When Adrian Sutil commented about the issue of driver weight in Formula 1, he started a debate across the F1 community about the health and safety of drivers given that Sutil is driving this weekend’s grand prix in Bahrain without a drinks bottle and could suffer from dehydration. Is this safe? Is this healthy?

Sutils’s team, Sauber, have been struggling with a car that is too heavy and Williams F1 driver Felipe Massa, the lightest driver on the grid, says that this is the teams fault, not the fact that Sutil is the heaviest driver on the grid.

F1 teams look for any competitive advantage they can get and driver weight, as well as height, has factored into the hiring and firing of drivers. Many believe that Nico Hulkenberg should be in a top team but when the driver market was surging during the 2013 silly season, McLaren patented stated that they were not interested in Hulkenberg due to his height.

Is this the simply the way it is in F1 or is there an issue the FIA needs to look in to? Should the FIA change the regulations to ensure that heavier drivers have a fair chance and that the health of drivers is taken seriously? Is it fair to penalize a team like Williams who have lighter car than Sauber and a lighter driver with some sort of weight ballast penalty?

ESPN F1 wrote a piece that argued that there needs to be a change in attitude, not simply regulations, in F1 regarding this issue. Those are fine platitudes to an issue that is much more complex than simply having more positive thoughts recommended to a series that measures pace and success in the smallest of terms such as 1,000th of a second and one milligram of weight.

It seems to me the easiest way to safeguard drivers is to set a regulation that would mandate a driver weight for the car. Any driver under that weight has a certain amount of ballast added to reach driver weight. Not a particular driver’s weight, but what would now be called “driver provisional weight” which could be 195lbs, let’s say for sake of argument, and this would encompass the driver, suit, helmet, drinks bottle and protective gear such as HANS, knee pads, gloves, shoes etc. Every car would have a 195lbs weight mandate for driver accommodation regardless of how heavy their driver is.

The mandate for the driver provisional weight would need to be high enough to eliminate the desire to find a driver that weighed 140lbs because the team will have to add ballast to the car to reach the 195lbs mandate. The higher weight number could easily be accommodated with a driver such as Sutil—who weights 165lbs—and still have room for drinks bottle, suit, HANS et. al.

Is it fair for the team who made a lighter car and found a lighter driver? Yes, it’s the same for everyone and if the teams are so good at removing weight from a car, then let them find other areas to reduce weight but hiring anorexic drivers shouldn’t be the easiest way for a team to shave 20kgs off their car weight.

Sure, we can offer positive thoughts about how F1 needs to change its thinking about anorexia and eating disorders and other driver health issues but that isn’t going to cut it in F1. You have to write clear guidelines that can’t be gamed or exploited at the driver’s expense. That’s how engineers think so meet them where they live.

One last thing, the driver provisional weight ballast, if needed, has to be placed where the driver sits so there is no gain in being able to move the ballast to a location in the car that you want it for balance. Every car needs to simulate or provide a driver component of 195lbs in the driver’s seat.

This is my idea but maybe I’m bat poop crazy. What do you think should be done about the driver weight issue?

An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry focusing on technology integration, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • MIE

    As the seat in an F1 car has to be capable of removal with the driver still strapped in, it should be entirely possible to mandate a minimum weight for the driver (in race suit and helmet/HANS device) + seat. However this problem is not new, listening to this months Motorsport magazine podcast with the excellent Emanuele Pirro reminds me that drivers have been penalised for being too tall for over 20 years.

    • Agreed, Dave. The issue was highlighted last year when Webber was very outspoken about it too. He said that it was going to be nice to go to WEC and actually eat food again. That series doesn’t seem as bothered by it. The height issue has been around a long time as well.

  • Schmorbraten

    The minimum weight for car + driver (without fuel) was increased for 2014, but not by enough. The FIA could easily change that, but I think we’ll have to wait until somebody gets killed because some driver fainted at 300 clicks. The FIA is trumpeting the UN’s Decade of Action for Road Safety, but I guess race tracks don’t count as roads.

  • Schmorbraten

    The teams and drivers won’t be able to agree on this, so I wrote to the FIA. I expect to be ignored, but if I get a response I’ll let you know.

  • want to solve this issue?
    1. Take away the limit on horsepower
    2. Take away the limit on downforce
    3. Get rid of a whole host of uniformity restrictions – all of which cause teams to find minute differentiation gaps in performance – the easiest of which is to starve/shrink/restrict the driver. (Remember Kubica losing 16 lbs?)

    • Oh, and Fangio? Ascari? Graham Hill? Brabham? Rindt? would never be allowed in today’s F1 cars. How about Nigel Mansell?

      • MIE

        Nigel didn’t really fit in a 1994 McLaren, there is no way he would fit in a current car. :)

        On your earlier point about removing limits on downforce, if you did that there would be drivers passing out through pulling too many G through corners. Also safety considerations would mean no on site spectators as the run off area would need to be huge in case anything went wrong.

        • Rapierman

          They’re lucky that OSHA hasn’t stepped in and fined those teams. “Anorexia”, anyone?

  • Matt

    To make the point of the counter argument. It is clear right now and probably always has been an advantage to be a smaller driver. How much of a difference is this to the advantage gained in other sports by being tall? You don’t see to many short quarterbacks because it’s harder for them to find throwing lanes. I guess being a short QB isn’t directly a safety concern, but durability is an issue with smaller players.

  • Considering Webber was at a reported 4% body fat it shows how dangerous the minimum weight rule can be. 4% is like body builder competition percentage. Very dangerous.

    Webber has stated he was excited to get to 5% now.