THIS F1 LIFE

Pat Sy­monds on F1’s new regs

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - PAT SY­MONDS

The 2017 reg­u­la­tion changes have been hailed as one of the big­gest shake-ups for many years, but the mo­ti­va­tion be­hind them is some­what strange. Some while ago, the Strat­egy Group, strongly in­flu­enced by Bernie Ecclestone, de­cided that the cur­rent cars were both too slow and too easy to drive. The fact that an 18-year-old Max Ver­stap­pen could im­me­di­ately per­form at the fore­front of grand prix rac­ing was taken by them as proof that there was some­thing wrong with For­mula 1, and that a univer­sal panacea might be to make the cars faster, the think­ing be­ing that this would make the cars more spec­tac­u­lar and more dif­fi­cult to drive. The no­tional tar­get was to make the cars five sec­onds a lap faster, but while there were sug­ges­tions as to how this should be done, the de­tail was left to the teams’ tech­ni­cal de­part­ments.

Over the 40 years that I have been in­volved in rac­ing, ma­jor rule changes have al­ways been cen­tred around rein­ing in per­for­mance as the ever-in­creas­ing de­vel­op­ment com­pro­mised the safety of the sport. So this is the first time the teams have ac­tu­ally been asked to con­sider rules that in­creased per­for­mance. That may sound some­what anoma­lous, but bear in mind that the ma­chines of 2016 were still con­sid­er­ably slower than those of ten years ago – par­tic­u­larly in the high-speed cor­ners.

One of the var­i­ous rea­sons why For­mula 1 cars are much slower these days is that they are sig­nif­i­cantly heav­ier. It is an in­escapable fact that hy­brid cars will al­ways be heav­ier than con­ven­tional cars and, on an av­er­age cir­cuit, 10kg of in­creased weight pushes lap times up by about 0.3 sec­onds. In 2006, the rac­ing weight of the cars was 600kg. This had risen to 702kg by 2016 with a con­se­quen­tial in­crease in lap time of around three sec­onds.

Be­cause of this, the start­ing point that the teams dis­cussed was how to re­duce the car mass and, as a re­sult, some small sav­ings have been made, for ex­am­ple by hav­ing a shorter, pock­eted, skid block. Although, iron­i­cally, the in­creased di­men­sions of the 2017 cars have ul­ti­mately added 20kg to the min­i­mum weight.

The fo­cus was to pro­duce more down­force through re­laxed body­work reg­u­la­tions and in­crease me­chan­i­cal grip by ex­pand­ing car width and widen­ing the tyres. Con­se­quently, the over­all width of the cars has been boosted from 1,800mm to 2,000mm, and the tyre widths have in­creased by a nom­i­nal 60mm at the front and 80mm at the rear.

Re­gard­ing the body­work, the front wing width has been in­creased, as has the rear wing, although its lower po­si­tion negates some of the in­crease in down­force that may have been ob­tained. The dif­fuser is also larger and the area for the ‘barge-boards’ in front of the side­pods has been opened to a sig­nif­i­cant re­lax­ation in the rules, which should al­low bet­ter con­trol of the front-wheel wake and hence in­creased down­force.

There are other ar­eas that are af­fected. The ‘mon­key wing’, the name given to the small 100mm-wide wing that sits above the rear crash struc­ture, is now of greater sig­nif­i­cance, since rear down­force is more en­hanced by ex­haust flow than was the case in 2016. This can pro­vide a sig­nif­i­cant per­for­mance boost, although some of the tricks used to in­crease ex­haust flow on the old nor­mally as­pi­rated en­gines are much more dif­fi­cult to achieve on a tur­bocharged en­gine.

The tyres are also chang­ing for 2017. You might think that the in­crease in grip should sim­ply be pro­por­tional to the in­crease in width, but this is an over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion be­cause although the con­tact patch is wider, it will not be as long on the 2017 tyres. One of the rea­sons for this is that when the tyre-sup­ply agree­ment was rene­go­ti­ated last year, the teams and the FIA worked to­gether to pro­vide a state­ment of de­sired char­ac­ter­is­tics for the 2017 Pirelli rub­ber.

To be able to push the tyres harder, it was asked that they be made less ther­mally sen­si­tive and bet­ter able to re­cover per­for­mance quickly if over­heated for a short du­ra­tion. A shorter con­tact patch can help the sit­u­a­tion, as will the in­tro­duc­tion of a new fam­ily of tyre com­pounds.

The com­plex­ity doesn’t end there, though, since the in­creased loads also re­quire a much more ro­bust tyre. One of the ways of achiev­ing this, as we saw in 2016, is to in­crease tyre pres­sures. Un­for­tu­nately this also re­duces ul­ti­mate grip and so the in­crease in down­force

fol­lows a law of di­min­ish­ing re­turns.

There will still be four com­pounds to choose from, with three of the four taken to any given race. For the first few events, Pirelli will make the choice un­til the teams have built up ex­pe­ri­ence of the tyres. Degra­da­tion tar­gets have been set so that the per­for­mance loss should equate to around two sec­onds a lap at 60 per cent, 30 per cent and 15 per cent race dis­tance re­spec­tively for the hard­est, medium and soft­est com­pounds at any event. There should also be a per­for­mance step of around one sec­ond in ul­ti­mate lap time be­tween each of the com­pounds. Nat­u­rally, all these tar­gets are aver­ages across the year and can be ex­pected to vary from cir­cuit to cir­cuit.

The big ques­tion is: will these changes im­prove the rac­ing? They have ev­ery chance of up­set­ting the sta­tus quo and many will be de­lighted that a Mercedes vic­tory is no longer a fore­gone con­clu­sion. But if fans are seek­ing closer rac­ing and more over­tak­ing, they may be dis­ap­pointed.

While no one has fully re­searched the ef­fect of the aero­dy­namic wake on fol­low­ing cars, in­creased down­force pro­duces in­creased wake and hence has a greater ef­fect on a car be­hind. The new reg­u­la­tions will also in­crease the amount of time on full throt­tle and de­crease brak­ing dis­tances, nei­ther of which is con­ducive to over­tak­ing.

All these changes will favour the big­ger teams, since they are go­ing to be in a bet­ter po­si­tion to ap­ply greater de­vel­op­ment re­source than the small teams. I re­mem­ber a time when reg­u­la­tions were far less pre­scrip­tive, which meant that change could favour the small teams. Early on in my ca­reer when I was work­ing for Tole­man, we in­ter­preted new ‘flat bot­tom’ rules for 1983 in such a way that we went from be­ing a team who of­ten failed even to qual­ify for races, to be­com­ing reg­u­lar topten fin­ish­ers. Un­for­tu­nately, this level of de­sign cre­ativ­ity is no longer a part of our sport.

WILL THESE CHANGES IM­PROVE THE RAC­ING? IF FANS ARE SEEK­ING CLOSER RAC­ING AND MORE OVER­TAK­ING, THEY MAY BE DIS­AP­POINTED

For 2017, Pirelli have made tyres that are less ther­mally sen­si­tive and bet­ter able to re­cover per­for­mance quickly if over­heated, al­low­ing driv­ers to push harder

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