What Is Parc Ferme? We Unveil the Secrets of this F1 Rule

November 17, 2023
Tom Thorns
What is parc ferme

Formula 1 has a multitude of regulations that define how the sport should function. One of the most important ones is the Parc Fermé, which means that teams can only perform certain modifications on the race cars and under strict supervision from FIA officials.

But what is Parc Fermé? Parc Fermé (French phrase for “closed park”) has two broad definitions in Formula 1:

  • A physical Parc Fermé located at the start of the pit lane, near the FIA garages and the podium. If a race car is within the Parc Fermé area, it is under the Parc Fermé conditions and teams can only perform certain modifications to it
  • An idea that, despite not being in the Parc Fermé secure area, a car is still under the Parc Fermé conditions no matter where it is or what it is doing

So, the Parc Fermé is both a place and a theoretical concept. Next, we’ll see when it applies, what it involves, and what are the penalties for breaching it.

When Does Parc Fermé Occur?

Parc Ferme occurs at three stages during a World Driver’s Championship: the pre-race, mid-race, and post-race Parc Fermé.

Let’s go through all three phases and see how they work:

Pre-Race Parc Fermé

The pre-race Parc Fermé begins when the competitors exit the pit lane to begin the qualifying session in Q1 and continues until the start of the race.

Before the pre-race Parc Fermé, teams will self-scrutineer their race cars and declare them legal. The FIA will hand-pick at least six cars randomly and check them to make sure they abide by the technical regulationsParc Fermé rules.

Once the qualifying begins, teams are only allowed to perform certain modifications to the car and not alter the car in any significant ways. More on that later.

If a car doesn’t participate in some of the qualifying sessions (Q1-Q3), they will be placed under Parc Fermé conditions at the end of the ongoing qualifying session, before the next one begins.

Once Q3 ends and the chequered flag is waved, all racing cars will go to the Parc Fermé area for scrutineering.

Beside the FIA scrutineers, there will also be three mechanics present who are allowed to shut down the hot cars to avoid issues later on.

In the meantime, the assigned scrutineer team will begin inspecting the car components to see if they’re within the allowed parameters.

After the qualifying session ends on Saturday night, there will be a period of three and a half hours when the team are allowed to inspect, repair, and ensure that the racing cars are prepared for the upcoming race.

After three and a half hours pass, no one is allowed to work on the cars anymore, and the crew has to depart the garages.

The only exception is if a racing car is due for a promotional photoshop or TV spot. In that case, the team may bring it out after the 3.5-hour cut-off but they can’t modify it in any way.

Five hours before the race formation lap on Sunday morning, the FIA allows teams to work on the cars but the Parc Fermé conditions still apply.

Approximately an hour before the start of the race, all teams will be notified about the mechanical changes that the other teams have made to their cars during the Parc Fermé period.

Mid-Race Parc Fermé

The Parc Fermé conditions apply throughout a race but there is an exception to this rule that I should mention.

If a participant’s car gets into an accident mid-race and requires parts to be replaced, the team would normally have to send a written request to the FIA to receive an approval.

But if there isn’t time to send a request, the team can go ahead and perform the necessary repairs if it’s fair to believe that the team will have received permission if they’d have sent a written request.

An FIA official will also need to supervise the repairs and see which parts have been replaced.

Post-Race Parc Fermé

Immediately after the chequered flag is waved at the end of the race, all racing cars will go to the closed park location near the garages.

Once again, the FIA technical department and the FIA scrutineers will begin inspecting the cars to validate the legality of the cars.

The scrutineers may demand random checks to be performed, and the team mechanics will have to comply completely.

The race results are not released until the scrutineers have examined all of the cars in the Parc Fermé and have validated them all.

The drivers will also have to weigh themselves, including all their gear, before being allowed to exit the Parc Fermé area.

Once all of this is done, the results are published and the driver and their team can head home for the day.

What Can Teams Change During Parc Fermé?

