Why Is It So Difficult For A Formula 1 Car To Reverse?

Why is it so difficult for a Formula 1 car to reverse

Most cars can reverse. Every driver who does reverse parking has to and does reverse the car. But Formula 1 fans often wonder whether Formula 1 cars ever reverse. If they do, why do Formula 1 drivers not use the reverse gear more often? Many F1 drivers overshoot when they stop in the pit stop. But the driver doesn’t reverse the car. Instead, it is the pit crew that pushes back the car into the proper position. Do formula cars have a reverse gear at all? This article will take a look at these and other questions why it is so difficult for a Formula 1 car to reverse.

Do all Formula 1 cars have a reverse gear?

2022 Formula 1 Technical Regulations of the FIA stipulate the following:

  • 9.7.1 The number of forward gear ratios must be 8. Continuously variable transmission systems are not permitted.
  • 9.8 Reverse gear All cars must be able to be driven in reverse by the driver at any time during the Competition.

From the above regulations, it is clear that every car competing in a Formula 1 Grand Prix must have one reverse gear. The question that begs an answer to why we don’t see Formula 1 drivers reversing their cars more often. Are the reverse gears there only because they are mandated by the FIA? Is the reverse gear functional in all the cars?

Why don’t Formula 1 cars reverse more often? 

The reverse gears are operational in all the cars. The F1 drivers do not reverse their car for reasons ranging from the FOA ban on reversing in certain areas on the course to their not knowing the procedure to engage the reverse gear. It is not a surprise that some drivers are not familiar with the process of reversing an F1 car. All F1 cars are designed to move forward with efficiency and speed. An F1 driver aims to finish ahead of the field. Sometimes drivers may not have to engage the reverse gears at all during a season. 

  • All gear changes are controlled by a paddle switch on the steering wheel. The driver engages the forward as well as reverse gears by paddling this switch either forward or backwards. When a car lands in trouble it is usually in one of the forward gears. To engage the reverse gear the car has to come to a standstill. The driver should then switch the car to neutral before engaging the reverse switch. The gear switch should be held in the backward position for a certain number of seconds before the reverse gear engages.
  • The FIA strictly bans drivers from reversing in the pit lane. That is the reason why when drivers overshoot the pit stop the car is pushed back into place by the pit crew. If an F1 driver reverses in the pit lane, he is liable for a severe penalty. There are instances when drivers have been disqualified fr reversing in the pit lane. Drivers are also not permitted to reverse on the track. Any driver that reverses on the track, either in practice sessions, qualifying or when racing is liable for the same penalties.
  • F1 drivers are only allowed to reverse their cars when they rin off the track and there is no other manoeuvre out. Most F1 drivers prefer to employ a quick 180-degree turn to come out of such situations. Only when a sharp turn is not possible will a driver try to reverse. Engaging the reverse gear takes time and every second could mean several places during a race. A driver may panic when in a difficult situation and not hold the gear switch for the amount of time it needs for the reverse gear to engage.
  • The reverse gear is designed with a lesser thickness and is small in size because it is rarely used. This also contributes towards saving on the overall weight of the car. It is a very weak gear and is likely to break if not engaged properly. This is another factor that prevents drivers from reversing an F1 car too often. If they do engage the reverse gear and the gear breaks, the car will stall. That will effectively seal the driver’s fate in the race. That is another reason why F1 drivers do not prefer to reverse their cars. An F1 car can stall due either to a mechanical error or the driver’s mistake.
  • An F1 car is not designed with rearview mirrors, With his protective headgear on, a driver doesn’t know where he is going when he is reversing. In many cases, stewards help in pushing the car onto the track. But that takes too long a time. The driver has to rely on his support team to direct him when he is reversing, Moreover, the steering wheel of an F1 car is very sensitive, and a driver can easily reverse in the wrong direction. There are instances when drivers have reversed onto the track and obstructed other racing cars.

It is for the above-mentioned reason that F1 drivers do not prefer to reverse their cars. Many do not try to engage the reverse gear at all. There are many occasions when F1 drivers have reversed their cars during the race. Some have done it admiringly well whereas others have messed it up and run afoul of the administration. 

Which F1 drivers have reversed their cars during a Grand Prix?

There are several instances when F1 drivers have reversed their car when competing in a Grand Prix. Some have done it smartly whereas others have suffered the wrath of the race stewards. Each instance of reversing is judged on a case to case basis. It is up to the race director to report the incident to the race stewards who will then analyse the incident. The race stewards will look the other way if the incident did not put other drivers in harm’s way. If the driver has reversed dangerously or in places where reversing is not allowed, he’ll have the rule book thrown at him.

At this point, it is pertinent to cite the two rules governing such incidences. The following articles of the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations state that:

  • 27.3: Should a car leave the track the driver may re-join, however, this may only be done when it is safe to do so and without gaining any lasting advantage.
  • 27.4: At no time may a car be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner that could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person.

Lewis Hamilton’s reversing his car to regain the track in the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix is one of the examples of reversing and getting away with it. On the other hand, Nigel Mansell was shown the black flag for reversing in the pit lane in the 1989 Portuguese Grand Prix. The fact is, reversing in the pit lane under the cars own power is strictly banned no matter what the situation. Lewis Hamilton had reversed safely and without putting any other driver of the car at risk. That is why Hamilton got away while Mansell was penalised.

There are a few other instances when drivers have reversed:

  • Robert Kubica was forced to reverse during the 2019 Monaco Grand Prix as there was no other way out. Two cars had passed him while he was stuck. When reversing to gain the track, Kubica held up two other cars and the race continued. 
  • Daniel Ricciardo overtook Daniil Kvyat in the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix but failed to make the corner. He had to take a side road and was forced to reverse. When reversing, due to the lack of rearview mirrors, Ricciardo’s car hit Kvyat’s. Little di Ricciardo know the Kvyat too had to make the corner.
  • Kimi Raikonnen overshot his grid line in the 2004 Indianapolis Grand Prix. He reversed to take his position to regain his position.
  • Ayrton Senna’s car spun in the 1989 Spanish Grand Prix but remained in the centre of the track. Seeing two cars fast approaching, Senna brilliantly reversed off the track and let them pass. Ayrton Senna went on to win the race.

Conclusion: Why is it so difficult for a Formula 1 car to reverse?

All Formula 1 cars have a reverse gear because the FIA stipulates it. It is up to the teams to keep the gear functional and the drivers to practice reversing the car. While there are set rules about reversing in the pit lane or on the track, these rules have to be read in conjunction with the rules on safe driving. 

The decision to report a reversing incident to the race stewards rests with the race director. The stewards will investigate the incident and initiate necessary action. The lack of rearview mirrors is a big handicap on Formula cars and the drivers have to rely solely on their support crews to tell them where they are going.

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