Formula 1 is obsessed with rule changes. It seems that the sport swears by the phrase ‘change is the only constant’.
Most fans have probably lost track of the number of regulatory changes made in the last decade, although, four would be a good guess. First, the engines went from V10 to V8 to the now-in-use V6 hybrid turbos. In 2014, the word ‘engine’ in itself got replaced with the word ‘power unit’. For 2017, bodywork and tyres are the two areas that have witnessed key changes and before we explain what the changes have been and how they will impact a fan’s experience, it would be wise to explain why these changes in the first place.
In the last few seasons, Formula 1 was perceived to have become easier for drivers, especially the rookies. I still remember reading rookie diaries on how their first few laps in a Formula 1 car were different in every aspect as compared to their junior formula. However, the ease with which rookies took to the highest formula did surprise one pundits too many. One of these rookies was Max Verstappen, of course. The objective of the 2017 changes is to make the cars more visually appealing, faster and physically demanding for the drivers.
One distinct difference between a Formula 1 car and any other racing or road car is its sheer ability to corner at high speeds. In 2017, the sport has put special focus on aerodynamics that will make the cars go even quicker. The car is wider and longer, so are the front and rear wings. The front wing is angular in shape, like an arrow that definitely looks very appealing whereas rear wing is lower. For the technical buffs, the bargeboards are longer and the diffuser, which is most critical, is wider and taller. All in all, these changes have already delivered faster-than-ever lap times in the pre-season test — three seconds quicker. As the season progresses, teams are expected to continue developing the cars and this could mean that the lap times will drop much further.
The drivers have already given their thumbs up to the new cars. Romain Grosjean has publicly declared that he’s able to race these cars to the limit only because of the extra fitness regime he followed during the off-season. Lewis Hamilton has already said that he has suffered bruises after the pre-season tests. Pirelli, the sport’s official tyre supplier, have made a scary predication — that drivers could black out due to the excessive speeds this season. Thankfully, we’ve made it safely through pre-season testing without any indications of this.
At the moment, most teams have employed a ‘shark fin’ engine cover and a ‘t-wing’ on their cars &mdas; devices that have helped increase aero stability. However,there’s a good chance that these visually distracting but speed adding elements might be banned by the FIA before the start of the first race.
The environment-friendly 1.6 litre V6 hybrid turbo units see no change for the coming season other than the fact that drivers will have fewer engines to use in 2017. For the entire 20-race calendar, four is the maximum permissible number of power units each driver can use without incurring a penalty. The complex ‘token’ system, which controlled development of power units, has been done away with too. Unlike the previous possibilities that Red Bull Racing faced (of having no supplier), the existing power unit manufacturers are ‘obliged’ to supply should a demand arise thereby promising a team a power unit. In fact, the new rules also offer a €1 million discount.
Mercedes’ power unit still seems to be the most desirable unit on the grid. Ferrari seem to have worked hard to improve their deficit while Renault have to work on their reliability. However, the one manufacturer that continues to disappoint is Honda. For the third season in a row they have managed to not impress. The Japanese manufacturer is down on power and reliability and could well be kicked out by McLaren.
In the middle of the 2016 season, the FIA decided to make starts manual and hence harder for the drivers. In fact, we saw Hamilton struggling to come to terms with the new procedure and the infamous Mercedes clutch. For 2017, the start procedure has become even more driver, rather than engineer, dependent and hence harder. Teams have innovated on their clutch paddle (Mercedes have finger holes in their clutch) but the good news is that the race order could jumble up in the first few corners if a driver fails to nail a perfect start. And by the way, for those loving the wet weather conditions, safety car starts have been done away with and we will see standing starts which should only add to the excitement.
After seasons of facing backlash from fans and drivers, it seems that Pirelli might have cracked the ‘correct’ tyre for Formula 1. The 2017 tyres are 25 percent wider and hence offer more mechanical grip. But that’s not it. The tyres suffer lesser degradation and are allowing drivers to stay longer in the attack than the previous seasons. While we may see a lesser pit-stop in each race, there’s a higher chance to witness a continued on-track battle, something that the drivers would be dissuaded from in the past seasons given the nature of the Pirelli tyres. Also, with the tyres now wider and heavier, will we still see the sub-two second pit-stops in a race?
While most rule changes have been unwelcome and expensive for the teams, the one good outcome of the changes would be the uncertainty in form factor and unpredictability in the race outcome. In pre-season testing, we’ve already seen that Ferrari may have possibly narrowed the gap to the reigning World Champion team, Mercedes.
The rule changes of 2017 would be considered a success if it allows more teams to be competitive and if the fans are treated to wheel-to-wheel action ever so often, whether an eventual overtake would happen or not. The only other reference that we have from recent history is that rule changes have often failed to alleviate the sport from the much disliked single-team domination, only that the team dominating would change. Unfortunately for 2017, there’s a good indication that Mercedes could still be the team to beat.
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Updated Date: Mar 22, 2017 11:39:33 IST