The Sporting Regulations has 22 subclauses regarding the allowed modifications to a car during the Parc Fermé period. Here’s a summary of what’s allowed:

  • Start the car engine
  • Add or remove fuel
  • Fit a fuel breather
  • Remove the wheels
  • Take out the spark plugs
  • Fit the cooling or heating devices (fans and heaters)
  • Fit a jump battery to test the electronic systems
  • Charge or discharge the energy storage devices
  • Bleed the brakes
  • Drain the engine oil
  • Add or drain various compressed gasses
  • Replace various other fluids
  • Change the front wing angle
  • Remove or clean the bodywork entirely
  • Changing or balancing tyres and wheels
  • Check the tyre pressure
  • Marshalling systems, timing transponders, and onboard cameras may be checked, removed, or refitted
  • Changes may be made to the pedals, drink bottles, mirrors, and seat belts

Any changes that are not on the list will require a special written permission from the FIA before being made.

However, these are all about the maintenance work of F1 cars, either before, during, or after a race.

When it comes to repairing damage during the qualifying sessions or the race day, different Parc Fermé rules apply.

What Happens if a Car Is Damaged Under Parc Fermé Conditions?

The most important clause in the F1 Sporting Regulations is tied to the “repair of genuine accident damage”. And there isn’t anything clear about what constitutes genuine accident damage.

The FIA officials will determine this depending on the case. Most of the damage that an F1 car incurs is genuine, though.

There are two types of damage, one that requires a component to be repaired, and one that requires a full replacement.

Before the start of a race, every F1 team receives a delegate’s report that explains in detail about the repair and replacements that have been done to the car.

As I mentioned above, any replaced or repaired component that is not on the allowed list requires a written permission from the FIA.

If the situation demands it, and there’s no time to ask the FIA, the teams can replace any components at their discretion while fairly assuming that the FIA will have allowed these modifications in the first place.

It’s important to remember that a replaced component must be “the same in design and similar in mass, inertia and function to the original”.

Before the start of every race, each Formula 1 team will receive a technical delegate’s report. This will contain information about all the repairs and replacements done on the car prior to the start of the race.

Repairing or Replacing the Gearbox and Power Unit

There are special Parc Fermé regulations when it comes to repairing or replacing the gearbox and power unit.

As per the FIA regulations:

  • Gearboxes must be used for at least six races before being replaced
  • Only three engine replacements per season are allowed
  • Only three motor generator units-heat replacements per season are allowed
  • Only three turbocharger replacements per season are allowed
  • Only two control electronics replacements per season are allowed
  • Only three motor generator units-kinetic replacements per season are allowed
  • Only eight sets of engine exhaust systems replacements per season are allowed

Using more of these components than assigned, or replacing the gear box before six races, will result in a grid penalty.

If more than 15 grid place penalties are amassed through component replacements, then the driver is sent to the back of the grid start.

Weather Changes the Parc Fermé Conditions

Another exception to the Parc Fermé restrictions is the weather. All Formula 1 cars are set up for either dry or wet conditions. This means installing specific brake ducts, radiator ducts, headrests, pitot tubes, and more.

If the weather changes, Race Control will announce a “change in climatic conditions” and the Parc Fermé conditions will be loosened to allow teams to perform the appropriate changes.

Of course, FIA scrutineers will have to be present for the duration of the component replacement.

Penalties for Ignoring Parc Fermé

There are two types of penalties when it comes to Parc Fermé:

  • Pre-race Parc Fermé penalties, which usually result in a restart from the back of the grid
  • Post-race Parc Fermé penalties, which might result in full disqualification from the race, and a loss of points as well as the finishing position

Naturally, all teams will try to play fair and observe the Parc Fermé conditions because the consequences are not worth the hassle.

In 2021, the FIA governing body introduced a new regulation. They will perform a much deeper inspection of one car at random after the race. The car will remain under Parc Fermé conditions longer than the others.

Why Is Parc Fermé Important?

Through the Parc Fermé rules, the FIA ensures the fairness and safety of the sport.

The idea is simple – the car that enters a race should be the same car that finishes the race. This refers to it having components with the same performance both before and after the race.

It’s considered unfair and unsportsmanlike to change a car’s components with other components that confer an advantage during the race.

Parc Fermé is an integral part of Formula 1, maintaining a degree of fairness and emphasizing driver skills instead of deceitful tactics and unworthy victories.