F1 2017: be care­ful what you wish for

F1 Racing - - NEWS -

Not a wheel has been turned, barely a 2017-spec power unit fired up in anger. A thou­sand known un­knowns to pon­der and still (at the time of writ­ing) six weeks to wait till the first F1 test in Barcelona on 27 Fe­bru­ary.

God, the F1 win­ter break is bor­ing – at least for those of us charged with re­port­ing on it, while teams hun­ker down be­hind closed doors in fren­zied pur­suit of this killer mod or that mar­ginal gain.

But glim­mers are emerg­ing of a new and dif­fer­ent F1 that will de­mand a step-change in our per­cep­tions of the sport. As we ex­plore in our 14-page anal­y­sis of the 2017 reg­u­la­tions (p20-33), this is the first time since the 1966 ‘re­turn to power’ that reg­u­la­tions have been de­vised to make cars faster – and dra­mat­i­cally so.

Then as now, drivers will be pre­sented with ma­chines sev­eral sec­onds per lap quicker, that will re­quire mod­i­fied driv­ing tech­niques and which will al­ter the na­ture of cir­cuits: cor­ners that were pre­vi­ously ‘quick’ may now be­come ‘flat’ while the for­merly hum­drum may now be­come chal­leng­ing.

Un­like the ’66 re­set, how­ever, the gains will be made through changes to aero, tyres and chas­sis, rather than by the ef­fec­tive ex­pe­di­ent of dou­bling max­i­mum en­gine ca­pac­ity (as was the case from ’65-66). So fat­ter tyres are in, built to a low-degra­da­tion brief, as are a wider track, big­ger wings and higher down­force lev­els.

As an in­di­ca­tion of what we might ex­pect, Pirelli sim­u­la­tion data has shown that the de­mand­ing Turn 3 at Barcelona’s Cir­cuit de Catalunya – cur­rently a tyreeat­ing fourth/fifth-gear up­hill right-han­der, taken at around 230km/h – will be­come a ‘nailed down’, 5G, 260km/h screamer.

The Beck­etts-Mag­gotts-Chapel se­quence at Sil­ver­stone, mean­while, will change from a left-rightleft-right set of sweeps, each gen­er­at­ing 4G of lat­eral load, to a re­peated 5G se­quence. That’s a 25 per cent in­crease in cor­ner­ing load – a stag­ger­ing mar­gin in a sport grown used to in­cre­men­tal in­creases.

Drivers will feel the strain, mak­ing F1 2017 quite lit­er­ally a pain in the neck as shoul­der and up­per-back mus­cles get used to a whole lotta load. Twit­ter watch­ers will note that drivers’ off-sea­son ‘Tweets from the gym’ have shown them push­ing weights as well as carv­ing out miles on high-end road bikes. Pure car­dio fit­ness is less in de­mand; more ur­gent is the need for drivers to hold on tight and ‘mus­cle’ ma­chines through the high-speed stuff. Think back to Nigel Mansell in the 1992 Wil­liams FW14B: one rea­son he was so devastating in that ac­tively sus­pended car was that he was burly enough to man­age its high cor­ner­ing loads.

Big­ger, beefier drivers, then, for big­ger, beefier cars? Yes, but also com­pressed brak­ing dis­tances, fewer line choices through cor­ners, per­haps less re­quire­ment for fi­nesse and de­creased like­li­hood of devastating deeds from out­ra­geously tal­ented young­sters.

Still, there are rea­sons for op­ti­mism as we pre­pare for ‘lights out’. Here’s hop­ing we get what we want.

Fol­low An­thony on Twit­ter: @Rowl­in­son_F1

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