What does ‘Parc fermé’ condition really mean? How do they track 8 engines?

Many people have asked me about Parc fermé. What does it mean when we say that the cars are technically in Parc fermé condition and cannot be modified. How do they control that process? Do they put the cars in a special FIA “timeout” corner guarded by Herbie Blash for 48 hours? What can the teams do to the cars when they are in Parc fermé?

These are all great questions from F1B readers/listeners and I figured who better to get the answers from that Speed TV’s own Steve Matchett. As a former championship-winning mechanic for Team Benetton, Steve has seen the working end of the FIA process and spent years following the procedures. Like the true gentleman he is, Steve answered my questions in the erudite manner we have come to know and love. Here is Steve’s terrific explanation for all of you who have wondered:

The cars are (technically) in parc ferme from the start of Q1, until the race is flagged underway. The ‘technically’ is in brackets because the reality is that the teams actually keep their cars safe and sound within their own garages. The teams asked the FIA to allow this so that their garages wouldn’t be empty of cars post-qualifying (as this would be less than desirable for the teams’ commercial/marketing departments when they conduct garage tours for current and potential future sponsors). An FIA official is allocated to each car to ensure that no work is carried out to the cars during this time. Come 6:30pm the cars are locked away from temptation by being zipped inside big sleeping bags. The zips on these bags are then sealed with an FIA tamper-proof lead seal. These seals must remain untouched until Sunday morning, when another FIA rep’ opens the bags.

Should the team need to change any parts during the parc ferme period (due to accident damage for example), the teams are permitted to do so but each part removed from the car must be listed and presented to the FIA. If the FIA agree that these parts need to be replaced to keep the car reliable, then the team is free to do so. All of this work, however, is observed by an FIA official. Any new parts must be absolutely identical to those parts being removed (thus preventing any lightweight parts being substituted).

Another question that is often asked is, “how do they track the eight engine rule?”. The thought here is that the teams could have mystery re-builds if they have the engines so what prevents them from making changes without the FIA knowing?

Steve Matchett to the rescue! Here is how the FIA manages the 8-engine rule:

The eight permitted engines and the transmissions are also sealed with FIA lead-stamped tamper-proof seals. These seals must not be broken at any time without strict FIA observation. This, therefore, prevents any unseen rebuilds by the teams. Come the end of any race event all the engines and transmissions are sealed and they must remain sealed until the Thursday of the following race event when an FIA official will clip off the seals. If the FIA detect any unofficially opened (tampered with) seals, than that particular engine may not be used for the remainder of the season. Any unofficially opened/broken seal on a transmission will result in a five-spot grid penalty.

I hope this helps you understand just how the FIA manages the engine freeze, 8-engine rule and what actually happens to the cars in Parc fermé condition. It’s a process that has been spoken of many times but rarely explained and I am indebted to Mr. Matchett for his willingness to explain to all of us just how this process works.

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