Is Contact Allowed In F1? (Rules Explained)

During an F1 race is it very common to see collisions between cars, and in some cases, contact seems impossible to avoid. This can lead newer viewers to wonder whether contact is allowed between Formula 1 cars and what the punishment would be if two F1 cars where to touch.

Deliberate contact between F1 cars is strictly not allowed due to the impact it would have on the safety of the drivers. Any deliberate contact will be met with a penalty which may vary in severity. Non-deliberate contact can go unpunished if stewards deem it a ‘racing incident.’

Contact rules may seem complicated and left in the hands of subjectivity. In this article we will discuss these rules in greater detail, as well as the penalties for those who break them. We will also outline the rules regarding cars in parc fermé and whether blocking is allowed in F1.

Are F1 Cars Allowed To Touch?

Formula 1 cars are not allowed to touch during a race. Any contact that is deemed deliberate is classed by stewards as ‘causing a collision’ and may incur a variety of penalties. These can range from time penalties to points deductions, depending on the how deliberate the contact is.

An example of deliberate contact was in the 1997 Jerez Grand Prix in Spain when Michael Schumacher seemed to purposely make contact with fellow World Championship contender Jacques Villeneuve. Even though he failed in his attempt, and Villeneuve went on to win the championship, Schumacher was put on trial by the FIA, and eventually received disqualification from that years Drivers’ Championship.

If a driver makes accidental contact with another car, then the collision will most likely be deemed a ‘racing incident.’ If it is considered by stewards that neither car has violated any rules, no penalty will be given out.

The rules are outlined in the FIA’s International Sporting Code, but because each race is officiated by different people, there is a level of subjectivity that goes into making these decisions, meaning some drivers may get away with something one week that they wouldn’t the next.

Penalties For Contact In F1

The range of penalties for contact in F1 is broad and depends on both the severity of the crash and whether the driver can actually carry on in the race.

5 And 10 Second Time Penalties

Five or 10 second time penalties will be handed out to the perpetrator if the contact is minimal. These must be carried out in the next pit stop. They must remain stationary for the time frame before their tires can be changed. If the driver has already been in to pit or the penalty is given in the last three laps, the seconds will be added on to their time at the end of the race.

Drive Through Penalty

The drive through penalty must be carried out within two laps of it being handed out. It means the driver must go through the pit lane (at the pit lane speed limit) before they can re-join the race. If it happens within the last three laps, 20 seconds will be added to the driver’s time.

10 Second Stop-Go Penalty

A more severe penalty than the 10-second time penalty, the stop-go (or stop-and-go) penalty involves the driver stopping in their pit box for 10 seconds without having any work done to the car. This is without a doubt a frustrating hindrance, and if the driver receives this late on in the race and doesn’t pit, 30 seconds will be added to their time.

McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen was hit with one of these penalties upon his collision with Rubens Barrichello in the final lap at the Silverstone Grand Prix in 1994.

Driver Penalty Points

Much like in real-life, Formula 1 drivers receive a special license, called the Super Licence, that is required in order to race. If a driver repeatedly causes collisions and contact with other drivers, they will receive points on this Licence. Should they amass 12 or more points within a 12-month period, they will receive a suspension for the next event.

Each offense is usually worth between one to three points. As of yet, no F1 driver has ever hit the 12-point mark, although Romain Grosjean (now in IndyCar) and Max Verstappen, if you include expired points, have both reached 21 in total. For collisions, it is most likely that either one or two penalty points will be added to a driver’s Super Licence.

Disqualification From The Race

Severe contact between drivers can more than likely lead to irreparable damage of either car, and can lead to disqualification from the race. This means that the driver cannot receive any points from the race, even in the extremely unlikely event that fewer than 10 cars finish the race.

Is Blocking Allowed In F1?

Blocking is not allowed in F1. A driver can’t be seen to constantly block off a car that is attempting an overtake, otherwise they will receive a penalty. This is where the ‘one move’ rule comes in, which dictates what is and is not fair blocking.

The One Move Rule

The one move rule means the defending car can only make one move away from its racing line to stop another car overtaking. Any more than one move and the stewards can make the case against them for weaving, which is prohibited. If they are adjudged to have weaved, the driver can expect to receive a five second penalty.

While it sounds simple, the one move rule has its intricacies which can cause some confusion for viewers. If a defending car drifts from its racing line to defend itself, and then goes slightly back the other way before a corner, it can be deemed as the defending driver preparing for the corner, which is a legal move.

The defending driver must be sure to leave at least a car’s width in between themselves and the kerb, otherwise the move will become illegal. Now, I hope you’re still with me, as the rule is about to get slightly more complicated.

Moving Too Late

The defending car must make their decision to drift from their racing line before the stewards deem their maneuver to be too late. If they are too late to move from the line, they can risk a collision with the attacking car, and they will likely be penalized for this.

As there are multiple factors to consider, stewards will analyze these situations on a case-by-case basis in order to decide who should receive a penalty. Some of the factors they will take into consideration are the speed of the attacking car, how far the defending car strayed from their line, and how late they were to make the move.

The rule was implemented in 2012, after a situation at the Italian GP at Monza the previous year, where Michael Schumacher was embroiled in a battle with Lewis Hamilton to retain his position in the race.

Moving Under Braking

A clear-cut rule in F1 is that pertaining to making moves in the braking zone. F1 drivers are not allowed to move under braking when defending their position. Under braking, an F1 car is very much already on the limits of traction, and so any movement a driver must make, such as evasive action to get out of the way of an attacking driver’s late move, can easily lead to an incident.

Can F1 Drivers Touch Other Cars?

F1 drivers cannot touch other cars. Max Verstappen was in the middle of a controversy storm after the Friday practice session at the 2021 Brazilian GP when he was seen touching the rear wing of championship rival Lewis Hamilton’s car. He was fined €50,000 for doing so.

At the time of Verstappen’s very expensive inspection, Hamilton’s car was in ‘parc fermé.’ This is the area of a racetrack where cars must be parked within three and a half hours after qualifying. Cars in parc fermé must remain like this until the following day’s formation lap, with only the slightest of adjustments allowed to be made by teams on their own cars.

In effect, nobody can touch cars once they are in this position unless they have express permission from the FIA stewards. The actions of Max Verstappen when he touched the car in this situation were deemed to have broken the FIA’s International Sporting Code, which explains the severity of the fine he received.

Incidentally, Hamilton’s car was found to have broken the rules regarding how far rear-wings are allowed to open with DRS and was subsequently disqualified from qualifying and forced to start the Sprint race from the back of the field.

Final Thoughts

Contact is not allowed in F1. Collisions between F1 cars will always be part of the sport, due to the competitiveness of the drivers and the tightness of the grid. However, if a driver is deemed to have caused a collision, they may receive one or more of a number of penalties.

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