“Teams want to start work on the Halo design”
After covering this race 32 times you learn how to duck and dive a bit,” said the veteran F1 photographer as he led us on a short cut through Monaco’s warren of subterranean tunnels. “Hang on, this is a new one…”
Ducking and diving, of course, was and is a way of life for both the founders and residents of this gilded cage perched on a rocky outcrop in the Cote D’azur. “A sunny place for shady people,” as Somerset Maugham wrote.
Every year it burrows deeper into the cliffs: a new tunnel connecting this place with that place, whole apartment blocks and hotels demolished to make way for ever more capacious plutocrat residences.
Even the famous Hotel de Paris, past which the grand prix circuit threads, is being gutted and rebuilt behind its historic facade. And up on the hill, outside the Prince’s Palace, every morning at the stroke of 1155hrs there is the changing of the guard.
Within the cloisters of the F1 paddock, down on the harbour, change has also been occupying the minds and lips of many. The sport is due a new look in 2017 although, predictably, the details have been subjected to interminable levels of push-and-pull behind the scenes.
Thus on Saturday Pirelli unveiled a set of tyres that illustrated what F1 rubber could look like in 2017: about 25 per cent wider up front and 30 per cent wider at the rear. Such is the inertia, intransigence and paralysis within the rulemaking mechanism, though, that the essential process of testing on up-to-date cars with hybrid powertrains cannot begin until August.
On Friday the sport’s technical bigwigs also agreed on an element that had been a major obstacle in designing the next generation of cars: cockpit protection. The other elements of the 2017 rules package had been belatedly agreed upon last February, but with two completely different proposals still up for evaluation nobody could properly begin work until one or the other received the nod.
Both concepts will have a significant effect on airflow. As it is, the visually and aerodynamically sub-optimal ‘halo’ has gone forwards because it is closer to a finished state than Red Bull’s alternative proposal, the ‘aeroscreen’. The FIA had set a July deadline for the decision but another round of testing is planned before then – and in any case most teams want to make a start on fundamental design concepts in June.
Some teams will face a struggle to put together the resources for new designs. At least one, for instance, has been unable to book flights for this summer’s European rounds on a well-known budget airline because it demands payment in advance. Instead they must take more expensive options which offer credit.
That, of course, leads us to the subject of F1’s commercial settlement and a potential changing of the guard in that department. But in this game of thrones no potential successor to F1’s uber ducker and diver has been willing to declare themselves just yet…