it came to tires. In recent times Pirelli, Michelin, MRF, Hankook and Yokohama have all shod ERC priority crews.
This WMSC update has suggested otherwise.
All ERC1, ERC3 and ERC4 priority crews will now need to enter rallies using rubber from an FIA-nominated supplier, all in the name of enhancing promotion for those tire makers.
Though there’s no suggestion that will limit competitors hoping to score ERC points to a single tire make, it may well end up limiting opportunities for upstart programs like Yokohama’s venture in 2019 with Hiroki Arai.