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Formula One: From creative aerodynamic solutions to new liveries, here's what we learnt from winter testing

After months of waiting and speculating, Formula 1 teams unveiled their 2017 racing cars and tested them earlier this week. As expected, the 2017 cars look sleek, sexy and fast. While ‘sleek’ and ‘sexy’ are subjective, the timings from the pre-season test in Barcelona do confirm the ‘fast’ bit though.

A new era of regulations offers the designers a chance to explore creative aerodynamic solutions to find more speed. As a result, we’ve got a ‘t-wing’ introduced to the sport and the return of the ‘shark-fin’. While these devices aid aerodynamic performances, they take away from the visual appeal of the cars and should be banned by the FIA before the start of the first race in Australia. Reportedly, these are anyway loopholes in the existing regulations that teams have exploited.

Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the Scuderia Ferrari SF70H on track during day four of  winter testing at  Montmelo. Getty Images

Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the Scuderia Ferrari SF70H on track during day four of winter testing at Montmelo. Getty Images

Ferrari’s shark-fin is big enough for onlookers to believe that they’re flying the Italian national flag instead. Mercedes’ ‘t-wing’ became a twin ‘t-wing’ by the second day of the pre-season test. How many wings will they stack up by the first race? McLaren, who have dropped the silver in favour of the Donald Trump-inspired orange colour, have an exaggerated front wing and nose design. We’re hoping it is as quick as it looks, but there’s little chance the aerodynamics of McLaren’s MCL32 have been tested fully given Honda’s continued woes with their 2017 power unit.

Are Force India aiming to be the old McLaren of the new era? They’ve long ditched the fan-loved tricolor livery and have adopted the silver for 2017. Renault’s yellow-back taxi inspired livery is uninspiring and it seems that they ran out of money to pay their team kit designer. Haas’ dark grey colour resonates a military feeling while Sauber’s cool blue does remind us of the Ligier from 1996. Williams’ car looks standard and as bland as their Martini-liveried cars from the previous seasons. Toro Rosso’s red-blue-silver livery is the prettiest on the grid and Red Bull Racing’s unveil campaign for the RB13 proved exactly why Formula 1 needs Red Bull Racing than the other way around.

The good part of the changes in livery and colour schemes is that cars will now be easily identifiable – something fans did struggle with in the past two seasons.

However, Formula 1 did miss a trick by not working together with the teams to ensure maximum mileage for the new cars. The first visuals of the 2017 car were released digitally by Williams followed by a real-life unveil by the Sauber team. Couldn’t Formula 1 use one of their superstar drivers to do a grand unveil to further fuel fan interest and conversations?

First Pre-Season Test

Formula 1 testing is usually considered to be boring, confusing and not representative of the actual form factor of the teams. However, with the limited mileage now permitted and with the advancement in technology and understanding of the experts, testing is focused and does give away certain performance indicators. There’s also the common understanding that fast teams end up sandbagging (or purposely go slow) to avoid showing their true pace. While sandbagging can’t be ruled out entirely, the continued use of such a trick could be a thing of the past.

In the past, we’ve seen that a change in regulations has often resulted in a change in the pecking order. However, 2017 seems to be different with the usual suspects expected to claim their usual slots on the timing monitors. From the first pre-season test, it is clear that Mercedes might still be the team to be beat with Ferrari and Red Bull Racing doing the chasing. The mid-field battle could still be between Williams and Force India with Toro Rosso, Renault and Haas in the mix more often than they were in 2016. With Manor out of the running, will it be a Sauber vs McLaren for the last place on the grid?

Ferrari’s testing pace seems impressive while there’s belief that Red Bull Racing’s RB13 will evolve on the aerodynamic front given that is an Adrian Newey designed car. However, while Mercedes finished two full race simulations on the first two days of the test, McLaren ended up changing their Honda power unit twice. The team former World Champion team from Woking is working hard to evoke the legacy of Bruce McLaren and move on from the Ron Dennis era. But wouldn’t they rather spend time on fixing their car than focusing on changing their car name and colour?

Save Petrol, Waste Water?

The first pre-season test also saw Formula 1 attempt something that I don’t think they’ve ever attempted before, at least basis our research. To help Pirelli improve their wet and intermediate tyres, the circuit was artificially watered using large trucks. This offered a ‘wet’ surface to the teams followed by a ‘drying’ track – conditions that spice up the race. But this failed to spice up the test with not many teams running regular programs. Whether Pirelli received sufficient tyre data or not, does it make sense for Formula 1 to waste thousands of gallons of water to run such a test? After all, the new regulations are aimed to be environmentally friendly.

Rookies finding it tougher?

Formula 1 is the top step of the motorsport ladder and I’ve grown up to reading stories about rookie drivers (who are now World Champions) talk about how they were blown away with the difference in aerodynamic grip, cornering speeds and braking distances in their first test. Over the last few seasons, Formula 1 cars became easier to drive, thereby helping rookies adapt to the faster formula much easily.

However, going by Lance Stroll’s difficulty in adapting to the 2017 cars, it does seem that rookies will have to work harder to make their presence felt in Formula 1. Stroll’s three crashes in two days of testing prompted Williams to pull out of the final day of the test. Stroll’s case seems far more prominent because of the excessive testing he’s conducted with Williams in their older formula cars (2014-spec cars). Given his frequency of crashes, social media jumped quickly to question if Lance Stroll is the new Pastor Maldonado and there’s already the website live to keep a track of his last crash!

To be fair to Stroll, we should be patient and give him more time to adapt to his new team, environment and car.

Overtaking – a concern still?

Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa have already said that while the 2017 cars might be fun for drivers, they might not aid overtaking thanks to their aero profiling. Basically, it is still difficult to follow a car without losing front end grip and damaging tyres. If Hamilton raises concern about overtaking, Formula 1 should sit up and take notice. After all, we’ve got only one Max Verstappen!

But then again, the brief for writing the regulations for the 2017 cars didn’t include ‘overtaking’, so who are we going to blame?

Updated Date: Mar 04, 2017 12:00 PM

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