Formula One to Set Minimum Driver Weight Requirement for 2019
The issue of driver weight has been a thorn in Formula One’s backside for some time. Even as heavier power unit elements have been introduced—such as complex hybrid components—so too has the minimum weight requirement of the car…but not at the same rate.
A commonly quoted estimation is that a single extra kilogram can add a tenth of a second to a car’s lap times, which, in a close race, can potentially make the difference between winning and not even finishing on the podium.
Consequently, in the name of performance, F1 teams strive to build cars as close as possible to the minimum weight limit, which has historically not been separated from driver weight. For example, in 2017, the minimum total weight limit of the car and driver was 728 kg. If a team’s car weighed 663 kg, it would want its drivers to be as close to 65 kg as possible, which could be a health risk depending on body type, especially given the physical demands of the sport—but one that drivers would often be willing to take for the chance at better results.
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For 2018, the minimum total weight limit was further increased to 734 kg to allow for the introduction of the halo device, but teams have found that the halo and its mountings can weigh as much as 15 kg—7 kg more than the limit increase, giving them that much less weight to work with and potentially putting some of the heavier drivers over the limit, who will then be encouraged to slim down.
In response to this, the FIA’s Strategy Group has decided to introduce a new driver minimum weight limit of 80 kg for 2019, which it believes to be realistic for modern F1 drivers. Heavier drivers will still be at a disadvantage, though none are likely to exceed the limit. It was a popular sentiment in the V8 era that top teams were overlooking Nico Hülkenberg, the sport’s tallest driver, because his size made him difficult for the engineers to work with, and he weighs just 74 kg.
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The drivers won’t be the only ones to enjoy the new regulation: it also makes life much easier for the engineers. The total minimum weight of the car and driver for 2019 will be 740 kg, which—thanks to the new driver limit—means that engineers now know they should target 660 kg as the weight of the 2019 car regardless of the weight of the driver and seat, which makes it easier to design the car, particularly if the team heads into the winter without having finalized its driver lineup.
If a driver weighs less than 80 kg, tungsten ballast will be added under their seat until the limit is met. Arguably, this could nonetheless provide an advantage to lighter drivers, as ballast placed under the driver would contribute to a lower center of gravity for the car and thus to marginally improved handling.